The Making of a Terrorist Host Neal Conan and guests examine how al Qaeda and other terrorist groups recruit and train suicide bombers.

The Making of a Terrorist

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Eleven days after terrorists struck the London transit system, a clearer picture of their plot has emerged. The names of the attackers, their hometowns and much of their plans leading up to the bombings are now all public knowledge. But we still don't know if the four men had help, how they were recruited and who provided the training, explosives and the inspiration for their deadly act. And beyond those practical questions, we can only speculate as to how four men who grew up in English towns reached a point where they thought it was worth ending their lives to kill dozens of their fellow citizens.

This hour we'll bring you an update on our latest understanding of the bombers and their plot, and we'll talk with one of the authors of a controversial report that says Britain's alliance with the United States makes it more vulnerable to attack.

Later we'll hear about the Pakistani connection and the possible role of madrassas, religious schools, which some believe may foster extremism. If you have questions about terrorist recruitment, training and operations, about what we can learn from London, our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. You can send us e-mail: totn@npr.org.

Joining us now by phone from his office outside Manchester in England is Ian Herbert. He's the North of England correspondent for The Independent newspaper.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. IAN HERBERT (The Independent): Not at all. Good to speak to you.

CONAN: Thank you. British police and intelligence services have been trying to identify the mastermind of these attacks. In today's paper you write that the evidence point toward Mohammed Sidique Khan, the oldest of the four attackers, who you say has emerged as the central figure here.

Mr. HERBERT: Sure, sure. There is a lot of discussion going on really here about whether there may have been a fifth man other than the four bombers who may have been the mastermind, who may have moved into Britain shortly before the bombings and then left the country within two or three days and also before them. But our own view, my own view is that the evidence points to the eldest of the four bombers, as you say, Sidique Khan, age 30. A mentor, a professional mentor for young Muslims in the area of Yorkshire, the city of Leeds where the four came from.

CONAN: Khan was known to British intelligence services, and indeed he had emerged on the periphery of the investigation into another terrorist plot.

Mr. HERBERT: That's right. It was very peripheral. There was--there's understood to have been some kind of bomb plot to hit a nightclub in the Soho district of London last July. Sidique Khan scanned as an individual who may have links to those who were involved in that plot. It was foiled, of course, but he was revealed or understood to have been a very peripheral figure. He just was a contact of a contact of the individuals involved, and intelligence revealed that he was a low-time criminal. He may have been involved in some kind of credit card fraud, which may have, in retrospect, been used to fund terrorist activities. That's something we've seen before in the UK. But was not directly linked, and therefore there seems to be a general acceptance here that MI5 is not, if you like, in the wrong. It's not an intelligence failing that he's not been picked up, but there are thousands of individuals who perhaps might be at that level.

CONAN: The parents of one of the other bombers said in weeks leading up to the bombing that they were afraid of the influence of a man they called Mr. K, Mr. Khan. You now think he's Sidique Khan?

Mr. HERBERT: That's right. One of the mysteries last week was who this guy was, and I spoke to one very close family friend of the Hussains--that's the parents of Hasib Hussain, who was the guy who set off the bomb on the Number 30 bus in London, the last of the bombs to go off. They were fairly convinced that this Mr. Khan, or Mr. K, who Hussain's father had spoken of and had been anxious about because of his effect on Hasib, was not Sidique Khan. It was an obvious question to ask, you know, could it be one in the same, but all the evidence to me seems to point to him. And I can elaborate, if you like, on why.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. HERBERT: Well, I mean, he was quite a remarkable figure in the community in terms of his mentoring ability. He was so successful as a teaching assistant in a Muslim primary school in the area where the bombers came from that he was invited to the House of Commons last year, to join the children on a trip to the Commons to meet a government minister. The head teacher of that school, an MP's wife, coincidentally, a member of Parliament's wife, was idealistic about him. She couldn't speak highly enough of him. There's evidence that he's raised lots of Muslim boys in Yorkshire, in Leeds, out of a spiral of underperformance and despair really and made them into something better. So so highly thought of, but his connections with all the kinds of places where these young individuals, the other three bombers mixed and may have been influenced are immense--gymnasiums, a local youth center, mosques. His name keeps cropping up as a man who met the others and seems to have influenced them.

