Dear Lord, what an awful mess.
Nigerian born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to board an airplane armed with explosives. He got through the supposed security checkpoints placed from Nigeria through to stopover Amsterdam and was on his way to Detroit. Two potential points to physically check for hazardous materials – two failures. Abdulmutallab’s father had previously provided the U.S. embassy in Nigeria a warning that his son had been radicalized into extremism in the al-Qaida foothold of Yemen, a whole month earlier. Somehow “the dots” were not connected, he was not placed on a “no-fly” list, but by good fortune a planeful of innocents were not killed when he attempted to redefine the fashion concept of ‘hot pants.’
In the aftermath, we’ve been barraged by ‘he said, she said’ recriminations, promises to tighten lax security measures across the board, and in her own personal “Mission Accomplished” moment, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano assured the pundits that even though every single person was caught sleeping behind the metaphoric wheel, “The system worked.” We’ve also been apprised of the possibility of a new tool in the war on terror on U.S. soil, a full body scanner that looks through everything on a potential passenger, straight through the clothes, providing a digital representation of nudity. Where this machine was once considered too invasive to the personal liberties and rights of airport patrons, now the call has gone out for new consideration.
There’s just one problem. Well actually, there’s plenty more than one, but the primary one is that whenever a door of opportunity closes, a window opens. The funny thing is that this window poses an opportunity for women within these Islamic extremist sectors to break out from underneath the male dominated hierarchy. It begins with the understanding that these scanners are an inevitability, if not due to this recent incident, then to the next, and there will be a next. The chicken race to the cliff only works if both parties are afraid of going over the edge. In terms of suicide bombing, there is no edge. If death is not the ultimate turn-off, then everything that comes before it is a possibility – including drastic social change.
The first change comes with the burqa, the garment worn by women in some of the Islamic traditions, the purpose of which is to cover the woman’s entire body when she is out in public. Her regularly-clothed body is only to be exposed within the walls of her own home, and anything beyond that is for the eyes of her husband only. No representation of her, be it in public or in a digital format, no matter how disguised and altered, is acceptable. Yet, if a radicalized Islamic woman wants to get aboard that plane, she will have to submit to the scanner or be turned away. The easiest way to deflect attention is to lose the burqa.
So now the covering is gone. The scanning must still take place and therein lies a tactical problem. The concept of female suicide bombers is nothing new and has, in recent years, become a desired means of attack. Everyone within the Mid-East, as well as countries that have large Muslim populations, respect the burqa and will not inquire about what is underneath, even if it is a vest of dynamite. It becomes a most effective camouflage, bolstered by religious tradition and observance. Even the stupidest airport security agent would be alarmed if someone clearly wearing a vest made of anything other than fabric attempted entry. Lose the vest, lose the stigma, pass the scanner.
One of the primary explosive elements in airplane attacks has been the liquid combustible. Airport security has cracked down on liquids in containers of any kind. They’ve also turned their measures toward shoes, or to be more precise, the chemical makeup of the soles of shoes, inner gels, even orthotics and the materials they’re made of. Abdulmutallab thought he had the solution since the explosives were secreted in his underwear and, once more, it is an act of grace (and of incompetence on the part of him and his handlers) that the underpants flamed out on him solely. From now on, if the goal is to smuggle explosives onto planes, it will be as implants, and here is the heart of my point. Men do not, for the most part, wind up in elective surgery to have bags of liquid implanted within them. Women in westernized countries or parties desiring to pass themselves off as westernized, do.
How likely is it that radical Muslim factions will turn away from eons of phallusocracy to allow a woman to be seen in public with no extensive coverage, to actively have her submit to a screening process where she is digitally exposed and, on top of all that, have her be the mule with explosive breast augmentation? On the face of it, not bloody likely, but that was before the advent of the Fruit Of The Loom bomber. If the goal is greater than breaking the rules before it, women in the strictest of radicalized Islamic sectors now have a position of real power for they are the only ones left, thanks to the female physiology, who can carry the operation off inconspicuously. Where the Taliban once flogged them in the street for showing a flash more skin than is granted, now they may be the prime candidates for carrying out jihad. It’s a hell of a way to advance in society, isn’t it?
When I was in retail, I used to work with several Muslim women who came from Egypt. I learned a lot about the Islamic belief system, the culture and that above all they wanted to live in peace just like anyone else. It was deeply hurtful to them when news of terrorist actions spread across the media. It was Muslims-this and Muslims-that but it was never theirs. It was some aberration of their beliefs, amplified for ratings and broadcast from coast to coast. It was worse when they had to deal with ignorant, prejudiced customers who turned their own ills (like not getting their stuff at the price they preferred) into epithets. I have to redress a previous statement when I think about them: this is not entre into a greater independence or position of power. For those who are earnest in their beliefs and just want to live inside this pluralistic American culture like all the rest, a radicalism that would favor females as the means of retribution really isn’t an advance. It’s a deeply cynical retreat, like a Judas goat set out to bait the trap, and sincere practitioners within the diaspora will suffer for that cynicism.
What can we do about it? Short answer: not much. Like any arms race, and this is in it’s own way an arms race, the aim is to have the bigger bomb, the largest number of them and, primarily, the ones that will actually go off. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not succeed and, in light of that, the think tank will now figure out how the next operation will, and so the threat grows. The goal is somewhere beyond the edge of the cliff, a place the United States does not want to go, so we are essentially at a stalemate with potential terrorists, racing to the cutoff of the cliff with someone not afraid to take it all the way. If we insist on taking them on, head-to-head and toe-to-toe, we will be faced with the decision of who deserves the right to civil liberties and who doesn’t, who gets profiled and who doesn’t, and we will have to accept these inconvenient hypocrisies as the currency of the times. Even then, the arms race continues, so the price paid is only a portion of the value.
One pair of explosive tighty-whities. The probable race to find the better bomb. A canyon with a no-win landing on either side. Dear Lord, what an awful mess.