Education and Indoctrination in the Muslim World: Is There a Problem? What Can We Do about It?

March 11, 2004 • Policy Analysis No. 511

This paper describes the threat posed to U.S. national security by militant schools in less‐​developed nations, evaluates current policies for dealing with that threat, and suggests an alternative set of policies that would likely be more effective and also more consistent with the laws and principles of the United States.

In dozens of countries from Pakistan to Indonesia, militant Islamist schools are inculcating scores of thousands of students with an ideology of intolerance, violence, and hate. In the past, the United States abetted such schools as part of its strategy for containing Soviet expansionism. After a gradual about‐​face in the years leading up to September 11, 2001, the American government is now funding and cajoling the governments of several majority‐​Muslim nations to rein in their more militant schools.

On the basis of contemporary and historical evidence, both past and present U.S. policies are faulty. Any U.S. strategic gains from funding militant Islamist education during the 1980s were negligible compared to the long‐​term harm wrought by that policy. The present strategy of subsidizing or pressuring foreign governments to draw more children into undemocratic state schools is ill‐​conceived and incompatible with American ideals.

Based on the consistent and multifaceted superiority of fee‐​charging private schools over their government‐​run and -funded counterparts, Americans should adopt a two‐​pronged strategy as an alternative to current policy: liberalize U.S. trade policy to foster a “virtuous circle” of economic and educational growth in developing countries, and redirect private U.S. aid (which dwarfs official development aid) toward expanding access to fee‐​charging private schools.

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