A friend of mine is the editor of the journal “Technology and Culture,” and he found the following in Atlantic Monthly:
Now that the stereotype of the poverty-stricken terrorist has been dispelled by studies showing that militancy and high levels of education go hand in hand, a new Oxford study tries to explain why so many violent Islamic radicals are … engineers. The authors gathered data on 404 militants from 31 countries, and among the 178 whose principal academic focus could be determined, engineering was by far the most popular subject. Seventy-eight had pursued an engineering degree, compared with 34 in Islamic studies, 14 in medicine, and 12 in economics or business studies. The authors couldn’t find evidence to support the idea that radical groups seek out engineers for their skills. Instead, they speculate that something in the engineer’s mind-set—the emphasis on structure and rules, and on finding singular solutions to complicated problems—may fit neatly with Islamist notions of the ideal society. (In support of this hypothesis, the authors cite surveys from America, the Middle East, and Canada indicating that engineers are more likely than other professionals to be religious and right-wing.) They also note that engineers tend to be high-achievers who rise by merit, which may make them more likely to be frustrated by their interactions with corrupt bureaucracies in the Middle East and North Africa and thus receptive to radical messages.
Seems a little scary, given that a fair number the grad students I teach are Muslims from the Middle East. However, my experience of these students has always been positive, and I feel a sense of mutual respect. Even in a case a few years ago when I had some spirited conversations with one student who was pretty militant in his views, I never got the sense that he harbored any disrespect of me, even though we disagreed. I just hope that papers like this do not create another wave of assumptions that a group of men are suspected terrorists because of their academic background.