Where Intelligence Meets News Analysis.

Now in the Business of Terror

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.

3 Responses to “Now in the Business of Terror”

  1. Abatan segun

    That’s actually a very good one. I see no reason for the amazement when the fish had already begun its spoilage from the head. Really, this young man should not be totally condemned by the world and nigeria in particular ‘cos suicide bombing is not a thought that just pops into the head; there rather are a thousand factor that would ginger a young and vibrant man into such since it definitely is not poverty as he is said to come from a rich family.

  2. rilwan

    It was nice reading your opinion piece Pelumi. I do agree with you that this Umar guy has screwed us up.

    I would however add two things to your piece for the sake of balance and context.

    The first is that to label Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists is to label states like Israel and the U.S. as terrorists as well. Second, I don’t fully agree with that bit of your conclusion that “Islam is the face and cover for terrorism in our lifetime” and I explain my reasons for these two views below.

    To start, I should point out that there is no international agreed definition on’terrorism’ simply because nobody wants to be labelled a ‘terrorist’.

    Still I would say that we have a rough idea of what terrorism is and this I shall define as: ‘the act of employing violence to achieve political goals’. This is why Umar’s actions should be considered as terrorism for he had political considerations when he tried blowing up civilians. However with this definition in mind I shall make the following points:

    1. To label Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists is to label those with whom they are engaged in conflict with as terrorists. This especially applies to Israel and the U.S. Simply because both the ‘terrorists’ (Hamas and Hezbollah) and the ‘non terrorists’ (Israel and U.S.) have engaged in acts of violence with the purpose of achieving political goals e.g. George Bush’s Iraq war. This relates to my second point.

    2. To say “Islam has been the face and cover for terrorism in our lifetime” would be to say -it seems to me- that state sponsored violence committed by the likes of the U.S (Bush) and Israel (Olmert) on civilian populations should not be considered as terrorism. I would have to disagree with that view for if one were to acknowledge state sponsored violence as terrorism, I don’t think that would remain the case.

    Yet I would acknowledge that popular perception seems to take Islam as the face of terrorism and this I would say is because Osama and his cronies along with the dominant western media tends to leave the impression that Islam is the face and cover for terrorism in our lifetime’.

    At the day then, it really only boils down to what one defines terrorism as. Is it terrorism when states commit acts of violence? Or is it only terrorism when sub state groups like Hamas and Hezbollah commit acts of violence? I would argue that at international level, violence especially when carried out on civilian populations whether by a state or by a sub state actor is terrorism.

    Rather what happens is that only one side is entitled to label civilians that die due to their violent actions as ‘collateral damage’ but when they are the victims they say they have subject to terrorist attacks.

    What’s good for the good for the goose should be good for the gander.

  3. 'Pelumi Olatinpo

    Dear Rilwan,

    Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate you making your opinion known. I will now try to provide alternative thinking to the points you have enumerated.

    First, we have an agreed international meaning to what constitutes “terrorism,” and it’s along the lines of what you defined it as. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, “Terrorism is the unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion.”

    That said, I would like to make these points:

    1. States have an inherent right to wage wars, which is by definition violence against other states or “sub-states.” Now, whether these wars are just or not is another argument. Violence should not be misconstrued for terrorism. Throughout the history of the world, states have engaged in this enterprise and so it’s nothing new. When a state engages in war (violence) and willfully attacks civilian populations, that constitutes acts of terror. I will give you an example: That Hitler decided to dominate Europe and claim all its land was not a problem, he was simply doing what states do. He crossed the line and became a terror once he started annihilating millions of civilian populations in death camps and chambers. That is terrorism as far as violence is concerned, and not when states wage wars to solidify empires.

    2. Hamas and Hezbollah, entities which you refer to as “sub-states” are terrorists simply by virtue of the definition I stated above. In the case of Hamas, take a look at this pattern: Hamas fires rockets from apartment buildings into Israel. Israel calls the residents of the buildings to warn them a counterattack is coming. Hamas then escorts the residents to the roof, knowing Israeli drones will not fire on crowded roofs. Who is the terrorist here? And as far as Hezebollah is concerned, when a group assassinates the leader of a democratically-elected government and several government officials, and claims responsibility for it, as has been the case in mainly Muslim Lebanon–it is undeniably a terrorist outfit.

    The fact that there are collateral damages in war does not make the United States or Israel terrorists (and when these does occur, attempts at redemption are made). These two states do have documented efforts of having sought diplomacy in lieu of violence when engaging any of these “sub-states.” What records do Hamas and Hezbollah have?

    So if you can see the logic of my argument, a decisive point can be made that those who perpetuate terror as I have defined it and mentioned in my article, overwhelmingly are citizens of the Islamic faith. Hence my assertion that Islam has been the face of terror in our lifetime.

    I hope I’ve been able to contribute meaningfully to your argument.

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