CONAN: Hmm. Another figure who has emerged from that group in Leeds is an Egyptian-born chemist who went back to Cairo in the days before the attacks. He's been arrested there and interrogated by Egyptian police...

Mr. HERBERT: Yeah.

CONAN: ...as British officials watch the interrogation. Any evidence yet to suggest that he may have been involved?

Mr. HERBERT: Well, the evidence is not great. I mean, the security sources insist that he is an important figure in the investigation. The Egyptians, as you probably reported throughout the day, are adamant that he's not. And yet, his link to this is a flat not very far from the place where the other four lived, where he is--the keys to which he is said to have given to one of the four bombers, and there's lots of--a guy called Germaine Lindsey, the so-called fourth bomber, and there's lots of talk about how not only did Lindsey frequent the flat, but other members of the quartet (unintelligible).

CONAN: And as I understand it, evidence of explosives was found in the bathtub. They may have been mixed there or stored there?

Mr. HERBERT: That's right. Exactly so. Exactly so. So it's just difficult really to get a sense of whether Magdy el-Nashar was an unwitting individual who gave his keys to the wrong man, or whether he really knew something about what was going on. But things have been confused by the fact that last Thursday, security sources here in the UK were briefly that el-Nashar was not a serious figure and that we should be careful how we approach that angle to the story, and then within about 24 hours or less or fewer, he was being arrested in Cairo. So that really is one of the big mysteries really, I think, surrounding the way these guys operated, because there is a feeling that there must have been somewhere there who--someone there who gave them the wherewithal or the skills to actually, you know, create the bombs.

CONAN: Ian Herbert, thank you very much.

Mr. HERBERT: Many thanks.

CONAN: Ian Herbert, the North of England correspondent with the British newspaper The Independent. He joined us from his office near Manchester in England.

A newly released think tank report on terrorism caused a stir today in London. The report from a group known as Chatham House says that the United Kingdom's close alliance with the US in the war in Iraq has made it more difficult to fight al-Qaeda. Joining us now on the phone from Scotland is one of the authors of that report. Paul Wilkinson is also chairman for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He's been a guest several times on this program.

Professor Wilkinson, good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor PAUL WILKINSON (University of St. Andrews): Nice to talk to you.

CONAN: Your report comes, obviously, at a time of heightened attention following the bombs in London, but as I understand it, this report was completed months before those attacks happened.

Prof. WILKINSON: That's correct, and there was a full version of our report of findings on the major issues in the report disseminated to the media in Britain in February of this year, and we did a dissemination seminar in London and in Edinburgh. So people who were really interested did familiarize themselves with our findings, and we had a very positive response, and we felt that it was a constructive report. We were then asked to write a brief article on some aspects of our findings, and it was for the Chatham House journal. So Chatham House is not the originator of the research and, of course, not the sponsor. It's the Economic and Social Research Council which actually funded our two-year project, and it involved a team of seven academics from Southampton University and St. Andrews, and I was the project director.

CONAN: Your report addresses one of the principle questions that a lot of people have been asking for a long time: Does the war in Iraq--does it make it safer or less safe?

Prof. WILKINSON: Well, our general conclusion was that it has been counterproductive as far as the struggle with al-Qaeda is concerned, so putting on one side for a moment whether you're for or against the war, which was clearly successful in toppling the cruel and tyrannical Saddam regime, the fact is that we have seen an escalation of al-Qaeda activity, particularly in Iraq, and it did give a boost to al-Qaeda. They used it as a propaganda platform. They've recruited many people by using the argument that this was the invasion of a Muslim land. They've gained more money from donors and, of course, they've now got in Iraq itself a target zone for attacking coalition soldiers and for attacking the civilians who are helping with reconstruction.

And, of course, we must remember that in the meantime, the situation in Afghanistan has been difficult, and a recently worrying development is that Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies have been creeping back into the outlying provinces in Afghanistan. And, of course, we don't have the security resources or the economic resources to help President Karzai to the extent that he originally hoped. So it has had, in our view, the consequence that it has been a setback in the struggle with al-Qaeda.

CONAN: And one government minister today, responding to this, said--I'm afraid we just have a few seconds left in this segment--but he said, `It's time to stop making excuses for terrorism.' Is your report excusing terrorism or trying to explain it?

