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

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This paper describes the threat posed to U.S.national security by militant schools in less-developednations, evaluates current policies fordealing with that threat, and suggests an alternativeset of policies that would likely be moreeffective and also more consistent with the lawsand principles of the United States.

In dozens of countries from Pakistan toIndonesia, militant Islamist schools are inculcatingscores of thousands of students with an ideologyof intolerance, violence, and hate. In thepast, the United States abetted such schools aspart of its strategy for containing Soviet expansionism.After a gradual about-face in the yearsleading up to September 11, 2001, the Americangovernment is now funding and cajoling the governmentsof several majority-Muslim nations torein in their more militant schools.

On the basis of contemporary and historicalevidence, both past and present U.S. policies arefaulty. Any U.S. strategic gains from funding militantIslamist education during the 1980s werenegligible compared to the long-term harmwrought by that policy. The present strategy ofsubsidizing or pressuring foreign governments todraw more children into undemocratic stateschools is ill-conceived and incompatible withAmerican ideals.

Based on the consistent and multifacetedsuperiority of fee-charging private schools overtheir government-run and -funded counterparts,Americans should adopt a two-pronged strategyas an alternative to current policy: liberalize U.S.trade policy to foster a "virtuous circle" of economicand educational growth in developingcountries, and redirect private U.S. aid (whichdwarfs official development aid) toward expandingaccess to fee-charging private schools.

Andrew J. Coulson

Andrew Coulson is senior fellow in education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the author of Market Education: The Unknown History.