Friday, May 7, 2010

The Times Square Bomber and Muhammad

American law enforcement and administration officials breathed a deep sigh of relief when Faisal Shahzad's home-made bomb did not explode in Times Square last week. These are the same people who were equally relieved that the Christmas Eve Detroit bomber was unable to ignite the explosives he had packed inside his underwear. Some even gloat that the difference between these failed attempts and the unqualified success of 9/11 means that al Qaeda  has been seriously degraded as a power-player in the world of international terrorism. "Nineteen individuals enacted a coordinated and complicated operation in 2001," they say. "But nine years later, thanks to our counter-terrorism efforts, isolated bunglers are not able to succeed in even single acts of terrorism." These officials would do well to understand two important concepts of militant Jihad, both taken from the example of the Prophet that his followers seek to emulate. These concepts are encapsulated in the Arabic words "qadr" and "sabr".

Qadr is often translated as fate or destiny, but means much more than that. For a Muslim every single thing that happens, both good and bad, is an expression of the will of God. I have discussed this idea in more detail here. Jihadists around the world do not share the view that Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were failures. Jihadist websites will extol them as Mujahids, heroes, brave examples to be followed, and models of righteousness and courage. The reason their operations did not succeed is the same reason rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon often fail to reach their desired targets, and IED's in Iraq and Afghanistan do not always detonate. It was simply not God's will for it to happen at this particular time, and God always knows best.

Closely linked to this is patience, which is the Arabic word "sabr". It includes the meaning of the English proverb, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." For Jihadists, sabr is an important concept taken directly from the life and example of Muhammad. Soon after he migrated from Mecca to Medina, he began sending out bands of marauders to rob the trade caravans returning from Syria to Mecca. His first attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful; the thieves arrived after the caravan had left. The second raid against another caravan was also a failure, and following ones were as well. It was only after seven attempts against seven different targets that Muhammad's warriors finally succeeded in robbing a caravan carrying raisins and other foodstuffs and killing the driver. Of particular significance is that this raid took place during "the holy months" when intra-tribal conflicts were traditionally set aside (comment: just as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's raid against America was planned during the Holy Season), and Muhammad's raiders shaved their heads to give the impression they were pilgrims (comment: just as Faisal Shahzad blended in with his American university degrees and citizenship to give the impression he was just another American). Caravan leader Amr bin al-Hadrami was murdered during that raid, and it is difficult to believe the terror he felt as Muhammad's Jihadists swooped down upon him with drawn swords while shouting Allahu Akbar was any different than the terror both the Detroit and Times Square bombers wished to inflict upon their intended victims.

Rather than simply breathing sighs of relief every time a bomb does not go off, administration and law enforcement officers would do well to understand the Jihadist motivation behind the actions of both Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. There are undoubtedly many more similarly-motivated people waiting in the wings to take their place, and we can't afford to just keep hoping the bombs won't go off.