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Many people have expressed surprise that doctors were involved in Jihad. Beyond that, there seems to be some shock that they did so in such an incompetent manner. They're doctors! They're supposed to be smart, right?

Well, with all due respect to my physician readers and commenters, I've never bought into that myth. Neither does John Derbyshire:

I attended a British university with a large and famous teaching hospital attached. The medical students were pretty widely regarded as the dumbest on campus, and as the heaviest drinkers and stupidest pranksters. Of the five or six student rock groups, the medics' was the loudest and worst. (Its name was "Perry Stalsis and his Abdo Men.") My subsequent experience of doctors has done nothing to erase those early impressions. Sure, medical students have to memorize the names of a lot of little parts. So do auto mechanics.

That's how I've always viewed doctors--as mechanics, except for the human body, rather than inanimate objects.

Not saying, of course, that there aren't smart doctors, or doctors capable of rigging and detonating explosives via cell phone (but as I've noted in the past, fortunately, people competent at doing such things are generally less likely to want to). But there's certainly no reason to automatically infer high intelligence, or even competence, just because someone is a doctor. Or a lawyer, for that matter.

By the way, it would also be nice if this latest development finally puts to bed the ongoing "progressive" myth that terrorism is caused by poverty and alienation, or by our foreign policy (the latest manifestation of this nonsense is the nutty notion that we are "creating terrorists in Iraq").

It's the Jihad, stupid. As a former Islamist notes, we are at war with an ideology:

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy...

...And as with previous terror attacks, people are again articulating the line that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy. For example, yesterday on Radio 4's Today programme, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: 'What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq.'

He then refused to acknowledge the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism and said that the Muslim Brotherhood and those who give a religious mandate to suicide bombings in Palestine were genuinely representative of Islam.

I left the BJN in February 2006, but if I were still fighting for their cause, I'd be laughing once again. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7 July bombings, and I were both part of the BJN - I met him on two occasions - and though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many of my peers to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain, our own homeland and abroad, was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would eventually bring Islamic justice to the world.

We continue to deny moral agency to Muslims, and act as though we really are responsible for all bad things in the world, and they have no responsibility for their own behavior. If we don't understand what we are at war with, and chase after solutions to problems that don't really exist, and continue to foolishly ask questions like "why do they hate us?", we can never win.

[Friday morning update]

Diane West has more:

In the media, the effort [to ignore the Islamist elephant in the corner] is misleading to the point of farce. Joel Mowbray, writing at the Powerline blog, noted that the New York Times has identified Britain's Muslim terrorists as "South Asian people" which, considering Britain's largest South Asian population is Hindu, is beyond absurd. "Diverse group allegedly in British plot," the Associated Press reported, missing that unifying Islamic thread. "All 8 detainees have ties to health service," wrote the Toronto Star, "but genesis of terror scheme still eludes investigators."

If they read Robert Spencer's, the essential daily compendium of jihad and dhimmi news, they might get a clue. But, very ominously, Mr. Spencer's Web site is being blocked by assorted organizations which, according to his readers, continue to provide access to assorted pro-jihad sites. Mr. Spencer reports he's "never received word of so many organizations banning this site all at once." These include the City of Chicago, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, GE IT, JPMorgan Chase, Defense Finance and Accounting Services and now, a federal employee in Dallas informs him, the federal government.

Reason given? Some Internet providers deem the factually based, meticulous analysis on display at to be "hate speech." This should send Orwellian shivers up society's spine, but, alarmingly, such reactions to jihad analysis are increasingly the norm.

We are winning the war on the ground, and losing it where it really matters, in the media, and political establishment. The enemy understands the nature and value of their information war, but our side remains clueless.

[Update, late Friday afternoon]

A potential explanation for the Jihadwatch censorship, to the degree that it exists.

We need to get smarter firewall companies. I mean, we are at war.

