En garde, engineer, the terror cops are circling

tony1459Edit90X167.jpgThe intel on page one of the Sunday New York Times would be hard to miss. A line prominently situated near the top of a middle column identifies Mohamoud Hassan, an American activist currently practicing as a revolutionary in his Somali birthplace, as a University of Minnesota engineering major. It was hard for me to miss, anyway. In working my dutiful way through a pile of periodicals recently I came across an essay in New Scientist (June 13) by a couple of profs from Oxford and Paris who have written a book titled Engineers of Jihad that will be published next year by Princeton. They cite data purporting that engineers are wildly over-represented among university graduates involved in right wing extremism, "three to four times as likely as other graduates to be present among the members of violent Islamic groups in the Muslim world since the 1970s." The tale of Mohamoud Hassan, told in compelling detail in Sunday's Times, adds a 2009 migratory twist to the phenomenon.
But why engineers? After knocking down the technical strawman (jihadi recruitment manuals stress personality profile over technical skills and a tiny elite takes care of communications and bomb-making) and giving short shrift to social conditions (such as lack of jobs for ambitious grads), "cognitive traits" are what the authors settle on. "According to polling data," they write, "engineering professors in the US are seven times as likely to be right wing and religious as other academics, and similar biases apply to students. In 16 other countries we investigated, engineers seem to be no more right wing or religious than the rest of the population, but the number of engineers combining both traits is unusually high. A lot of piecemeal evidence suggests that characteristics such as greater intolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like clockwork, and dislike of democratic politics which involves compromise, are more common among engineers."
That's the US, not here, to be sure. But strange notions sometimes gain sway down there. As the world's longest undefended border rapidly turns into the world's longest border, period, with armed customs officers and drones overhead, will there come a day when Canadian Bengies have to palm their iron rings going through airport security?

Tony Patterson

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