They are trained to be activists and reformers

The NY Times has more on what the FBI and other agencies are discovering about Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook. None of it is cheerful or consoling. None of it says: this was a peculiar, one-off event with peculiar motivations that are most unlikely to be duplicated anywhere else. It says the opposite of that.

The main point is that they were both “radical”; they no longer think that Malik “radicalized” Farook.

Investigators say they have learned through interviews with people who knew Mr. Farook for several years that he had militant views before he met Ms. Malik online and married her in Saudi Arabia.

“At first it seemed very black and white to us that he changed radically when he met her,” said one of the officials who declined to be identified because of the continuing investigation. “But it’s become clear that he was that way before he met her.”

And she was probably that way before she met him.

A fuller portrait of Ms. Malik emerged in Pakistan, where she completed a degree in pharmacology at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan.

Ms. Malik also spent a year studying at an Al-Huda center, a conservative religious school for women in Multan, a city in central Pakistan, officials said Monday. Officials at the center said she enrolled in an 18-month course to study the Quran in 2013, just as she completed her degree at Bahauddin Zakariya. But she left before finishing the course, telling administrators she was getting married.

There you go, you see – 18 months to study one book. What can anyone get from such a thing but fanaticism? No one book is the answer to everything, or the guide to everything. That’s all the more true when the one book is not one by a physicist or a philosopher but rather one by a purported prophet who lived a very long time ago and had minimal education. You could perhaps study, say, Montaigne’s essays for 18 months without wasting your time. They make up a very fat book and they provide material for further exploration. He’d done a lot of reading himself, and his mentality was the opposite of a prophet’s mentality. But Mohammed was no Montaigne, in so many senses. Montaigne detested religious warfare and coercion; Mohammed loved nothing better. Immersion in the Koran is not a healthy thing.

Farrukh Chaudhry, a spokeswoman for Al-Huda, an international chain of religious schools geared toward educated and often affluent women, said that Ms. Malik stopped her studies with the group in May 2014. A few months later, she was granted a K-1 visa, known as a “fiancé visa,” that enabled her to travel to the United States, according to American officials.

Critics in Pakistan have long said that Al-Huda, which urges women to cover their faces and to study the Quran, spreads a more conservative strain of Islam. But it has never been directly linked to jihadist violence.

That’s beside the point, unfortunately. That’s the festering sore at the heart of this whole subject. Narrow pious religious fanaticism tends toward hatred of others who don’t share the religion, and thus ultimately toward violence. Not all religious fanatics go on killing sprees. Yay, what a relief, thank fuck for small favors. Not all do, but some do, and that’s a fact.

Ms. Malik and fellow students studied and interpreted the Quran — a typical line of study at Al-Huda, which focuses heavily on Islamic scripture. “Quran for all; in every hand, every heart,” reads the slogan on the group’s website. Before leaving in May 2014, Ms. Malik had requested information about completing her studies by correspondence, Ms. Chaudhry added. “We sent her the documents by email, but never heard back,” she said.

Al-Huda, founded in 1994, sometimes draws women who turn to the group after their children have grown up, sometimes causing friction in their families as less pious members complain of being pressured to conform with a more conservative family lifestyle.

The more piety leads to the more coerciveness. It would be nice if more piety always meant more Quaker-type virtues, but it doesn’t.

“They are trained to be activists and reformers, bringing people back to what they call the ‘real’ Islam, true and pure,” said Faiza Mushtaq, an assistant professor of sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, whose Ph.D. study focused on Al-Huda.

And that’s why they’re dangerous.

The organization’s founder, Farhat Hashmi, is based in Canada, but she has a large following in Pakistan, which has grown partly through the use of social media. Officials with the group emphasize that while it is conservative, it has no links to violence. Critics largely accept that idea, while countering that the group may foster a dangerously narrow mind-set.

Exactly. The fact that conservative-religious group X doesn’t tell its members to pick up the gun doesn’t mean it doesn’t inspire or motivate them to do so.

“Religious conservatism and piety are not the only thing institutions like Al-Huda spread,” said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States now at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “Their teachings have a strong dose of ‘Muslims are destined to lead the world’ and ‘the corrupt West must be confronted.’ ”

Religious zealotry is what it is, and not something else.

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