Flight 253 and Counterterror's Epic Fail by Robert Spencer
December 28, 2009
An attempted jihad attack on Christmas Day has revealed that Americans are much more vulnerable to such attacks than most have believed while government officials whistle in the dark. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 just before it landed in Detroit. In response, Barack Obama chose not to cut short his golfing vacation in Hawaii; the White House announced that he would "likely" have something to say about this latest attempted jihad attack on U.S. soil "in the next few days." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was ebullient, maintaining that "the system worked" and "everything happened that should have."
Unless the "system" consisted of relying on passengers to tackle jihadists (as Jasper Schuringa, the Dutch passenger on Flight 253, subdued Abdulmutallab), and trusting that jihadis' detonators will malfunction (as did Abdulmutallab's), Napolitano's statement couldn't possibly be farther from the truth. In reality, nothing worked. Nothing at all, both in terms of security procedures for individual air passengers, and in terms of the larger strategy for dealing with jihad terrorism.
All the stupid and humiliating airport security procedures, all the little baggies for toothpaste and shampoo, all the padding through the security scanner in stocking feet, didn't work. Abdulmutallab was able to board the plane with the makings of a bomb that would have destroyed the aircraft and killed everyone in it. The Transportation Security Administration has scrambled since Christmas Day to stiffen security procedures, but its effort is foredoomed: jihadis study these procedures carefully, always searching for ways to circumvent them. And such ways exist, even if every passenger were subjected to a full body cavity search bomb ingredients can be separated and combined mid-flight, or spirited onboard in ways as yet unimagined by the most visionary TSA official.
Abdulmutallib was also on a terror watch list, although that fact, and the fact that he had been known to anti-terror officials for several years, did not prevent him from boarding Flight 253 showing that such lists and even official scrutiny are as useless as taking off your shoes in the airport security line. What's more, the jihadi's father warned American officials about his son, who was being watched already. And still nothing was done to keep him from boarding the plane.
Abdulmutallab likewise demonstrates the failure of long-term anti-terror strategies. Educated at the British International School in Lome, Togo, he was a classic recipient of Western largesse designed to win over the loyalties of Muslims. Yet his encounter with kindly non-Muslim Westerners spending their lives to educate him and his peers did not blunt the fervor of his jihadist fanaticism. And as a rich man's son, he once again gives the lie to the firmly and widely held assumption that poverty causes terrorism. All the aid programs based on the assumption that poverty does cause terrorism and that money for schools and roads and hospitals would win over Muslim hearts and minds have not worked, and will not work.
All the concerted efforts by the State Department and DHS to ignore the jihad doctrine and reach out to people they deemed to be "moderate Muslims" have likewise not worked. According to the Nigerian newspaper This Day, when Abdulmutallab was at the British International School, "he was known for preaching about Islam to his schoolmates and he was popularly called Alfa,' a local coinage for Islamic scholar." This illustrates yet again that, contrary to the popular view, Islamic jihadists present themselves among their fellow Muslims as the exponents of authentic Islam, making their case from the Qur'an and Sunnah and those Muslims who oppose jihadist violence and Islamic supremacism have never successfully refuted their arguments. Outreach to moderate Muslims has not aided in this effort, and has deceived the general public into thinking that the influence of peaceful Muslims over jihadists is much larger than it actually is.
As far as the DHS and Janet Napolitano are concerned, the Flight 253 incident is a massive and unmitigated disaster, showing the complete and abject failure of their anti-terror policies across the board. The Flight 253 attempted jihad attack shows that the American response to jihad terrorism has failed not just in one detail or a single area. Rather, the failure is massive, comprehensive, all-encompassing. The anti-terror approach adopted since 9/11 is not working, and is never going to work. Until it is scrapped, there will be many, many more incidents like the one on Flight 253. But rather than have the decency to admit the truth, the DHS chief is putting on a brave face and pretending that up is down and down is up. And the President keeps golfing.
Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of ten books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran, is available now from Regnery Publishing, and he is coauthor (with Pamela Geller) of the forthcoming book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (Simon and Schuster).