Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of ten books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, is available now from Regnery Publishing, and he is coauthor (with Pamela Geller) of the forthcoming book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America (Simon and Schuster).
FP: Robert Spencer, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
What do you see as the key lessons of the failed terror attempt on Northwest Flight 253?
Spencer: The chief lesson of the attempted jihad attack on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day is that our entire anti-terror strategy is a huge and abject failure. Flight 253 revealed a massive failure not only of airline security procedures, but also of the larger strategy that America and the West has been pursuing against jihad terrorism.
As for airline security procedures, Abdulmutallab was able to get on the airplane without a passport, and with ingredients for an explosive that would have destroyed the plane and killed everyone in it.
TSA officials are busy tightening security procedures with new Abdulmutallab-inspired rules such as forcing passengers to stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight, but these new measures will do nothing to prevent another attack. One thing we have seen over the years since 9/11 is that airport security is always one step behind the jihadists: after jihadist Richard Reid attempted to set off a bomb hidden in his shoes, we all have to take off our shoes and send them through security scanners.
After a group of jihadists tried to sneak onto planes explosive chemicals hidden in drink bottles, we can’t carry drinks through airport security terminals. Because Abdulmutallab attempted his jihad attack just before the plane landed, now we can’t get up during the last hour of the flight.
The one thing that the TSA should have learned, but hasn’t, is that next time the jihadists will do something else, not just repeat what they did before. And even if every passenger were given a full body cavity search, they will find some way to get around it.
But attempt a new approach based on sensible profiling? The TSA would rather fold up shop altogether.
FP: Liberals love to portray Islamic terror (this is when they are forced to even admit it exists) as the result of American capitalism and imperialism and how it has subjected poor people into misery. But Abdul Mutallab doesn’t fall into this narrative very neatly. Maybe it has something to do with some stuff he was reading while he was enjoying material wealth, personal comfort and relaxation thanks to capitalism?
Spencer: They constantly ignore the possibility that the jihadis might not always be reacting to things America has done, but may hate us for reasons of their own, independent of our actions. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a classic recipient of Western largesse designed to win over the loyalties of Muslims – he was educated at the British International School in Lome, Togo. Yet contact with solicitous and friendly non-Muslim Westerners obviously did nothing to quell his jihadist fervor. And the son of a rich man (who notified American authorities about his jihadist sentiments, to no avail), Abdulmutallab once again proves false the idea that poverty causes terrorism. The myriad aid programs that are based on this false assumption have done nothing to stop or even slow jihad terrorism, and they never will.
Abdulmutallab was, in all likelihood, “radicalized” not by Western oppression but by the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. All the concerted efforts by the State Department and DHS to ignore the jihad doctrine and reach out to people they deemed to be “moderate Muslims” have likewise not worked.
According to the Nigerian newspaper This Day, when Abdulmutallab was at the British International School, “he was known for preaching about Islam to his schoolmates and he was popularly called ‘Alfa,’ a local coinage for Islamic scholar.” This illustrates yet again that, contrary to the popular view, Islamic jihadists present themselves among their fellow Muslims as the exponents of authentic Islam, making their case from the Qur’an and Sunnah — and those Muslims who oppose jihadist violence and Islamic supremacism have never successfully refuted their arguments.
Outreach to moderate Muslims has not aided in this effort, and has deceived the general public into thinking that the influence of peaceful Muslims over jihadists is much larger than it actually is.
FP: Your thoughts on Obama and Napolitano in terms of how they are handling this this attempted terror attack?
Spencer: Napolitano’s initial statement that “the system worked” was incredible, and Obama’s slowness to respond and failure to break off his vacation inexcusable — as was his later reference to this apparent Al-Qaeda operative as an “isolated extremist.” Their abysmal failure to come to grips with the jihad doctrine has left us vulnerable to attacks from quarters they consider safe, as Abdulmutallab himself illustrates: as a rich man’s well educated son, he fits none of the conventional non-Islamic explanations for jihad violence that prevail among government and media analysts. He should be the cause of a wholesale reevaluation of our policies and procedures. But that isn’t going to happen.
FP: What we need is profiling, yes? And our culture won’t allow. Tell us the psychology here that leaves us tragically vulnerable.
Spencer: We have, as a culture, been sold a bill of goods by leftist ideologues who have convinced us that to make a realistic appraisal of the source of a threat and to react accordingly would constitute “racism” and “bigotry.”
Islamic terrorists are generally not grandmothers from middle America — why should everyone be subjected to increasingly annoying and futile airline security procedures when we know what group is committing these attacks, but just don’t want to admit it?
Profiling is flawed and will not be a perfect solution, as there is no common racial or any other characteristic that the jihadis share. But a sensibly educated TSA would be able to spot people who might constitute a greater risk, and respond accordingly.
Unfortunately, no matter how many young Muslim men blow things up or try to do so, we cannot even have this conversation as a nation, because the race wolf-criers have completely dominated the field.
FP: Concluding thoughts? What concerns you the most in what you see happening? What are the grave consequences if we don’t get it right?
Spencer: One thing is certain, Jamie: nothing we are doing now will make a recurrence of the Flight 253 incident any less likely. New security methods are needed, as are new strategies to combat the global jihad. But instead, we just keep reapplying the same old failed policies. And they will continue to fail, because of a continuing failure to evaluate realistically the situation we’re in.
FP: Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.