[News] The $30bn pair of underpants
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 6 11:10:49 EST 2010
The $30bn pair of underpants
By Mark LeVine
Monday, January 04, 2010
Almost immediately after it was learned that Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a US
airliner using explosives concealed in his underpants, received
training in Yemen, US politicians called for Barack Obama, the US
president, to expand the 'war on terror' - which remains very much a
war despite the administration's official ban of such vocabulary - to
The president obliged, declaring that the US would strike anywhere to
prevent another attack.
Such calls were in fact unnecessary, as the US is already involved in
Yemen, supervising attacks on militants that have been credited by
analysts with helping to further inflame anti-Americanism and support
for al-Qaeda in the country.
Indeed, far from heralding a more successful US effort to stamp out
Islamist terrorism, the soon to be deepening footprint in Yemen is a
sure sign of America's defeat in the war against violent extremism in
the Muslim world.
'Boots on the ground'
Think about it. One angry young man with about three ounces (around
80 grams) of explosive material, $2,000, and a pair of specially
tailored underwear has completely disrupted the US aviation system.
It does not even matter that he failed to blow up the plane.
The costs associated with preventing the next attack from succeeding
will measure in the tens of billions of dollars - new technologies,
added law enforcement and security personnel on and off planes, lost
revenues for airline companies and more expensive plane tickets, and
of course, the expansion of the 'war on terror' full on to yet
another country, Yemen.
And what happens when the next attacker turns out to have received
ideological or logistical training in yet another country? Perhaps in
Nigeria, which is home to a strong and violent Salafi movement, or
anyone of a dozen other African, Gulf, Middle Eastern or South East
Asian countries where al-Qaeda has set up shop?
Will the US ramp up its efforts in a new country each time there is
an attempted attack, putting US "boots on the ground" against an
enemy that is impossible to defeat?
Such a policy would fulfill al-Qaeda's wildest dreams, as the US
suffers death by a thousand cuts, bleeding out in an ever wider web
of interconnected and unsustainable global conflicts.
The European connection
As with the 9/11 attacks, Europe figures prominently in the current
attacks. Then it was Germany, this time it was London, where
Abdulmutallab studied and apparently began his descent into extremism.
Europe's role is not surprising, and in the case of London, particularly apt.
After centuries as a primary purchaser and transporter of slaves to
the Americas from west equatorial Africa, the British used the
abolishment of the slave trade to interfere ever more into the
economy of the Niger Delta until it assumed increasing colonial
control in the mid third of the 19th century, creating the modern
state of Nigeria as part of the process (the British gained control
of Aden and surrounding areas of Yemen around the same time).
The rampant poverty, corruption and violence that today plague
Nigeria are an inheritance of British rule, which itself was built up
on centuries of slave raiding and trading - among the most corrupt
and violent of activities - by the indigenous elites of the region
with Europe, a devil's bargain that haunts this part of the world to
the present day.
Should the US be invading London for providing material support to terrorism?
It took decades after the end of the British empire for the impact of
British colonialism in South Asia and Africa to blow back onto
British soil. The US has not even finished her imperial moment and it
has already arrived.
The US will now become ever more deeply involved across the arc of
instability beginning in Nigeria and stretching across Africa, the
Middle East and into Central Asia.
In the process, it will deepen the mistakes that have made attacks
such as the one attempted by Abdulmutallab inevitable.
Poverty and oppression
This is clear from the New York Times' New Year's eve editorial about
Yemen, which warned of the importance of "heading off full chaos" in
"Yemen's government is corrupt and repressive," the paper intoned.
"But President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to want to cooperate."
The world's paper of record is utterly clueless as to the intimate
link between the corruption and oppression of the Yemeni government
and its willingness to "cooperate" with the US, and the roots of
radicalism in Yemen.
The New York Times, along with the rest of the mainstream media, have
also ignored the role growing up so privileged in a country such as
Nigeria had on Abdulmutallab, who likely saw the "moderation" (in
Western eyes) of his wealthy banker father as a sign of his
participation in a system that violated the most basic ethical
premises of his religion and helped support poverty and oppression at
home and across the Muslim world.
If the mainstream press, and with it no doubt the Obama
administration, are unwilling to recognise the inextricable ties
between oppression, poverty, corruption and violence by governments
like Nigeria and Yemen, and the rise of religiously grounded
extremism and violence there, then its increasing foot- or boot-print
there will strengthen rather than weaken al-Qaeda and similar movements.
Strategy of shame
As I stood in the security line at JFK airport waiting to be frisked
before boarding a New Year's day flight home, another goal, or at
least consequence, of the most recent attack became apparent, one
deeply tied to the obsession with physical and sexual honour in
radical Islamist ideology: With this one failed action, the movement
will succeed in routinising the systematic physical violation of
airline travellers by our own security personnel as a part of the
price of air travel.
Invasive frisking of the most intimate areas of the human body and
revealing full body scans represent from a hardcore Salafi
perspective an almost unbearable indignity -one they will surely
relish seeing millions of the enemy routinely suffer, especially when
such violations mirror the daily indignities and sexual humiliation
infamously suffered by inmates in Guantanamo and other US-run prisons.
Call it a politics or strategy of shame - another weapon in the
al-Qaeda arsenal that the West will have a hard time finding an
answer for and which will erode support for the 'war on terror' from
within even as Western governments strengthen their ties to
oppressive front line states.
Osama bin Laden could not have planned it better if he tried.
Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle
Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy
Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam
and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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