There are numerous reasons to be suspicious of this study. Here are a few:
- This precis of the study contradicts itself. It claims to have found that “knowledge about Islam indeed has a statistically significant and negative impact upon support for the Afghan Taliban and SSP.” But then it notes that “those who espoused the ultra-conservative Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadis traditions were most likely to support the SSP or Afghan Taliban.” Are C. Christine Fair, Jacob S. Goldstein and Ali Hamza then claiming that the Deobandis and Ahl-e-Hadis don’t teach Islam, or teach it only superficially? That would be absurd, as even their pejorative epithet “ultra-conservative” indicates: the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadis traditions are “ultra-conservative” because they teach strict adherence to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. So this study is claiming that the more one knows about Islam, the less likely one is to become a terrorist, and then simultaneously noting that if one learns Islam from those who adhere to it strictly, one is more likely to become a terrorist.
- The study is admittedly superficial: “However, the impact of the knowledge variable is all the more surprising when one considers that it includes only rudimentary questions about Islam.” The self-consciously stilted academic writing is unclear, but that sentence appears to be saying that the study asked participants only “rudimentary questions about Islam,” apparently assuming that if respondents didn’t know the answers to these, they must not know much of anything about Islam. But that is not necessarily so, as it doesn’t take into account the possibility that participants may have been unevenly educated, or have simply forgotten the answers to the questions that were asked. In order to determine how much participants really knew about Islam, they would have had to have been questioned in depth, but apparently they were not.
- There is abundant evidence that jihadis are influenced by the Qur’an. This goes for the Taliban and the SSP and for all other jihad groups. Take, for example, the Islamic State. It isn’t ignorant of the Qur’an, it quotes it frequently: in threats to blow up the White House and conquer Rome and Spain; in explaining its priorities in the nations it is targeting in jihad; in preaching to Christians after collecting the jizya (a Qur’an-based tax, cf. Qur’an 9:29); in justifying the execution of accused spies; and in its various videos. It has also awarded $10,000 prizes and sex slaves in Qur’an memorization contests. One of its underground lairs was found littered with weapons and copies of the Qur’an. Children in the Islamic State study the Qur’an and get weapons training. One Malaysian Muslim said that the Qur’an led him to join the Islamic State. A Muslima in the U.S. promoted the Islamic State by quoting the Qur’an. An Islamic State propagandist’s parents said of him: “Our son is a devout Muslim. He had learnt the Quran by heart.” A Muslim politician from Jordan said that the Islamic State’s “doctrine stems from the Qur’an and Sunnah.”
- The Brookings Institution is heavily funded by Qatar, one of the world’s chief financiers of jihad terror. That funding has turned Brookings into an apologist for jihad, legitimizing Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has praised Hitler and endorsed jihad suicide attacks, and Hamas-linked CAIR’s Nihad Awad, among others. Qatar-funded Brookings would have every reason to obscure the motivating ideology of jihad terrorists and keep Westerners ignorant of and complacent about the true motives and goals of the jihadis, and the nature and magnitude of the threat they present.
- The study’s principal author is Christine Fair, a professor at Saudi-funded Georgetown University and fervent purveyor of the establishment myths about Islam, given to deranged rants on Twitter against foes of jihad terror — she has characterized me as a “lunatic” and an “Islamophobe” (her use of the Muslim Brotherhood propaganda term doesn’t speak well of her intellectual honesty or depth) and likened me to Charles Manson, while refusing (of course) to debate me on questions of substance. Her frenzied hatred isn’t personal; I’ve never met her in person. She just becomes utterly unhinged at the prospect of any challenge to her intellectual house of cards — raising once again the question, Why are the loudest proponents of “tolerance” and “peace” so frequently ugly, hateful people?
“Can being smarter about Islam help Muslims reject terrorist appeals? Maybe.” by C. Christine Fair, Jacob S. Goldstein and Ali Hamza, Brookings, April 18, 2016:
Editors’ Note: There is a popular misconception that the serious study of Islam is a step on the road toward radicalization and terrorism. But a heartening finding indicates that knowledge is good, and that those who know more about Islam are more resistant to extremist appeals. This post originally appeared on Lawfare.
…Inherent in this securitization of a person’s pursuit of Islamic education is the assumption that those who engage in the acquisition of knowledge are security risks. However, there has been no empirical support for the contention that the pursuit of knowledge of Islam correlates with support for terrorism.
We test support for Islamist militancy by instrumentalizing two survey questions that query respondents about their support for two groups, both of which are rooted in Pakistan’s Deobandi interpretative tradition of Islam. The first group is an Islamist organization known variously as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which targets Shiite, non-Muslims, and Sufis in Pakistan. The second is the Afghan Taliban. To test the central hypothesis, we constructed an additive knowledge index that measured the respondents’ basic knowledge of Islam employing several questions for which there are no ambiguous responses. (For example, we ask respondents whether or not the Quran specifies how one should pray.) This knowledge index is our principal independent variable. To calculate the final index score for respondents, we summed the respondents’ total score and divided it by five to produce an individual knowledge index that ranges from 0 to 1, with higher index value indicating greater knowledge of Islam. We also included several control variables in our model based upon previous the work of Shafiq and Sinno (2010), including: respondent’s maslak (sectarian commitment), ethnicity, gender, marital status, level of education, age group, and income.What do the data say?
We find that knowledge about Islam indeed has a statistically significant and negative impact upon support for the Afghan Taliban and SSP, although the result is larger and more significant in explaining decreased support for the SSP. However, several control variables—including gender, maslak, ethnicity, and income—are also statistically significant and often larger in magnitude than the knowledge index in explaining support for both the SSP and the Afghan Taliban. We consistently found that the biggest predictor of support for both of these groups is the sectarian orientation of the respondent. Specifically, those who espoused the ultra-conservative Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadis traditions were most likely to support the SSP or Afghan Taliban. This is somewhat surprising given that Ahl-e-Hadis religious scholars have considerable disputes with the Deobandi interpretive tradition. However, the impact of the knowledge variable is all the more surprising when one considers that it includes only rudimentary questions about Islam. Perhaps if our index included more complex measures the salience of this variable would have been greater.
Even though the sectarian commitment of the survey respondent has greater explanatory power in predicting support for these two militant groups, our results show that even a basic knowledge of Islam can indeed dampen support for Islamist militant groups like the SSP and the Afghan Taliban. The policy implications of this research are potentially important. Rather than pillorying Islamic education and the institutions where such education takes place, perhaps a more productive approach is to focus upon the quality of Islamic education that students receive. Our work suggests that modest knowledge of Islam among Pakistanis can have an important mitigating effect for support for militancy.