I wanted to say something about Islamic science this week, but I suppose there's no avoiding talking about the Nigerian Leg bomber. During a month in which thousands were killed by muggers, lightning, and perhaps drowning in bathtubs, A rather simple minded young Nigerian man tied a bomb to his leg, covered himself with a blanket, and almost burned himself alive when the bomb failed to ignite properly. This was exactly the same kind of explosive used by the unsuccessful Shoe bomber a few years ago, and the result was the same. If everyone had sat munching their peanuts for the next half hour, the plane would have been completely consumed by flames, and everyone would have died. Fortunately, someone dashed forward and put the flames out, and he is now rightly considered a hero. There's a monthly column in the Boy Scout magazine Boy's Life, called Scouts in Action, which describes acts of heroism of this sort, and the young men in that column deserve as much credit as this young man deserves.
I don't think it's possible to design a security system that will eliminate all these sorts of dangers, any more than I think it's possible to keep out all illegal immigrants, or catch all child molesters. But this problem was complicated by the fact that the Feds arguably should have caught this particular young man. His parents had warned them about his interest in extremist Islam, and the British had already denied him a visa. It's also rather irritating that after all the time that the rest of us have spent taking off our shoes and throwing away our nail clippers, this young man was able to walk on to a plane with a bomb strapped to his leg. For those who wish to blame Obama, one can reply that all the security checking took place in Nigeria and Amsterdam. But if the British thought this guy was too dangerous to be let into their country, that should have been a good enough reason to keep him out of ours. So yes, the security was not as tight as it should have been, and Obama will probably do a few things to make things a bit tighter.
Be all that as it may, we need to recognize that although this is a real problem, it is not a big problem. The big argument now seems to be whether this guy is "linked" to Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The answer to that question is irrelevant. If he isn't linked, he's a lone nut who's no longer a danger once he is caught. If he is linked, the people who run Al-Qaeda are every bit as stupid as he is, and should be considered about as dangerous as the Lavender Hill Mob. This bomb did not go off for the exact same chemical reason that the Shoe bomber's bomb did not go off. If these guys couldn't learn from a mistake of that magnitude, they do not deserve to be taken seriously. The NYtimes estimates that there are about 100 active members of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, which makes them smaller than most American street gangs. So they are small in number, and stupid. Why are they the biggest threat we face, exactly? Why do we have to give up our privacy and our constitutional rights to be protected from these people?
The NYtimes correctly points out that although they are small in number, these Yemeni Al-Qaeda have an unknown number of sympathizers, and these sympathizers are the real danger. So what can we do to keep their numbers down? Make sure to make as clean a distinction as possible between Al-Qaeda and other Muslims, so as not to support the Al-Qaeda claim that the West is at war with Islam itself. Arabs are stereotyped as a proud people, but that stereotype is irrelevant here. People of all cultures are tempted by the argument "I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb." Avoiding racial and cultural profiling is not just PC, it's the best strategy for letting this whole movement destroy itself.
P.S. I did feel a little twinge as wrote "Al Qaeda and other Muslims" above, as I was reminded of a conversation I had with a Muslim friend. His English was not that good, and my Turkish is non-existent, so I had a lot of trouble understanding his claim that there were no Muslim terrorists. When I mentioned Al Qaeda, he said that those people were not Muslims. I finally realized that he was using the word "Muslim" the way many Christians use the word "Christian": as referring only to those who actually follow the teachings of that religion. By that definition, he is quite right: There are no Muslim terrorists, or Christian ones, for that matter.