Can Education Stop Terrorism?

By now the identity and background information on the two Boston Marathon bombers is old news. There are still many more questions than answers about the case. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will most assuredly be tortured to find out why they did this and if they had assistance. None of the answers will provide enlightenment.

In the aftermath of the explosions, before we had official suspects and while the media scrambled to keep people glued to their channels by releasing any information they could scrounge up, accurate or otherwise, I found myself wondering how anyone could get to a point that they would commit such a heinous act to “make a point.” Killing innocent people does not seem like a good method of communication to me.

In fact, it seems insane to us that someone would use these kinds of measures to try to get some kind of message across or draw attention to an issue whatever it may be or however desperate they might feel. These kinds of actions do not endear anyone to your cause. Quite the opposite in fact.

I had, and still have, a theory that lack of education plays a large role in the creation of terrorists. Typically these people come from backgrounds in which a real education is withheld from them and is replaced with a rigid, extremist religious and/or political ideology. This programming starts at an early age and is a part of a systematic and deliberate dumbing down of entire groups of people by those in power.

A good education system gives people the ability to have and encourages the use of an open mind and critical thinking. A good education system gives people knowledge of the world around them, not just the region of it they live in. A good education system not only teaches people to read and write but also how to employ those and other communication skills to express themselves in a rational way and to discuss their issues in a reasonable manner with other people. A good education system teaches people that there are other ways to air your grievances besides violence.

When that kind of education is substituted with a radical belief system from which the individual can not ever stray and any contradictory information is withheld, people are easily manipulated. And without communication skills to fall back on, acts of terrorism can seem like a real, viable option.


But here, in the Tsarnaev brothers we have two seemingly well-educated young men. They attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, although neither seemed to be applying themselves academically. Their parents do not seem to share their extreme views so the indoctrination didn’t start at home. They did apparently spend a lot of time on extremist websites and discussion boards. Somehow, somewhere a spark was generated in their minds and they used like-minded people they encountered online to reinforce their developing point of view.

Essentially they self-radicalized.

The internet can be a powerful source of both positive and negative energy. I don’t know if the education system failed them or if they turned their backs on it and chose to embrace the extremist message they wanted to hear. I suspect it was the later which blows a small hole in my theory because this means that even if you provide the education to everyone, some people won’t take advantage of it.

There are no easy answers. There is no one reason why people do these things. But I do believe that the more educated people we have in the world, the fewer terrorists we will have in the world.


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