In his book Preachers of Hate, Kenneth Timmerman recounts how Islamic clerics once banned young Muslims from traveling, living or attending school in the infidel West. However, as the Islamic world fell further and further behind technologically -- particularly in regard to military technology -- it was decided that Muslim men could go abroad, but only to soak up the secrets of the West's technological prowess and bring them back to Islamic lands.
It's an interesting theory. Even today, one is hard pressed to find a foreign Muslim student at a U.S. or European college majoring in art, history or English lit. (The exception that proves the rule is Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, the Iranian UNC graduate recently charged with nine counts of attempted murder after he ploughed his SUV into a crowd of university students. Taheri-azar was both a psychology and philosophy major.)
Now the Los Angeles Times is reporting that there is an "effort by terrorist networks to use universities...to replace former training camps in Afghanistan." Apparently the sheer numbers of Muslims studying in engineering departments provide excellent recruitment opportunities for jihadists. The Times reports that a group of Moroccan college students in Montpellier, France, have been studying electronics, computer technology, and telecommunications under orders from al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi. French intelligence was tipped off when it traced cell phone calls from the students to a militant leader in Fallujah shortly after the murder of four American contractors there in March 2004. The Times notes that the Moroccan students' course work and hard partying were a cover for "acquiring expertise and designing explosive detonators for the [terrorist] network."
The link between university science and technology departments and terrorists is by now well documented. In The Next Attack, authors Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon note that nearly all of al Qaeda's top men have engineering backgrounds from Western schools. And then there is the strange case of Rahmatullah Hashemi, the Taliban's former spokesman. Hashemi is currently a student at Yale (while having only a fourth-grade education and a high school equivalency certificate, according to the Wall Street Journal.) While a "non-degree student," Hashemi has excelled in one course: "Terrorism: Past and Present." In a bit of priceless and doubtless unintended irony, Hashemi told the New York Times: "I'm the luckiest person in the world. I could have ended up in Guantanomo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale."
I WAS REMINDED OF these and similar buffooneries when I read this week about the appearance in federal court of Ehsanul Islam Sadequee. You may remember Sadequee and his sidekick Syed Haris Ahmed. The two allegedly planned to bomb U.S. oil refineries and military targets, until they came to the attention of the FBI when they traveled to Canada to meet with other terror suspects. Would it surprise you to learn that Ahmed was a Georgia Tech student majoring in ... mechanical engineering?
So just how profound is the jihadist presence on Western university campuses? Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University's center for intelligence and security studies in West London, issued a report last year stating that "extremists and/or terror groups" have been operating in more than 30 universities in Britain, the Guardian reports.
You would think that with a record like this Muslim university students would be closely monitored. After all, many of the 9/11 terrorists were traveling freely around the West on student visas. More importantly university students are at that tender age when Muslims tend to blow themselves (and others) up. American universities, however, have been extremely reluctant to monitor Muslim students, and, as we've seen in the case of Hashemi, actually compete amongst themselves to bring former terrorists to their campuses. The irony is that students like Hashemi, Ahmed and Taheri-azar are likely to get even more radicalized on U.S. campuses with their steady drumbeat about how racist, sexist, and immoral the U.S. is.
So what is the U.S. doing about this? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced that in an effort to spread democracy to the Middle East more Iranian students will be issued visas. Hmmm. Iranian students. Where have we heard that before? How about the U.S. embassy hostage crisis? Time for a reality check. Does anyone seriously believe that Iranian students will gain a deeper appreciation for democracy, capitalism, and diversity of opinion at Bard or Berkeley?
If the U.S. government's goal is to teach Middle Eastern students about freedom and democracy it should provide visas to students interested not so much in bomb-making (sorry, I mean engineering), but history, political science, economics, art and philosophy and preferably not enrolled in one of the top ten liberal colleges. And if it's true that universities have become the new terrorist training camps, then Western governments need to step in. And any university official that tries to frustrate intelligence officials from gathering information should be locked up for obstructing national security. Or would you prefer, professor, the military did to your campus what it did to the training camps in Afghanistan?