[Update on Saturday morning]

There's a follow up to this post up above.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 05, 2007 08:21 AM
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It's funny.. doctor friends often look at me askance when I tell them that my undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering.

Most of medical school is just training, not education. There are skills that you have to have to succeed in medical school, if you're in a selective program especially. Surgical residents are ferociously competitive - they'll stab you in the back and then log credit for the procedure. But there's a profound pressure towards specialization, and since we're celebrated for our specialized skills by the culture generally we tend to think we're more competent than we are.

I could probably manage the cell phone trick, for what it's worth. Bluetooth would be the elegant way to do it. But I don't know of anyone who needs blowing up in my world at the moment.

Posted by Jane Bernstein at July 5, 2007 09:42 AM

I'm puzzled at the use of medics as terrorists. It seems counterproductive. It's doubtful that these medics could, even if their plans went as desired, would have killed more people than they had saved and/or bettered in their medical career. Like earning someone's trust by giving them $10,000 dollars and then betraying it by stealing their cheap TV set.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at July 5, 2007 10:25 AM

How do you know they "saved or bettered" anyone in their medical careers? I mean, they did work for NHS, after all.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 5, 2007 10:29 AM

I could probably manage the cell phone trick, for what it's worth. Bluetooth would be the elegant way to do it.

Ah, Jane... trying to be the true martyr? Bluetooth's range is only 30 feet.

I would expect Doctor's to know the risks (and thus advantage) of pure oxygen systems.

Posted by Leland at July 5, 2007 10:58 AM

The thing that's boggling is the number of _engineers_ that we've caught/blown up along the way. Yet they still don't seem very competent. At least, unable to delegate any assembly steps at all.

Posted by Al at July 5, 2007 11:15 AM

The thing that's boggling is the number of _engineers_ that we've caught/blown up along the way. Yet they still don't seem very competent.

Unfortunately, I think that one doesn't have to be that smart to be an engineer, either, at least not if one's degree is attained abroad.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 5, 2007 11:20 AM

How do you know they "saved or bettered" anyone in their medical careers? I mean, they did work for NHS, after all.

From what I hear, it's not one of the better government-run healthcare systems out there, but the NHS system does function.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at July 5, 2007 11:22 AM

Doesn't this discussion somewhat beg the question of how "doctor", "medical school", and "engineer degree" translate across national jurisdictions? For example,

IF China graduates (say) 200,000 engineers in one year, does that mean

200,000 "accreditable B.S. Degree in the US", or

200,000 "engineer tech" equivalent in the US, or

200,000 "I paid local the Communist party functionary a years' peasant wages, and all I got was this lousy sheepskin!"

And likewise with physicians.

Posted by MG at July 5, 2007 12:06 PM

Just out of curiosity, Jane, did you intend to become an MD while getting your engineering degree, or did you decide to do so later? If the former, why? It is an unusual major for a prospective doctor. They generally do biology.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 5, 2007 12:10 PM

MDs as jihadis did not suprise me at all. I've always thought most MDs were pricks anyways.

Posted by Kurt9 at July 5, 2007 12:21 PM

MG's question is quite appropriate.

FWIW, in China, "engineer" is much more akin to "technical degree or proficiency." Thus, of the 100K engineers posed in the hypothetical, a substantial number (but probably not 50%) are, in fact, technicians, and not engineers. (The same pattern was true in the USSR.)

However, to its credit, an even smaller percentage (probably not more than ~10%) are "I paid my Party dues and got my sheepskin." Especially since the CCP now welcomes entrepreneurs into the Party (if you can't beat them, co-opt them). And, at some level, performance matters---a Party-based engineer is simply not going to be able to get the job done, and getting the job done is what pays the bills.

From what has been seen, the issue is far more likely to be slip-shod work, poor quality control, corruption and fraud (materials billed but not used, frex), than out-and-out Party officials dictating how things will turn out. The Chinese aren't the Soviets.

They're smarter. (And that's what makes them worrisome.)

