England Made Him

The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was born in Nigeria. But his attempted attack on an American airliner is not really a Nigerian story.

Abdulmutallab vanished to Yemen for training before the attack. Still, it's not primarily Yemen we should be worrying about today.

American intelligence did not act on multiple warnings of danger, and Dutch screeners overlooked the explosives on Abdulmutallab's person. Yet even these near-lethal Dutch and American mistakes should not disturb us most.

Polls of British Muslims reveal the most radicalized community in Europe.

The most daunting danger exposed by the underwear bombing is a danger that originates among Great Britain's radicalized Muslims.

The shy 18-year-old who arrived in London in Sept. 2005 to study engineering at University College was still very much an unformed personality: religious but also concerned with sports, sex and school, according to the Washington Post's review of some 300 of his Facebook postings.

In a column this week, The New York Times' Tom Friedman imagines the thoughts of young Abdulmutallab's father: "My family system, our village system, broke down. My own son fell under the influence of a jihadist version of Islam that I do not recognize and have reason to fear."

But the village that lost young Abdulmutallab was not some unpaved, grass-thatched Nigerian country town. It was the city of Dr. Johnson and Charles Dickens.

Abdulmutallab joined University College's Islamic Society and was soon chosen president. The London Times reports that Abdulmutallab "is the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years. One is facing a retrial on charges that he was involved in the 2006 liquid bomb plot to blow up airliners. Two others have been convicted of terrorist offences since 2007."

As Melanie Phillips and Michael Gove document in their important books Londonistan and Celsius 7/ 7, Britain has incubated a Muslim terror culture. Four British Muslims detonated themselves on the London Metro system on July 7, 2005, killing 56 and wounding about 700. Two British Muslims attempted suicide bombings in Tel Aviv on May 1, 2003, killing three victims.

Polls of British Muslims reveal the most radicalized community in Europe.

About one-sixth of British Muslims look with sympathy on terrorist acts. According to British police, about 3,000 British Muslims passed through Osama bin Laden's Afghan training camps. More than 80% of British Muslims consider themselves Muslims first, British second--by far the least patriotic score of any European Muslim community. (French Muslims were the most patriotic: 42% considered themselves French first.)

Worse, in Britain's non-Muslims often add their voices to condone and excuse Muslim violence. The ideology of Muslim victimhood is propounded by many of the most respected institutions in British life. Here, for example, is an article posted just last week in the Guardian, arguably Britain's most influential newspaper, on the attempted axe murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard: "Muslims . . . saw in [the cartoon] a defamatory and humiliating message: Muslims are terrorists. . . . Intentional humiliation is an aggressive act. . . . This is the real issue between Denmark and Muslim extremists, not freedom of speech."

This was the environment that Abdulmutallab encountered in Britain. Soon, he was sponsoring talks on jihad-ism at his school, and joining with secular leftists to organize protests against the U.S.-U.K. war on terror. He found his way to Yemen, and to his new cause: mass murder in the name of God.

As a result, U.S. transportation safety officials will now apply more intense screening procedures to citizens of 14 countries, including Nigeria.

But what the Abdulmutallab story tells us is that citizenship is not a very useful indicator of dangerousness. In percentage terms, Nigerian passport holders are probably a lot less likely to be Islamic extremists or terrorist than are British passport holders.

Britain has allowed itself to incubate a danger to the whole planet--and even now, their corrective action is too hesitant and too partial.

The British need to swiftly deport from their country non-citizen imams who preach extremism and violence. They should monitor mosques closely and maintain detailed databases on their Muslim youth populations. They must do a much better job than they did on Christmas sharing information with friends and allies. (It is troubling that Abdulmutallab obtained a U.S. tourist visa after the British had withdrawn his U.K. visa.)

Above all, we need an end to the kind of radicalism-condoning "sympathy" from British elites. The Blair and Brown governments have too often identified the most radical British Muslims as the most "authentic." Prestige, power and money have been directed to the worst in the community, while the best have been isolated and ignored.

That's no longer just a British problem; it's a threat to the whole world.

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo credit: Pipiten/Flickr/Creative Commons

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About the Author


  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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