Inside the mind of the Shoe Bomber
9/11 was so alarming because it suggested that we were fighting the terrorist equivalent of the Special Forces. The enemy was sophisticated enough to coordinate the hi-jacking of 4 planes and take them over using only box-cutters. One man shattered that fearsome image: Richard Reid. His bungled attempt to detonate his shoes on a trans-Atlantic ...
9/11 was so alarming because it suggested that we were fighting the terrorist equivalent of the Special Forces. The enemy was sophisticated enough to coordinate the hi-jacking of 4 planes and take them over using only box-cutters.
One man shattered that fearsome image: Richard Reid. His bungled attempt to detonate his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001 was reassuring evidence that al Qaeda terrorists were not all super-trained fighters. Indeed, there was something almost comic about the fact that Reid didn’t realize he probably had a better chance of lighting his shoes on fire unmolested if he went to the bathroom to do it.
If Reid’s ineptness was reassuring, his nationality was not. Reid was British, which raises the question of what makes a British citizen aspire to nothing more than blowing himself up. A lawyer, who met with Reid in prison, attempts to shed some light on this in the Guardian today.
Reid was born to two non-Muslim parents and converted to Islam after a spell in a young offenders institute. His movement to fundamentalist Islam was catalyzed by extremist preachers in London:
Attending those mosques did not make Reid a jihadi, he claims, but it helped him along the way. He said he was already heading in that direction through his own reading, experience and thinking about the world around him. But the sermons of Hamza and others gave him a greater understanding of how to interpret his faith in a way that supported the use of violence. It also reinforced his view about the scale of US aggression and that the intent of Washington’s actions was to oppress Muslims around the world.”
The last sentence seems to be critical because once you have a prism through which to view the world, everything can be fitted into place. For example, as Oliver Kamm points out, Osama bin Laden views the granting of independence to East Timor as proof of a Western war on Islam.
So, the crucial priority must be to prevent minds being poisoned by this sort of guff. This will require a realization on our part that words have meaning. We need to accept that when Ahmadinejad talks about wiping Israel off the map or extremist preachers in London ordering Muslims to “confront [British foreign policy] by all means whether verbally, financially, politically or militarily”, they mean what they say. It is time to shed this left-wing orientalism which always attempts to rationalize these statements away.
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.