The Affluent Terrorist

by CHARLES R. LARSON

In photographs, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab–the Nigerian who planned to blow up a Northwest airliner on Christmas–looks younger than his twenty-three years. Seventeen, eighteen, maybe—the face of innocence but also of bewilderment, a little like the emblematic deer-in-the-headlights—certainly not the face of the disaffected, the disenfranchised–though there’s also a wisp of sadness, the lost soul badly in need of someone to talk to.

Abdulmutallab’s numerous online postings, including on Facebook, belie a rudderless young man, conflicted about Islam, lonely and depressed, someone who wanted to get married. At eighteen, he realized that his affluent family had the money for him to be married but that an early marriage would not be acceptable, an insight about himself he shares with many disaffected Muslim youths. The excessive barriers against early marriage—let alone the possibility of young men and women mingling together—are obstacles that Muslim men articulate with such frequency that they’ve almost become a leitmotif in recent Islamic literature.

And then there’s Abdulmutallab’s go-going frustrations with education, beginning with the elite British prep school he attended in Togo. Though he was later a student at University College London (2005 to 2008), where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering, apparently his heart was set on American schools in California (Berkeley and Cal Tech), but his SAT scores were too low.

As an international student, he was not alone in being frustrated with American admissions policies. It’s impossible to say that if he’d been admitted to an American school that he wouldn’t have become a terrorist. But what can be said say is that the obstacles that international students (and particularly non-Western ones) encounter in seeking admission to American universities could easily result in a cause and effect situation, i.e., no admission; hence, retaliation.

We will learn much more about this naïve young Nigerian, who already appears to be co-operating with federal authorities. Plenty of people will want to talk to him, and he’ll probably provide valuable information. But the core of the issue is what we are chillingly learning about young Muslim men (from the poor and undereducated, to the middle class such as the men who blew up the buses in London, and now to the rich and the elite –Abdulmutallab’s banker father has a four million dollar house in London). The new face of terrorism knows no class.

And that’s the most unsettling element of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s brazen attempt to bring down a jet on Christmas. There are millions of young Muslim men frustrated about sexuality and marriage or the lack there of; millions of others who can’t get the most basic training that would prepare them for the twenty-first century. Education is only part of the solution, the rest is social. Islam’s restrictions on marriage and sexuality may have been appropriate centuries ago, but in the twenty-first century the biological clock of young men and women is ticking as fast as a time bomb.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman