Umar Faruk Mutallab: The socio -psychological roots of terrorism

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The attempted bombing of a trans-Atlantic airliner on Christmas day, brought an unwelcome search light to Nigeria, with discovery that would-be bomber was a 23-year old scion of a distinguished family from Northern Nigeria; a family whose name literally, was a byword for wealth. This must be the most difficult period for the family whose son abandoned all the trappings of success to become an operative of the terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda. What on earth went wrong? It is instructive that Alhaji Umar Mutallab had reported the activities of the son to Nigerian and American intelligence agencies, two months ago, following “the disappearance and cessation of communication which got his mother and father concerned”. They could not stop the attempted crime, but God prevent the catastrophe!


Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the declaration of a  “War on Terror”, there have been worries about the possibilities of local branches of the international terroristic networks becoming active in West Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular. The Americans have been worried about the growth of Salafist Groups in North-West Africa and as a result, have instituted anti-terrorist training projects for armies from Mali to Nigeria. On the other hand, Osama Bin Laden had also mentioned Nigeria as one of the Muslim countries that must be liberated.


Given this mix, the Nigerian state security apparatus has dealt with uprisings by local, fringe religious groups as Nigeria’s war on terror. The social roots of the grievances of these local groups are not sufficiently, if ever, studied in the first place. The overwhelming use of force is standard response of the Nigerian state, as indeed of other client states that got sucked into the Bush administration’s war on terror. So those who believe that Al-Qaeda has a hand in religion-inspired social explosions in Nigeria might be tempted to reach a “We-told-you-so” conclusion, when the Umar Faruk Mutallab attempt was foiled and revealed to the world. But what is clear from the evidence so far released shows no local, Nigerian content to the despicable act perpetrated by that young man. The roots of Umar Faruk Mutallab’s socialization into terrorism must be sought outside of Nigeria, and unfortunately for his grieving family, they carry a large slice of the problem and by extension, the ruling elite and their propensity to abandon their parenting responsibilities, and instead farming out their children, with impressionable minds, to the culturally-confusing environments of the advanced capitalist countries.


Umar Faruk attended the British School in Togo, before going to attend the very prestigious University of London; as the British press has revealed in the past few days, he was attending school from a Two Million Pound flat in the most expensive suburbs of London. If the parents thought they were living it up to their status as some of the most important people in Nigeria’s class-divided society, where the gap between the rich and the poor is said to be one of the worst in the world, the social and psychological impact on their son was obviously lost to them! Not only was Umar Faruk torn from his Northern Nigerian culture, at a very young age, he was also dealing with deep-seated confusion about his sexuality as well as an alienating loneliness. THISDAY newspaper of Wednesday, December 30th, 2009, carried postings from an Islamic website by the young Umar Faruk, which provide fascinating insights into the confusion he had to balance in his life, which ultimately also led to the journey to his recruitment by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.


In the first posting, from 28 January, 2005, Umar Faruk said “I have no friend. Not because I do not socialize, etc but because either people do not get too close to me as they go partying and stuff while I don’t, or they are bad people who befriend me and influence me to do bad things”. Then there is the problem of sexual repression/confusion (a taboo subject in Northern Nigerian culture!) which he obviously was wrestling with: “As I get lonely, the natural sexual drive awakens and I struggle to control it, sometimes leading to minor sinful activities like not lowering the gaze. And this problem makes me want to get married to avoid getting aroused[…] But I am only 18 […] It would be difficult for me to get married due to social norms of getting to the late 20’s when one has a degree, a job, a house, etc before getting married. THE LAST THING I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IS MY DILEMA BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND EXTREMISM (My emphasis). […] How should one put the balance right”? With the tragic turn of events, it seemed that Umar Faruk found his “balance” not within the values of his culture or with his parents, but within the conspiratorial world of radical Islam.


It appears the relationship between parents and son became increasingly alienated as the ruling class father, saw his son become separated from the social values he cherishes. A posting of February 5, 2005 was poignant: “I will describe myself as very ambitious and determined, especially in the Deen”. On the situation in the Muslim world, Umar Faruk posted on May 9, 2005, that “The Prophet (SWH) did say a time will come when the leaders will be the worst among the people. Indeed this seems to be the time….we are ruled by the worst of people, tyrants. May Allah help us and guide us all, and establish for us good leaders who fear Him”. It was action based on this mindset, which led to the “disappearance and cessation of communication” which alarmed the father sufficiently to inform the CIA on his son and the ill-fated act of terrorism by Umar Faruk.

I stopped over in Cairo in May on my way from Eritrea, and met a very young daughter (she couldn’t be more than 20) of a prominent Northern politician attempting to check into the hotel with another girl and a young boy of about 22years. She wanted a smoking room, and frankly told me they had come to “enjoy the weekend”! Her father visited the previous week, but otherwise, she comes to Nigeria only once a year. There was also the story of a prominent Northerner whose daughter had been kept in Switzerland for years and then the girl chose to marry a Swiss boy, despite the objections of a devastated father. The girl was said to have told the father she was really more Swiss than Nigerian! Our ruling elite steal our nation blind and try to create an oasis of comfort for themselves and children, but in the process, they end up having alienated children who are open to all manners of negative influences: prostitution (clandestine and open), drugs and the extremism which a tragic, lonely heir to fabulous wealth, Umar Faruk Mutallab, succumbed to. Those who bring home ant-ridden faggots invite the visits of lizards, as an African proverb said

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