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Story | Research
24 October 2019

‘Education key to combating terrorism’,  says terrorism expert


Former FBI agent believes having a critical-thinking culture within global society can be the antidote to radicalization

Critical thinking and promoting openness, transparency, and dialogue will allow global society to curtail terrorism, an ex-FBI agent has claimed while visiting Qatar for a security forum co-organized by Qatar Foundation’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University. 

According to Ali Soufan, who investigated a series of major international terrorism cases as an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, policymakers, governments, and society as a whole must recognize that educational and career opportunities have to be visible, equitable, and accessible, or connections between disenfranchisement and terrorism will continue to grow.  

And he believes that only through education can society remove the “alienization” that becomes a fertile breeding ground for radicalization. 

If education is not available, you're not going to have safe, secure, and stable societies down the road.

Ali Soufan

Mr. Soufan is founder of the Soufan Center, a non-profit organization focused on increasing awareness of security issues around the world, which co-organized the 2019 Global Security Forum with Hamad Bin Khalifa University at the St. Regis Hotel in Doha. Over two days, the forum explored security challenges created by the modern trend of disinformation.

The security expert was speaking at a forum session that formed part of the 2019 Global Security Forum, co-organized by Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan believes education can prevent the “manipulation” that allows terrorist organizations to recruit.

And speaking during the event, Mr. Soufan said: “If education is not available, you're not going to have safe, secure, and stable societies down the road.

For populations that don't have critical thinking, you need to give them the tools to a better future, economically and socially.

Ali Soufan

“Education is not the only weapon against terrorism but having an educated population will prevent the manipulation that terrorists rely on for recruiting.   

“You need to promote critical thinking. For populations that don't have critical thinking you need to give them the tools to a better future, economically and socially, because that will help them with finding their identity, and decrease their feeling of alienation.” 

At a special forum session entitled ‘Global Terrorism Trends & the Role of Education’ Mr. Soufan talked about how the connectivity of modern society allows the impartial dissemination of facts, and how interpretation and acceptance of this information relies solely on people’s own filters. Factor in a default preference for confirmation bias, he said, and the need for critical thinking skills becomes, dangerously, apparent.    

Explaining how easily a lack of education can lead to tragic circumstances, he pointed to the number of recent deaths in India that have been directly attributed to inaccurate, if not entirely fake, social media posts. 

And Mr. Soufan praised Qatar-created initiatives like Educate A Child for their work in opening up opportunities to the disadvantaged. “We see people doing an amazing job in trying to assist and help communities in poor countries around the world with programs,” he said.  

“And at Qatar Foundation, where a number of international academic institutions from around the world, have been brought together to provide accessible, liberal and STEM-type education programs to people in the region, there is a mandate to create the required critical mass of critical thinking.”

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