Prof. WILKINSON: Of course not. It's trying to explain it and to explore the dynamics of the relationship between the international environment and politics and terrorism. And, of course, the last thing I would do in any report that I was involved with is to offer an excuse for terrorism. As you know, I'm a person who for years has been studying terrorism and I'm diametrically opposed to it. I don't think it's justified under any circumstances. So that was complete nonsense, and unfortunately I think political leaders too often react to these things without having read the report.

CONAN: We'll have more with Professor Wilkinson after a short break.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As more information comes out about the young men responsible for the bombings in London earlier this month, the world again asks the question: What leads middle-class youth raised and educated in the West to devote themselves to terrorist causes? This hour we're discussing what we know about the factors that lead people to adopt terrorism. Of course, you're invited to join us with questions about the influences that create terrorists and the likelihood that these philosophies have attracted supporters in the US. Our phone number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail. The address is totn@npr.org.

Our guest is Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. And also joining us now is Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the author of "Terror in the Name of God."

And, Jessica Stern, it's good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION as well.

Ms. JESSICA STERN (Kennedy School of Government): Thank you very much.

CONAN: I understand--I wanted to ask you as well about the question we were talking with Professor Wilkinson about just before the break, and in England, Prime Minister Blair has, really in a way that President Bush has in this country, said after the attacks in London it's about who we are as a people, about our way of life, about what we believe in. In a way it seems that is the question--is it about who we are or is it about what we do? Is it about policies?

Ms. STERN: Well, I'm afraid I agree with Professor Wilkinson. Bin Laden himself has made clear in his last video release that it is about what the United States and the West does. Indeed, he said that if he were opposed to freedom, he would have attacked Sweden. It's not about freedom. It's about our policies. Now I think that's--it's also about bin Laden's personal vanity, but nonetheless I think we need to take very seriously what bin Laden has said again and again, that the Iraq War has been very good for his movement.

CONAN: And about what we do, that's not to suggest that this terrorism should force us to change what we do, but we should recognize what its source is.

Ms. STERN: Exactly. There's always a trade-off. In almost any policy remedy we design, there's a trade-off that may be good in one sense--for example, ridding the world of a vicious tyrant, as Professor Wilkinson said--but there is a down side, and we need to weigh the costs and the benefits.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, and let's talk with Herb. Herb calling from Atlantic Beach in North Carolina.

HERB (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

HERB: It's an honor to speak with you. My question is very brief and straightforward. What can we as Christians do to preach love or to solve this issue from the position of love rather than guns and bombs? The Muslim's faith says it's a faith of peace, and we as Christians think that Jesus teaches the central tenet of love and forgiveness and compassion, and the Buddhists share that, so what can we as a universal community of love, how can we approach this? What can we do to contribute to the solution rather than more bombs and bullets?

CONAN: Well, Herb, if you're talking about we as the United States, of course, there are Muslims and Jews and atheists and all kinds of people involved in that group as well. But we take your larger point.

HERB: Sure.

CONAN: Paul Wilkinson, do you have a suggestion for him?

Prof. WILKINSON: Yes. I think that there has been some remarkable work in multi-faith dialogue and working together to try to oppose terrorism and other forms of violence, and this is certainly happening in various parts of the United Kingdom and in other parts of Europe, and it's notable that Muslim leaders, not just religious leaders but local community leaders, have taken a leading part in condemning these terrible acts of violence, not only in Western countries, but in Iraq. Remember the very strong statements from the French Muslim community leaders over the kidnapping of the French journalists. I think that had an enormous influence, and certainly it represented the views of the vast majority of Muslims not only in France, but in the Western world. So I think there's every point in furthering the dialogue between faiths, and Christians can do a great deal by recognizing that Islam is being libeled when extremists like bin Laden claim to be acting in the name of Islam. True Islam has nothing to do with deliberate and outrageous attacks on civilians of the sort we saw on 9/11 or that we've seen in so many cities since.

CONAN: Herb, thank you.

HERB: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Chip. Chip calling from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

CHIP (Caller): Yeah, hi. Thanks a lot for taking my call. I really enjoy your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

CHIP: You know, listening to all this stuff, a thought occurred to me. Has anybody ever looked at the possibility of using some of the same tactics and techniques that we use with our own problem with the KKK to battle the problem with these fundamentalists? I mean, obviously the KKK could be described as Christian fundamentalists to an extreme.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Jessica Stern, FBI agents and informants were able to penetrate the KKK.

