Islamist radicals born and educated in Muslim countries are 17 times more likely to have an engineering qualification than the general population in these nations, according to a new study by experts at the LSE and European University Institute.
The finding by Steffen Hertog of LSE and Diego Gambetta of EUI is to be published this week in a book titled “Engineers of Jihad”.
The study of more than 800 members of violent Islamist groups challenges a widely held view that many terrorists are “poor, ignorant and have nothing to lose”, according to Hertog and Gambetta.
Several suspects in India are reported to have engineering or other university qualifications.
“There is little doubt that violent Islamist radicals are vastly more educated than the general population born and educated in the Muslim world, and engineers are dramatically over-represented,” Hertog said.
The authors claimed the strong presence of graduates among Islamist radicals is due to economic development failures in core Muslim countries: “Ambitious young graduates, particularly engineers and to a lesser extent, newly-trained doctors, were frustrated by a lack of job opportunities when their economies turned south in the 1970s.
“Unlike Western-educated graduates who enjoyed good economic opportunities, their counterparts – educated in Muslim countries – were disaffected and ripe for recruitment by radical Islamic networks.”
Engineers are over-represented because they represent “the most talented and ambitious graduates at the sharp end of frustrated expectations”, the authors said.
The book also reveals that the over-representation of engineers extends to Islamist radicals born and bred in Asian and Western countries, where labour market opportunities have been much better than in Muslim countries.
The other striking finding in the book is that engineers are significantly represented among far right groups, while the far left is dominated by humanities and social science graduates.
The implication the authors draw is that the traits that make Islamism attractive to some engineers could also be the traits that make right wing extremism attractive to them.