Underwear bomber disproves conventional wisdom about terrorism

Bravo for life’s little ironies. Last Monday, Bill Clinton attributed the recent jihad violence in Nigeria to poverty. Referring obliquely to the attacks that the jihadist group Boko Haram (A group that preaches that Western education is sin) had carried out, Clinton ascribed them to the large disparity between the rich and the poor in Nigeria: “You can’t just have this level of inequality persist. That’s what’s fueling all this stuff.” Then on Thursday, the son of one of Nigeria’s richest men was sentenced to life in prison for an attempt to commit jihad mass murder in a jetliner.
The idea that poverty causes terrorism is a familiar assumption on both the Left and the Right; it is, ultimately, the guiding assumption behind the U.S. Military’s making itself busy in Afghanistan building roads, schools and hospitals. The fond belief is that a sufficient amount of money will transform Kabul into Kansas City, and then all shall be well. Ten years of American blood and treasure squandered in Afghanistan should have paid for this fantasy long ago, but of course it hasn’t.
Besides integrity, the scarcest commodity in Washington is accountability, and so none of the learned analysts who so confidently predicted that all this infrastructure would raise the Afghan standard of living and win Afghan hearts and minds, thereby destroying the impetus for terrorism, are ever called to account for the obvious howling failure of everything they attempted, and the falsehood of all they predicted. Nor are the reputations rehabilitated of those whose predictions proved true that none of this would work, and that the Afghans would continue waging jihad against all outsiders and against each other, as they have done from time immemorial. They are, as ever, “Islamophobes,” “extremists,” not to be trusted. Washington doesn’t operate according to the canons of reasoned discourse. It operates by the rule of clubs and clans; if you’re in with the group in power, your ideas will be accepted and implemented. Failure is not an impediment to continuing to exercise power.
So it is that Bill Clinton, laden with honors, lauded, respected and adulated everywhere, almost certainly didn’t think that he was saying anything remotely controversial when he said that “inequality” was “fueling” the Nigerian jihad. He probably has no idea that the Nigerian jihadist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for trying to light a bomb hidden in his underwear and blow up a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, was one of the nation’s wealthiest young men. Abdulmutallab’s father is Dr. Alhaji Umaru Abdul Mutallab, a former government minister and former head of Nigeria’s largest bank.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not know hunger. He did not turn to jihad to redress social inequalities. Like other fantastically rich men such as Osama bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri, as well as the jihadist physicians in Glasgow, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab turned to jihad because he believed that it was his responsibility before Allah to wage war against Infidels, and that Allah would reward his killing large numbers of them. When he pled guilty in October, Abdulmutallab said to the court: “In late 2009, in fulfillment of a religious obligation, I decided to participate in jihad against the United States. The Koran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them, some parts of the Koran say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Would a redress of “inequalities” have dissuaded Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from waging jihad against the United States? Not likely. For even though he couches his actions as a matter of fighting those who fight you, in Islam there is also an imperative to fight against those who “believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden,” including, specifically, Jews and Christians (Koran 9:29). No amount of American largesse will ever dissuade a believing Muslim from considering that a divine responsibility.

This is a lesson that official Washington should have learned again and again, since every jihadist speaks the way Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab does, belying the non-Islamic explanations for jihad that pour endlessly out of Washington’s think tanks. But it won’t be learned this time, either.

Sign Up