[News] The $30bn pair of underpants

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
that country.

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 
the country.

"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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