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Reframe the Nigerian Terrorist Debate

KenyaImagine, Commentary, Aboyeji E. Iyinoluwa Posted: Dec 31, 2009

Just in case your first instinct when you see "Nigerian" is to put some distance between your face and the screen let me assure you, this is not a bomb. A lot has been said about young Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Unfortunately, much of what I have read over the past week about Abdulmutallab has offered little unique perspective. In this article I will offer a different argument.

Since the attack, it is clear that U.S. mainstream media have been on an Orwellian mission to convince the American public and the entire world that Islamic extremism is a Yemeni and Nigerian problem, with the poor and helpless West at the receiving end.

The developed world has failed in the fight against terrorism because of its insistent on keeping brown and black terrorists away from its borders. In its coverage, the undertones of mainstream media message has been that its not terrorism if the victim isn't white or from the West.

Here is why I think so.

In the last few days alone, more than forty people have died of terror attacks, many of them Muslim and of course, non-Western. However, there has been little outcry, instead we'd rather spend hours talking about one foiled attack. Where are all the intelligence agencies cooperating with Pakistan on who the terrorist bloodsuckers within their borders are? Where is the tightening of scrutiny of extremists fleeing from the West to congregate in Yemen and Somalia? None. Somali lives aren't worth the effort at prevention. Only American lives are good enough.

Extremists bred in the West plot the most brilliant of these terror attacks. Need proof?

One of the incidents that shook me this year was a suicide bombing of Somalia's only medical school. It killed off all the students of the medical school, its founder, some teachers and three ministers.

What struck me about the Somali terror attack was that it was carried out by a foreign import, a Somali man who grew up in Denmark. Apparently, because he spoke English well there was no suspicion when he falsely claimed that he was a United Nations employee. This incident opened my eyes to the varied ways that sophisticated foreign trained extremists could wreck the already frail security infrastructure of poor countries.

And this is not the only example of how rich countries like Britain are turning out to be very sophisticated Afghani-style recruitment, breeding and training camps for extremist groups deployed in and from poor countries. Terrorists tend to be wealthy and educated, many with Western education. A closer look at some of the leaders of these terrorist organizations like Osama bin Laden, one cannot help but notice that they are worldly citizens who at different times of their lives have had red carpet access to Western countries. A recent study by University of Oxford sociologists shows that engineers are three times more likely than other professionals to make violent terrorists [PDF ]. Now in the midst of such sophistication, how can we expect developing countries to play catch up with their resource limited security apparatus?

Even in the latest incident of Abdulmutallab, I keep imagining what would have happened if this British educated and trained terrorist with lesser ambition had settled on the Arik Air flight from Accra to Lagos instead of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit for his dastardly act. Does Nigeria have a no-fly list? Heaven help us if there is even electricity on that day to operate the body scanners.

If the plot he pulled is such that even the almighty globally recognized eagle eyes could not stop him, how much more, poor us, especially with President Umaru YarAdua on medical leave abroad? Why is the developed world not concerned about helping the Yemeni government fight al-Qaeda within its borders? The Yemeni government claims that there are several hundred al-Qaeda operatives in their country.

Why is the developed world not more concerned about terrorists finding their way to Yemen that the fact that they'll fly right back to Britain and blow up a plane? Who is watching out for British trained terrorists on flights to Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan? Does it matter at all that far more people die in far more sophisticated attacks because of these foreign based radical recruits? Does it not matter at all the injustice that failure to curb radicalism on London streets is causing grief to a Pakistani widow half way around the world?

These are issues the Western mainstream media have found largely inconvenient to address. Full-blown poverty images of Yemen and Nigeria obviously make for much better stories. How is it that gullible viewers are simply content to hold the view that terrorists camping out in failed states are only a problem because they will eventually board a flight to the United States?

What is dismaying is that there are likely hundreds of educated, well-connected, failed-state-bound terrorists in different parts of the world including London, Minneapolis and New York, but with no conceivable way of identifying them. In fact, I would argue that it is much easier for the United States to profile non-white Muslims as potential terrorists. But how does the Nigerian government tell the Abdulmutallabs apart from other Nigerians when their names are such commonplace?

What pains me is that instead of seeking ways to globally co-operate on combating terrorism, a violence that affects people of all races and religions, the developed world is only protecting its borders ignoring the fluidity of legal inter-border movement of citizens around the world. Admittedly, countries with no law and order are likely and are harboring terrorists. However, there is continued evidence to show that even countries that strictly enforce their laws are grounds for radicalization and growth of terrorist cells.

Terrorists do not only attack the West. They have attacked people within their race and religion. As we have seen extremists hate and attack everyone who does not embrace their perverted version of Islam, not just the "Western way of life."

As Batman once said, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Sooner than later, especially in light of this very recent event, we should all come to realize that terrorism is a global problem, not just a Western one.

Related Articles:

Nigerian Americans Do Double Take on Terrorism Suspect

Flying While Black: New Face of Terrorism

Nigerian Terror Suspect: This Apple Fell Too Far From the Tree

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