Posted by Lurking Observer at July 5, 2007 12:21 PM

Gregory Benford once described physicians as more like engineers than scientists. I've always rather liked that. (Not that there's any shame in being a mechanic.)

Posted by FC at July 5, 2007 12:33 PM

As I've said before, it's a good thing terrorists are stupid. The bad news is, we will continue to tolerate a low level of this stupidity indefinitely. We need to be a lot less tolerant!

Posted by ken anthony at July 5, 2007 12:45 PM

Leland, please! The bluetooth is to connect the cell phone to the detonator wirelessly. Just text "Boom" to the right number and the cell phone will relay to the bluetooth receiver on the detonator. That way you don't have to crack the cell phone case and you can bench test lavishly beforehand.

Rand, I made a mess of my first two years in college while pursuing a non-academic career interest. The grab bag of credits I'd accumulated made it easiest to graduate in ME. Medical schools look for breadth in their student bodies as well, and having something other than "biology" on my undergrad degree made it a little easier to get in although I struggled with some of the course material at first. I made the decision to go to medical school after a couple were good enough to admit me, and decided to apply in the fall of my senior year.

Posted by Jane Bernstein at July 5, 2007 12:49 PM

Jane, as incompetent as they may be, I don't think it's a great idea to be publishing things like this on line.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 5, 2007 12:53 PM

My dad likes to tell the story of a man who had a pump shotgun jam on him at a shoot. In the process of attempting to clear the jam, the man was waving the muzzle around *at* the spectators!

Dad, an expert shooter who did gun repair, got up to help him, and was told by a bystander to "sit down, he's a doctor." Dad found cover until the doc got his gun cleared.

Competency in one field is not the same as competency in another.

Posted by Chris Gerrib at July 5, 2007 03:13 PM

That last observation by Chris Gerrib is essential. How often have we had "Nobel Prize Winners" from a range of disciplines tell us about why we needed to have a nuclear freeze?

And how often have actors and actresses been asked to comment on issues ranging from alar on apples (Meryl Streep) to the situation in the Middle East (George Clooney) to whether steel melts (Rosie O'Donnell)?

Posted by Lurking Observer at July 5, 2007 04:19 PM

Leland, please! The bluetooth is to connect the cell phone to the detonator wirelessly. Just text "Boom" to the right number and the cell phone will relay to the bluetooth receiver on the detonator. That way you don't have to crack the cell phone case and you can bench test lavishly beforehand.

Neat idea.

I still like my oxygen rich solution.

Posted by Leland at July 5, 2007 04:38 PM

I still like my oxygen rich solution.

Oxygen isn't that efficient of a solvent.

Posted by triticale at July 6, 2007 05:20 AM

"We continue to deny moral agency to Muslims, and act as though we really are responsible for all bad things in the world, and they have no responsibility for their own behavior."

Replace Muslims with "victim group of your choice." They can't be held responsible for meeting standards and norms; those are just tools of the pale Christianist patriarchy keepin' a brother down, anyway. Bah.

Posted by SDN at July 6, 2007 06:57 AM

I work for the Federal Government and got into Jihad Watch from my work computer just fine, so I'm not sure what point Spencer and West are trying to make.

Posted by jlb at July 6, 2007 07:05 AM

Tom Clancy had his hero's wife, a celebrated eye doc, admit that eye repair was about as complicated as engine repair--once the researcher finished the original research

Posted by Tennwriter at July 6, 2007 07:19 AM

I work for the Federal Government and got into Jihad Watch from my work computer just fine, so I'm not sure what point Spencer and West are trying to make.