Ms. STERN: I think that's a very useful approach and it's one that I would like to see us employ more. The war on terrorism, if we're going to do well in it, requires trying to stop the next generation of recruits more than focusing on today's stock. I think that's where we're going wrong. We're not thinking enough about penetrating the groups and preventing them from recruiting additional killers.

CHIP: Well, not even as far as the recruitment goes, but I know that the Southern Law and Poverty group has had great success through litigation and just, you know, taking the feet out from underneath the organization as a whole, and has been able through the courts to stop, you know, if not completely, substantially stop the spread of, you know, the KKK, their organization, their ability to organize and raise funds and things like that. So I mean, there's got to be some way, somewhere that we can go at these guys. You know, obviously the pocketbook would be the best place to start.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Paul Wilkinson, obviously people are doing their very best to trace down financing and that sort of things, but these cells seem to be quite small, quite compact, difficult to penetrate, people who know each other and sometimes are related to each other.

Prof. WILKINSON: That's right. I agree with Jessica Stern that high-quality intelligence is absolutely essential and, of course, penetrating these organizations, especially in the Middle East and southern Asia is extremely difficult because we lack intelligence officers with the necessary language skills and cultural familiarization. We are desperately trying to recruit more in the United Kingdom, and I know that you are in the United States. Other countries are finding it difficult. We just have to try to recruit and train more people for this vital job, collecting human intelligence, because however good our technology is for technical intelligence gathering, it is never as effective as human intelligence on the intentions and plans of a secret organization like al-Qaeda. So that is a very important part of the task we have. But I agree with your listener that the use of the law against organizations that we can bring to the courts is also important, and the battle of ideas is absolutely crucial. It's a long-term strategy, but as Jessica says quite rightly, we need to try and prevent new generations of suicide bombers emerging, and if we neglect that battle of ideas, we are asking for trouble.

Ms. STERN: I would like to say, however, in response to the caller that I think there is a difference between the KKK and the al-Qaeda movement in the sense that there is a large pool of young people who feel that there has been a great injustice perpetrated against them and their co-religionists. The sympathizers of the KKK are limited in number. In Europe I've been meeting with leaders of Muslim youth groups in the UK and I've now spent quite a bit of time in the Moroccan community in the Netherlands, and there's a very strong feeling of confused identity, that there's a double standard in regard to the Islamic world, that there's Islamaphobia in Europe, that when we're going out and killing people in Iraq and yet when--as far as they're concerned, a relatively small number of people are killed in the West, we make a much bigger production about that. So there's a feeling of profound injustice that the terrorist leaders are capitalizing on.

CHIP: That's the same...

Prof. WILKINSON: I agree with that, but I think that we can do a great deal by concentrating our attention on the recruiters. You know, these people don't get involved in these extremist groups accidentally. They get drawn in by schooled recruiters and trainers who then induct them in the perverted doctrine of al-Qaeda. And we have to find a way of tracing those people and dealing with them, and what our government in the UK is now proposing is to introduce a law on indirect incitement to terrorism which would cover those extremist preachers who've been active in recruiting but who have been clever enough to avoid being brought to court because they haven't actually been involved in terrorist operations as such. So...

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Professor, let me ask you specifically--Chip, thanks for the call. Let me ask you about a report that was in The Times of London about one of the clerics--these radical clerics--Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, and this had to do with allegations that there was threat of--an unspoken deal between British authorities and radical Islamists in London, live and let live. If you let us do our business, we won't have any attacks here. And Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad spoke of a covenant of security that prevented attacks in London after 9/11, then this spring he appeared to suggest that the British government's anti-terrorist legislation had effectively breached that accord, and in a Webcast monitored by The Times of London in January he said, `I believe the whole of Britain has become Dar-el-Harb, or the land of war.'

Prof. WILKINSON: Well, I think that there is only an element of truth in that. There certainly was a period in the 1990s when there were a number of extremists who were allowed to set up their preaching in London and undoubtedly recruited extremists, and the authorities had their eyes fixed on other problems such as the danger of attacks against the Good Friday agreement to try and derail it.

CONAN: In Northern Ireland, yes.

