That a Nigerian attempted to blast 300 passengers aboard an intercontinental airliner out of the sky should not be a surprise. That Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the alleged terrorist in question, is a Muslim – should also not be a surprise. But before you stop reading this or ask for my head in disgust, maybe you could just indulge me for a moment. And after that, if you insist on having my head on a platter, I will reluctantly surrender it at that point.
If Nigerians the world over are known for one thing, it is that they are ambitious and ingenious fraudsters. Their “419” scam, perpetuated most especially via email, is a perfected art. So much perfected that it’s a multi-million dollar industry and you can conveniently swap the term “electronic-scam” with “Nigerian” and you will not miss a beat. Goodness, I am Nigerian – I should know this.
Matter-of-factly, back in 2005, three Nigerians were convicted of defrauding a bank located in Sao Paulo, Brazil—Banco Noereste—of $242 million by promising a senior bank official $10 million in commission for what was a fake airport construction project. But this is not the subject of this story.
That Nigeria has now partnered in the business of international terror – is.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of roughly 150 million people. And divided along geographical and religious fault lines are a predominately Muslim north and a predominately Christian south. And this decade has seen the worst instances of bloodshed stemming from such division.
At the beginning of the decade, in the year 2000, Osama bin Laden, sensing the precarious air in Nigeria, mentioned Nigeria as among “the region(s) most qualified for liberation” in a broadcasted speech. Thus, the events of this past Christmas were set in motion.
When 9/11 happened the next year, there were mass jubilations in the mainly Muslim northern states of Nigeria. To such extent, according to reports, 7 out of 10 babies born at a hospital in the northern state Kano were given the name Osama – after Osama bin Laden. BBC News has a quote of a certain 36-year-old Sadiq Ahmed, father of a baby Osama, saying: “Osama Bin Laden is my hero. My wife gave birth to our third child on 15 September and I named him Osama in honour of Osama Bin Laden who has proved to the world that only Allah is invincible, by exposing America to shame despite its claim of being the strongest nation on earth.”
And about a year or so thereafter, “Nigeria’s Taliban” was founded – also known as Boko Haram. The group aims to overthrow the federal government in the capital city, Abuja, and impose a strict version of Islamic law, also known as Sharia. Just this summer, the group launched attacks and raids on police stations, government buildings, and armored-personnel backed troops; resulting in four days of terror that culminated with the death of over 300 people and the group’s leader dying in police custody.
Armed with this knowledge, for me, it was never a question of “if” elements in the 65 million-strong Muslim population in northern Nigeria were going to graduate from domestic terrorism to international terrorism – it was a question of “when.” As a Nigerian, it is an equivalent of hearing a freight train coming down the tracks, and its lights becoming more and more visible, but with one’s leg caught in the tracks and no way of avoiding the coming collision.
But still I was shocked. I was awed, not by the possibility of a Nigerian suicide-bomber as I have referenced, but by the audacity of the attack. I thought, at most, Nigeria’s graduation to international terror was going to be littered with baby steps and not the most “almost-successful” attack since 9/11. It was my most unflattering moment yet as a Nigerian, as an African.
Islamic fundamentalism is the greatest threat to global stability today. If this attack has taught us anything, it’s that “Jihadism” is faceless and colorless: it has no race, no nationality, and no socio-economic class. It is an equal opportunity employer. Today’s counter-terrorism profiles are now obsolete.
So when I say it should be no surprise that the alleged terrorist is Muslim, I say it with the straightest of faces. “Jihad of the sword” or “Qital” are not Western expressions – but rather, Eastern expressions found loosely all over the Koran. Religion has always been a cover for violence, and God knows Christians used it extensively in justifying atrocities committed during the Crusades.
From the 9/11 attacks to suicide bombings in Iraq; from Muslim Chechnyan rebels to Muslim Indonesian guerillas; from Al-Qaeda in Pakistan to Taliban in Afghanistan; from Hamas to Hezbollah; from the “Shoe Bomber,” Richard Reid, to the “Underwear Bomber,” Farouk Abdulmutallab – Islam has been the face and cover for terrorism in our lifetime.
Until there are mass demonstrations in Muslim societies decrying martyrdom (young boys and girls being killed in suicide bombings); until there are overwhelming shouts of “Enough is enough!” from Muslim leaders, condemning policemen and women dying in acts of terror – I think the world is rational in expecting the next jihadist to be Muslim.
Till then, we can only pray, and hope that the God we pray to does not party with that of the Jihadists.