A year ago, CNN was curious about the feelings and beliefs of the other passengers on that flight:
What would they want to know or say to Abdulmutallab, the government, the world? CNN reached out by phone and e-mail to find out.
More than anything, if they could sit down with Abdulmutallab they would simply ask: Why? How did a young man who grew up with privilege, education and exposure to the greater world end up accused of attempting a terrorist attack?
"For me, these are the burning questions," said Roey Rosenblith … "I've never had someone try to murder me, much less someone I didn't even know. So I'm very interested in finding out more about [his] motives so that we might possibly figure out how to avert others from traveling down the same path."
An excellent goal, Roey. And, an excellent question: Why? Why would somebody want to kill you when they don't even know you? The answer is so important, I spent over 30 years searching for it.
Predictably, as well as tragically, in the year since CNN published its article on the passengers, there has been little or no interest in discovering the motives of Abdulmutallab. Thus, the burning questions keep burning.
In the interest of not furnishing insights to terrorists, I suppressed a post I made on Abdulmutallab (January 9, 2010). I have reconsidered, and, in the greater interest of averting others, that post is republished below with a few minor changes.
The Inner Cop: Connecting The Dots For The Christmas Day Bomber
Christmas Day Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab incarnates a crucial aspect of middle class rebellion: the unconscious drive to be a successful failure.
First, I must note parenthetically that, as The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion discusses, the term "middle class" can be understood in either the literal sense of a socio-economic class or in its wider meaning of any intermediary/marginal/transitional condition or status. The two are not separate: the former is to the latter as a species is to its genus, a suborder to its order.
Clearly, Abdulmutallab does not fit the narrower definition of "middle class" in strict socio-economic terms. He comes from a wealthy Nigerian banking family. He is, however, by far not the first "middle class" rebel to come from the socio-economic upper class. The Dadaist painter Francis Picabia (1879-1953) is a case in point. Picabia, who collected boats and cars, was an offspring of the Spanish aristocracy and French bourgeoisie.
However, Abdulmutallab fits the classic, "middle class" rebel pattern in the broader sense of the term. An intermediate, marginal, and/or transitional condition is evident in his Internet postings on Gawaher, an Islamic bulletin board. Example: on January 28, 2005, he wrote from Lomé, a prestigious British boarding school in Togo: "I am in a situation where I do not have a friend, I have no one to speak too, no one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do."
Abdulmutallab's reported declaration after his capture that he felt relief, is typical of the middle class rebel, whose ultimate goal is not to destroy airplanes or people but to destroy his own ambivalent emotions. That motive is as primary as it is unconscious. It follows that the fact Abdulmutallab's bomb did not go off is of peripheral interest to him.
The fight against ambivalence is apparent not only in his choice of a university major -- engineering, an exact science -- but also in his understanding of Islam. His classmates called him "The Pope" because of his rigidity and zeal. Precious little is new there. As analyzed in The Source of Terrorism, the middle class rebel has the mental equipment to make an extremist religion out of anything. A straight line will do.
Another Abdulmutallab posting expresses ambivalence on a primordial level. Like Buridan's donkey caught between two bundles of hay and, unable to decide between them, starved, he was torn between shame and sexual needs: "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."
The Christmas Day Bomber is now facing life in prison -- nothing ambiguous about that. In much the same way as unconscious emotions turn into objective conditions in psychosomatic illnesses, Abdulmutallab's inner cop gave rise to an outer cop -- the squadron of policemen and U.S. marshals surrounding him everywhere he goes. If Abdulmutallab is found guilty, they will be replaced by prison guards who will lock and unlock his cell, dictate where he will be and what he will eat and when he will go to bed, for the rest of his life.
At boarding school, he complained about not knowing what to do. That problem is now solved. Others will decide for him. Following the middle class rebel's logic of emotions, he got what he wanted: successful failure.
Speculative questions persist. Where did Abdulmutallab's inner cop come from? How was that cop created? Could the origin be his father, who apparently parked his son in a boarding school, then dumped him in the lap of the FBI? "Here -- you fix it!"
If the bomber's father was implicated, what does it say about us, as a society, that such paternal behavior is viewed as responsible, brave, indeed heroic?
Speaking of fathers …
There are dots connecting Abdulmutallab more directly to the "middle class" in the narrow sense of socio-economic class.
It appears that Abdulmutallab had contact in Yemen with Anwar al-Awlaki, American-born cleric known as the "bin Laden of the Internet." He holds a B.A. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994). In 2000, in San Diego he served as "spiritual advisor" to two of the 9/11 hijackers.
More recently, in email exchanges, Anwar al-Awlaki told Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychiatrist charged with the Fort Hood massacre, that it was good to kill U.S. military personnel.
Anwar al-Awlaki's father, Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, is a prominent academic who once served as Yemen's Minister of Agriculture. In the late 1960s, he went to America as a Fulbright scholar. His son was born there in 1971.