Prof. WILKINSON: Yeah, attacks in Northern Ireland and spilling over onto the mainland. The problem of al-Qaeda was seriously underestimated, just as it was throughout the Western world. It wasn't just an American intelligence failure, as the 9/11 report emphasizes. It was actually an international failure to underestimate the severity of the al-Qaeda threat, so...

Ms. STERN: In fact, European counterterrorism officials felt even though the US intelligence community was underestimating al-Qaeda, they felt that Americans were grossly overestimating its impact, as you know. It was...

Prof. WILKINSON: That's true.

Ms. STERN: ...we were the laughingstock because it seemed--the view was that we were paranoid.

Prof. WILKINSON: Yes. I think there's been a great deal of misinformation and myth making before this latest attack in London. There were many who were already writing the obituary of the al-Qaeda movement, not realizing that it had morphed. It's certainly not run in the same way as it was in its early stages. It's evolved, but the idea that it's just disappeared as a phenomenon was totally wrong and misled a lot of people, and you had other people who simply didn't recognize that it was a very different kind of terrorist phenomenon to say the ETA or IRA, which are traditional types of terrorist movements, which have different kinds of aims and where, as we've seen in Northern Ireland, it is at least possible to address the causes, the underlying causes of the conflict, and begin a peace process, there's no question of beginning a peace process with al-Qaeda, because its aims and its methods are incorrigible. So we have to take action internationally to bring them to justice.

CONAN: Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Jessica Stern is also with us, author of "Terror in the Name of God."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line, Steve. Steve calling from Philadelphia.

STEVE (Caller): Sit!

Hello?

CONAN: Yes. You're on the air.

STEVE: Yeah. I don't have a question so much as I have a comment. Yes. (Unintelligible) the United States of America, which is just south of Canada and north of Mexico, there are 50 states; the northernmost state, which is Alaska. The capital of Alaska is Anchorage. Yeah. So I was wondering is it possible that maybe there are terrorists living in this country? And if there are, do you think that they could hurt us? Because there are some Muslims that live down the street from me, and I am very scared.

CONAN: Capital of Alaska is Juneau, but go ahead, Jessica Stern.

Ms. STERN: Well, I think the majority of Muslims have absolutely no desire to hurt anyone, and I don't think there's any reason to be afraid of Muslim neighbors. While I do think there are some--a very, very tiny percentage of Muslims living in America who might eventually be susceptible to this evil ideology, as Mr. Blair just put it, most are not.

CONAN: Thanks, Steve, for the call. And let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Norm. Norm calling from St. Paul.

NORM (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon. I've been watching this issue, even before the bombings of 11 days ago, for--well, ever since 9/11, and asking the question: Why do they do it? What's the end goal here? And in studying that problem, along with other aspects of this issue, I've come up with, oh, about eight different--half a dozen to eight different reasons as to why they're doing it. But they all boil down to one thing. Two words: wounded pride. And I believe that this really is a clash of civilizations. That's why you have fairly well-educated people behind al-Qaeda, for instance. They remember the past, and if we don't, we're going to suffer for it.

CONAN: Professor Wilkinson, all of Osama bin Laden's statements seem to come--reference of hundreds of years in the past.

Prof. WILKINSON: Well, it's certainly true that the point about nursing grudges and having a hatred of the West for alleged injustices committed by the West in the past is certainly one of the constant features in al-Qaeda ideology, but we also have to remember that they have a strategic doctrine, a combat doctrine on both the attacks against the homelands of Western countries and the strategy behind their violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan. They are seeking in the front line states like Iraq to establish a base to replace the base, if you like, that they had in Afghanistan or to supplement the bases they've managed to still hang on to in other countries, so that they can use that as a platform for further attacks in the Muslim world.

But they haven't given up the idea of continuing to carry the global jihad, as they claim, holy war, into the homelands of the West, and clearly, they still have the capability of doing that through using networks, which they have developed which they're able to collaborate with in many countries. I think the Dutch were astonished to find that they had a network already established in the Netherlands when they investigated the assassination of Theo van Gogh, the film director.

CONAN: And with that, I'm afraid we've run out of time. Professor Wilkinson, thank you very much for joining us today.

Prof. WILKINSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Paul Wilkinson, the chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at St. Andrews. Jessica Stern, thank you for your time today.

Ms. STERN: Thank you.

