Good news for those of you who enjoy taking your shoes off in airports. Al-Qaeda’s chief bombmaker, a cheerful fellow named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who sent his younger brother off on a suicide bombing mission with a bomb up his rectum, has been working on turning everything into a bomb. Cameras, printer cartridges and even pets.
The good news is that al-Asiri isn’t very good at it. His bomb did a good job of killing his brother, but not much else. The original underwear bomb worn by the Christmas bomber didn’t work out. The bad news is that with enough cannon fodder and enough attempts, sooner or later al-Asri or another college dropout will get it right. But even if he doesn’t, the force multiplier of the threat alone will do the job.
All it took was one shoe bomber to get us to take off our shoes. A failed plan to blow up airliners with liquid explosives led to the liquid ban. In the age of underwear bombs we have naked scanners. What is going to happen when the next plot involves explosives surgically implanted in the human body or in a pet?
A bomb anywhere is a bomb everywhere. When the bombs are everywhere, then so are the security measures taken against them until life is one big bomb and one giant security measure.
We may sooner or later hunt down al-Asiri and blow him away, but taking out a twenty-something graduate of a Saudi university after a long manhunt at a cost of countless millions of dollars will not be some grand achievement. There are plenty of Saudi, Kuwaiti and Pakistani chemistry students who can step into his exploding shoes.
We are not fighting a war against toothpaste, shoes or underwear. Nor against bombs. Bombs after all don’t make themselves or detonate themselves. That’s what people are for and until we come to grips with the people making and detonating the bombs, then we will go on living in a world of bombs, where every item, no matter how innocuous, is treated as a potential explosive device, and every person in line as a potential explosive weapon.
The formula for fighting a War on Terror without defining a vector for that terror has led to a state of terror, in which everyone is either terrified or terrorized. The official word is that anyone and everyone can be a terrorist, and even though they all seem to be Muslim, the official position is that this is a complete coincidence, a misunderstanding of the religion of peace or a result of our foreign policy.
To believe any of these things is to also believe that history is bunk. Al-Asiri’s last name indicates that he comes from the Asir province, the heartland of fanaticism in Saudi Arabia. Asir means “difficult” in Arabic. Six of the 9/11 hijackers came from Asir and Bin Laden praised its tribes as “forming the lion’s share.” Asir had been a source of violence and Islamic fanaticism long before American foreign policy mattered to anyone outside the hemisphere. The Asiri Wahhabis had fought the Ottoman Empire in Asir going back to the early 1800s and then they fought the House of Saud. With global access, Asiris are able to extend their wars deep into our territory. To launch attacks well beyond their desert home.
The sword has given way to the bomb, though it is still used occasionally on hostages, and by importing Islam we have imported the way of the sword and the rule of the bomb. When the followers of the sword take the plane, then sooner or later they will bomb the plane or use the plane as a guided missile. There is no avoiding that.
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