Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Affluent Terrorist


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 = Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”