CONAN: Jessica Stern at Harvard.

This is NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following today here at NPR News. Eric Rudolph has been sentenced to life in prison for a deadly abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Rudolph pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty. Before the sentence was handed down, one of his victims called him a monster. And a police chief in suburban Atlanta has reopened the investigation of the murders of five black children more than 20 years ago. De Kalb County police chief Louis Graham believes the wrong man may have--convicted for some of the Atlanta child murders. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, with re-election in question and a pack of powerful unions threatening to break away, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney is having one hot summer. Sweeney joins us on the show tomorrow to talk about his vision of what organized labor needs and where it goes from here. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about the continuing investigation into the bombings in London 11 days ago and other aspects of it. News reports on the London bombers have made much of the visit three made to Pakistan last year. Pakistan's conservative Muslim schools, called madrassas, have long been suspected of fostering religious intolerance and even of training terrorists. Today Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf condemned the London attacks and vowed to crack down on the most extreme madrassas there.

Joining us now to tell us more about this is Husain Haqqani. As a child, he attended a madrassa in Pakistan. He's currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is also the author of a book called "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Militia."

Thanks very much for coming in to speak with us today.

Mr. HUSAIN HAQQANI (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Author): Pleasure being here, Neal.

CONAN: You had the experience of growing up in both a madrassa and in a more Westernized school as well. Can you compare those experiences for us?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, I went to a madrassa in the 1960s, and at the time, the madrassas shunned Western values, but they did not foster hatred against them. There was no mention of violence. Basically, my religious teachers just said that Islam, in its pure, pristine, medieval form was the religion that one must follow. And so the madrassa was medieval, but not radical. That has changed over the years.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit more. It's a religious school. Were you just studying the Koran or were there other courses, other subjects?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, let me just tell you that madrassa literally means a place of learning, and basically, the earliest madrassas were set up in Baghdad, of all places, during the 10th century, and so the madrassa, as an institution, has been around for centuries. Basically, it's a place where there are two types of courses. It's one called rational sciences, which essentially is logic, traditional language, grammar, etc., and the other is revealed sciences, which is just the Koran and the teachings of prophet Muhammad, and basically Islamic jurisprudence is another important subject.

The madrassa historically decided at some point not to evolve the curriculum because continuing with modernization basically meant giving up the purity of the religious learning, and so therefore, the curriculum at some point became stagnant and did not continue to evolve. So what is being taught in Pakistani madrassas, for example, or was taught at the time when I attended a madrassa, was a curriculum that had not been changed for almost 250 years.

CONAN: Is the Western characterization of what's being taught in madrassas in the northwest territories near Peshawar, down along the Afghan border, as fostering extreme Islam? Is that accurate?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, I think that a distinction needs to be made between madrassas and madrassas. There are madrassas that just teach people to be medieval. They just teach people a very, shall we say, conservative, orthodox form of Islam which does not allow for modernity, that does not allow for tolerance at an intellectual level. But then there are those madrassas, especially after the involvement of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, that have essentially embraced a very militant, violent form of Islam, and that basically teaches young people to hate the West, to hate the Jews, to hate what they call the crusaders, and basically hate non-Muslim domination of the world. And I think to that extent, some madrassas are definitely involved in teaching hatred.

But it's not just the madrassas, Neal. Even the normal schools in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have curricula that do teach hatred of the West and maybe contributing to extremism.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation, Abdul. Abdul joins us from Spokane in Washington.

ABDUL (Caller): Yeah. How are you doing today? I was just calling to say that I was born here in the US and I converted to Islam and then I was trained in Arabic and Egypt and then I went over to Yemen, and we can't say that the madrassas are the fault for, you know, some of these extreme views. I was in Yemen for almost three years, and not once did I ever hear any hatred towards the US, any type of teaching of extremism or any of this stuff. So this is a false claim for people to label all the madrassas of teaching this, 'cause it never got taught where I was at, and I was there in the early '90s.

Mr. HAQQANI: I think Abdul is right, that most madrassas do not teach people to become human bombs. I think that that is just a characterization that comes from governments that do not want to face up to their responsibilities; for example, in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has trained hundreds of volunteers to go and fight India in an unconventional war in Kashmir. The Middle Eastern governments have been trying to train people to become militants and to face Israel in that manner. And I think some of this has gone out of control. These are state projects that have gone out of control, and the fact remains that the 9/11 bomb--hijackers and the July 7 bombers in London--none of them were madrassa students. For example, these...

ABDUL: Can I make one more comment?

Mr. HAQQANI: Sure.

CONAN: Go ahead.

ABDUL: Yeah. I was just saying, because when I was there and for most people who I know who studied Islam overseas, we all come back. Why do we all come back? Because, you know, as God is my witness, the United States is the best place to be Muslim, because you have the freedom to speak. Even like speaking now, if I was in another country that I have been--and I won't mention the country--you would go to jail.

Mr. HAQQANI: Abdul, you're absolutely right. Most Muslim countries do not have democracy. They do not have the freedom that the United States has, and as I was saying, the madrassas are not to blame--although some madrassas have been converted into training centers for extremism, but it is those specific institutions, not the institution of the madrassa per se. People who go to learn the Koran do not always become extremists, which is why it is unfair to characterize the madrassa as the problem. The problem is extremism, whether it start at the madrassa or whether it start at an English language school or whether it start in a training camp run by intelligence services of any country.

ABDUL: OK.

CONAN: Abdul, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate you.

Let me ask you a broader question. Though there is at this point, I think, no evidence that these three men of the four London bombers who traveled in Pakistan attended madrassas, there's apparently links to--at least some may have visited madrassas. And three of the four in Pakistan within the past year apparently, again according to intelligence reports, none of which quote names next to these sources, but apparently in contact with some extremist groups in connection with Kashmir.

Mr. HAQQANI: It must be understood that there extremist groups in Pakistan, many of which have been fostered by the government of Pakistan in the past as part of its irregular warfare against India. Now it may not be able to control some of these groups, but there was a time when the government of Pakistan actively supported, tolerated, armed, trained, financed many of these groups, and even after 9/11, when General Musharraf decided that he's going to become an American ally and receive American assistance in return for fighting the war against terrorism, many of these groups have not been shut down.

Now the question is, these people who went there, did they go to a madrassa that is operating as a facade or a shop for extremism? These were not regular madrassa students. In fact, the connection between the madrassa as an institution and extremism came to light after the rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban were products of the madrassas. But al-Qaeda's terrorists, most of them are people who have been engineers, biochemists, have attended Westernized universities. The question is, is the madrassa, as an institution, at fault? And I would say that the evidence to that effect is insufficient. There are some madrassas that have been co-opted into global extremism. There are madrassas that are used as a facade by al-Qaeda and groups linked to it, but that does not mean that the madrassa, as an institution per se, is at fault.

There is a bigger problem going on in the Islamic world. Many of the governments that are unrepresentative, including Pakistan's government, they have an agenda essentially of controlling their own people. And how do they control their people? They blame the West. They blame Israel. They blame India. There is always an external enemy to blame. And when you have that kind of a milieu, you throw in religious radicalism, and it becomes very, very difficult to control the sentiment of these people.

CONAN: Let me ask you a question. Since this spring, we've seen a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were supported--in some ways, some people even say the creature--of Pakistani intelligence. Is there any way that the Taliban could be mounting this return to military activity without the support of some in Pakistan?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, it's obvious that the Taliban need a base to operate out of. Pakistan's government denies that it has allowed any of them to operate out of Pakistan, but they are certainly not operating out of American bases in Afghanistan. Is it possible that the people in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan are supporting them out of their own conviction? Yes, that is possible, but the Pakistani government, to the extent that it is a government of tremendous power and has tremendous firepower at its disposal, that it's unable to control them completely, is something that makes us all wonder.

CONAN: The lines of supply run right across that border; the areas in which the Taliban is most active, right along the Pakistani border.

Mr. HAQQANI: Pakistan has not done enough in intercepting the Taliban or, for the matter, closing down Pakistani groups that supported the jihad in Kashmir. Making a distinction between one type of extremism and another is really the reason why Pakistan is right now the focus of so much attention.

CONAN: Thank you very much for coming in today. We appreciate your time.

Mr. HAQQANI: It was a pleasure being here, Neal.

CONAN: Husain Haqqani is the author of "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Militia." He joined us here in Studio 3A. He's also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and teaches at Boston University.

Thanks again for joining us today.

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