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Rumsfeld: Extremist Islamic Religious Schools Foster Acts of Terror - 2002-12-18


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is concerned about the threat to U.S. security posed by Islamic schools that he says teach hate and murder. Mr. Rumsfeld began speaking about the challenge during his recent trip to the Horn of Africa.

Donald Rumsfeld said the 21st century security environment requires defense officials to re-think how they do business. He says the major threats faced by the U.S. military no longer come from organized armies, navies and air forces.

Instead Mr. Rumsfeld said the new threats come from individuals and networks: a clear reference to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and groups like al-Qaida.

During his recent trip to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf, Mr. Rumsfeld also singled out the threat posed by Islamic religious schools or madrassahs where he says youth are being taught to hate and to murder - in short, to become terrorists.

He brought up the problem first in Asmara during an exchange with reporters following his meeting with Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki.

He said despite the global war on terrorism, it will still not be possible to halt all acts of terrorism. But he said there were areas where the United States and its allies could succeed.

"But we can together disrupt the network. Squeeze off their finances; affect those schools or so-called madrassahs that are teaching people to hate and to murder innocent men, women, and children," the defense secretary said.

Hours later, in Addis Ababa after talks with Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, Mr. Rumsfeld again returned to the problem of Islamic schools. "We can't have people being taught from a young age that the thing that they should do with their lives is to become fanatics, terrorists, and extremists. We need more people taught from a young age that in fact the way to prosper and enjoy a life is to be respectful of other people and the rule of law and a civil society," he said.

Pentagon officials acknowledge the problem of schools for extremists is not one ideally suited for the military. They say no one should, for example, anticipate commando attacks on madrassahs. Instead, they say it is more an issue to be tackled by diplomats and experts in public diplomacy experienced in waging the battle of ideas.

Still a recent New York Times article indicated there are officials inside the Pentagon who advocate a secret propaganda campaign that could include efforts to discredit and undermine radical religious schools.

The Times report said such a scheme might even include the establishment of new schools with secret U.S. financing to teach a moderate form of Islam.

But concern about so-called schools of hate is not isolated to the United States. Sources say moderate Arab countries and nations in the Horn of Africa including Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia have also voiced alarm to U.S. officials over Islamic schools teaching extremist views.

Several leaders are said to have specifically expressed distress that Saudi Arabian sources are funding such schools.

A senior Pentagon official said recently that no one should doubt Saudi Arabia's commitment to fighting terrorism.

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also said in an interview last month, without going into detail, that there are what he termed "real problems" in Saudi Arabia. He said the United States wants to work with the Saudis and expects to make real progress.

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