Besides the fact itself, a bright spot can be found in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's arrest (in addition to the fact that his attempt to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 failed, thanks in part to the brave and quick action of some passengers and crew). This is the opportunity to again rebut the canard that such terrorism is motivated by anti-Islamic discrimination or the desperate poor. Following the 9/11 attacks, committed mostly by an assortment of reasonably well-educated bourgeois Arab Islamists acting on direct orders from al-Qaeda, this tired leftist trope was beaten back. Like some of the 9/11 terrorists, Abdulmutalleb is a man of wealth and privilege, and he appears to have acted directly for an al-Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.
Still, high-minded, silly, and dangerous misconceptions are the lifeblood of the liberal left, so they cannot be kept down forever. As the details of the 2001 attacks increasingly faded from the public consciousness, the discredited ideas and practices that invited the attack in the first place resurfaced, most notable among them the refusal to identify committed Islamists as the chief security threat to the nation.
In the past year, the new administration has aided and abetted this process. That the Obama administration embodies this retrenchment is evident from policy (outreach to Dar al Islam), law (Khalid Sheik Mohammad's federal trial), diction ("man-caused disasters" instead of "terrorism"), and body language (genuflecting before an Arab potentate). Almost reflexively, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refused to connect the attack on Flight 253 to al-Qaeda.
Two relatively recent attacks prior to the assault on Flight 253 energized the liberal effort to divert attention from the Islamist motive: the terrorist assault on Mumbai and the mass murder at Fort Hood.
In the case of the Mumbai attacks, the liberal case is made in the otherwise excellent HBO film "Terror in Mumbai." The documentary recounts the attacks in part by using audiotape of actual real-time conversations between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan. If there is a protagonist of the piece, it is Azam Amir Kasab the sole surviving terrorist. It is Kasab's infamous image wielding an AK-47 in the Mumbai rail station. He's the ideal liberal terrorist poster boy: a poor and unsophisticated young man whose father supposedly "sold" him to the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. The message was not lost on the rest of the liberal media. In a lengthy piece, Washington Post reviewer Tom Shales managed to praise the program up and down without once noting that the terrorists were Muslim. Several weeks later, Shales' colleague Richard Cohen wrote a laudatory op-ed about the documentary, comparing the Mumbai terrorists to robots brainwashed by their handlers. He went on to claim that they were no more Islamists than German Ordnungs Polizei (who committed brutal mass killings in the Holocaust) were "hardened Nazis." Well, okay.
Enter Major Nidal Hasan, perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre. Is there an excuse that the liberal media and the Obama administration have not offered to distance Hasan from an Islamist motive in the attack? Post-traumatic stress: check. Never mind that Hasan spent almost his entire military career in Bethesda, Maryland, a posh suburb where the biggest problem is finding parking for dinner. Anti-Muslim hostility: check. Ignore that his colleagues and commanders bent over backward to accommodate his traitorous ravings without taking action against him. Must be evidence of reaction-formation -- you know, doing the opposite of what you feel. Hasan, an ace psychiatrist, must have known this.
It will be a lot harder to explain Abdulmutallab away. The scion of a prominent and wealthy Nigerian family, he seems not to have wanted for much, materially or socially. By all indications Abdulmutallab was well-off, cosmopolitan, and well-educated. His family appears to be concerned and solicitous. When Abdulmutallab disappeared to begin his martyrdom training, his father contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria out of concern for his son, who'd become obsessed with Islam.
Nor is Abdulmutallab a so-called lone wolf, supposedly acting out of anger and despair. Rather, he appears to be exactly what al Qaeda likes best: a dedicated, cold-blooded operative, ready to kill and be killed in the name of Islam.
It is certainly true that terrorists, like all people, act from a variety of motives. Israeli authorities have found that many actual and would-be suicide bombers are marginal members of society or pressured socially, not unlike Azam Amir Kasab. But the idea of Islamic martyrdom supports it all, just as societal anti-Semitism underpinned the Holocaust.
Islam is an egalitarian religion. Its main concern is submission to God. From caliph to serf, everybody is a slave to God, be he a Nigerian aristocrat, a Pakistani peasant, or a Palestinian-American psychiatrist. Yes, terrorists come in all sizes, colors, and types. But one thing radical Islamic terrorists have in common is that they are Islamic. Hopefully, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab will make that harder to ignore.