I think they're making the point that some people who work for the federal government can't. There's no single, universal firewall for federal employees.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 6, 2007 07:41 AM

Anyone who has studied the history of modern terrorism beginning with the mid-19th century anarchists and anti-monarchical movements, especially in Russia, would realize that terrorism is driven by ideology. It has to be ideologically driven because the crimes committed and the sacrifices demanded of the "movement's" members are so great that they cannot be sanely internalized without a driving ideology. And that leads to the next point, not seen by the media and purveyors of conventional wisdom: terrorists are almost always the children of the middle and upper classes, generally well-educated but frustrated and alienated by their society. The Russian serfs were murderin members of the Russian aristocracy in the late 19th century, it was the children of urban middle classes and even of the aristocracy itself. Ditto with the Red Brigades and IRA in Europe and Ireland in the last century. And the demographic held true with the 20 plotters in the 9/11 attack. So it should come as no surprise that educated professionals working in dead-end jobs (Nat'l Health system) in an alien country and culture would become radicalized and ideologically driven to acts of terrorism.

Posted by Bill Reece at July 6, 2007 07:51 AM

The idea of the supersmart terrorist bomb designer exists only in movies and thrillers. Probably the most technically proficient bombers in the modern world were the IRA, and they had to go through a very steep learning curve, losing several people along the way, to refine their designs. But these aren't meticulously engineered devices with printed circuit boards and MILSPEC components. They are still fairly crude lash-ups, with a high potential for failure either by not going off or going off prematurely. Prior to 7/7, the last bus bombing in London was an IRA guy who accidentally set his bomb off too soon and blew himself to bits.

As a qualified electronic engineer, the number of things I could do to make a reliable, hard-to-defuse bomb are myriad (I won't elaborate). But most people use the word 'engineer' to mean 'man who comes to fix your washing machine', not 'man who designed the production line that made your washing machine'.

Posted by David Gillies at July 6, 2007 09:15 AM

Assumptions about correlations.

Don't make them; they're dangerous. You can't assume that physicians are "good" guys, any more than you can assume that attorneys are "bad" guys.

(Though there are exceptions - you can be pretty sure that there are no scientists who "want to rule the world" outside of the comics.)

Posted by tom swift at July 6, 2007 09:18 AM

Does the fact that these terrorists were doctors explain why these homicidal maniacs were not also suicidal maniacs?

With an attempted homicidal attack by remote control, should it surprise anyone that people with something to lose were involved?

And perhaps these educated idiots (a paradox, rather than an oxymoron), as opposed to the mythical "disenfranchised" terrorists, I mean "youths," understood that the rumors of 65 virgins in eternal paradise might not be all that reliable (or desirable even: why virgins, and why 65 - would not 2 strippers be preferred by 4 out of 5 misogynist Muslims?).

Of course, these terrorists are from such diverse backgrounds it is hardly worth pondering what they had in common. /sarcasm

Posted by VoxClams at July 6, 2007 11:10 AM

my school district blocks as "personal pages". go figure. maybe that's better than "hate speech" but still...

Posted by Rob Mandel at July 6, 2007 01:58 PM

So many Palestinian bomb makers have prematurely detonated that the Israelis have coined the phrase "work accident".

Like the poster above said, these guys aren't making ordnance to MILSPEC standards. It shouldn't surprise us that so many of their plots fail.

Posted by Bozoer Rebbe at July 6, 2007 02:14 PM

No scientists who want to rule the world? Maybe I'm paranoid, but I think some of the people from the Federation of American Scientists and Union of Concerned Scientists would fit right in with Vinge's "The Peace War."

Posted by FC at July 6, 2007 02:32 PM

Oxygen isn't that efficient of a solvent.

I'm not intending it to be a solvent. Increased oxygen levels makes things easier to ignite. I seem to recall this being a problem for the Doctors.

Posted by Leland at July 6, 2007 06:47 PM

Christ, enough Doctors and Lawyers became Nazi's, and probably many learned Doktor Professors as well, to know that these kind of extreme ideologies attract them. I think the bizarre, legal mores of the Nazis might be mirrored in Islamanism. Wannsee Conference anyone?

Posted by Dagpotter at July 6, 2007 07:19 PM

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