In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
The fact that the Christmas Day attack by the Nigerian man Umar Farook Abdulmuttalib failed was an enormous blessing. I attribute it to Divine intervention in two forms: first, the bomb failed to detonate; and second, brave and courageous co-passengers were able to apprehend the man and subdue him. As a direct result, the gaping holes in the security system that initially was claimed to have “worked” were exposed, and it is hoped that this horrific security breach can be fixed to the better.
Yet, before we have fully understood how the system failed, there are some who already have an idea how to prevent such attacks from happening again: “One hundred percent of all the terrorist attacks against the U.S. last year were carried out by Muslim jihadists. If that’s the one common denominator, let’s include that in the mix at airports that would trigger a secondary inspection.” So said Steven Emerson, the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, to ABC News’ “Good Morning America.” He called such tactics “smart screening.”
Emerson continued, “I’m not saying to use it to the exclusion of other factors, but include it in the mix…The fact is there is a common characteristic. Let’s be smart about this…Do smart screening. It’ll stop terrorist attacks.”
It does seem natural in the minds of many people: since “all terrorists have been Muslim,” let’s screen all the Muslims, and terrorism will disappear. Yet, as Michael German – former FBI agent and ACLU adviser – told “Good Morning America”: “Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes, all nationalities. If you look around the country, there have been any number of white supremacists, neo-Nazi terrorists…[profiling] is unconstitutional, it’s ineffective and it’s actually counterproductive.”
Further, if one looks into the case of the Nigerian suspect, it is glaringly clear that so many red flags were missed, and none of those red flags had anything to do with his Muslim faith. First of all, he bought his ticket from Lagos to Amsterdam to Detroit in cash; he left no contact information with the airline; he had no baggage to check for such a long flight. These facts alone should have set off alarm bells that something was not right. Right then and there, he should have been scrutinized further.
But there’s more: in May 2009, Abdulmuttalib was banned from entering the UK after applying for a student visa to study at a bogus college; this information was not shared with U.S. authorities. In August 2009, CIA telephone intercepts indictated that “The Nigerian” was involved in planning a terrorist attack. According to Fox news, “CIA’s Africa division had prepared a report on a young Nigerian man well before he allegedly attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day, but the report wasn’t distributed because the analyst in charge was waiting for pictures of the man…”
In November 2009, his own father reached out to the CIA in Nigeria and warned them about his son’s radicalization and disappearance to Yemen. Subsequently, according to Fox News, the State Department sent a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center saying:”‘Information at post (embassy) suggests subject may be involved with Yemeni-based extremists.'” At that point, his name was added to a terror watch list, but his U.S. visa, active at the time, was not revoked.
True, hindsight is always 20-20, but “smart screening” in this case would have been to scrutinize, not Abdulmuttalib’s religion, but the peculiar facts surrounding the suspect’s actions. Had this been accurately done, Abdulmuttalib should never have been allowed to board that Northwest Airlines flight.
Indeed, it is tempting to single out Islam and subject all Muslims to “special screening,” as some are suggesting, to try to foil terrorist plots against the U.S. But, such tactics simply do not work. In the immediate aftermath of the Christmas Day attack, another Nigerian man was detained and security swarmed the plane after he spent too much time in the bathroom close to the end of the flight. In addition, two Middle Eastern men were removed from their flights for “speaking suspiciously” in a foreign language and watching a Hollywood movie with a suicide bombing in it. None of these incidents had anything to do with terrorism.
Ethnic or religious profiling, while easy to do, does not aid in the fight against terror. It tears at the fabric of our unity as a people and foments fear and mistrust. If we do this, then the terrorists will win.
My prayers for a very healthy, happy, prosperous, and blessed New Year to each and every one of you. Amen.