Good news for those of you who enjoy taking your shoes off in airports. Al-Qaeda's chief bombmaker, a cheerful fellow named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who sent his younger brother off on a suicide bombing mission with a bomb up his rectum, has been working on turning everything into a bomb. Cameras, printer cartridges and even pets.
All it took was one shoe bomber to get us to take off our shoes. A failed plan to blow up airliners with liquid explosives led to the liquid ban. In the age of underwear bombs we have naked scanners. What is going to happen when the next plot involves explosives embedded in a laptop or surgically implanted in a pet?
A bomb anywhere is a bomb everywhere. When the bombs are everywhere, then so are the security measures taken against them until life is one big bomb and one giant security measure.
We may sooner or later hunt down al-Asiri and blow him away, but taking out a twenty-something graduate of a Saudi university after a long manhunt at a cost of countless millions of dollars will not be some grand achievement. There are plenty of Saudi, Kuwaiti and Pakistani chemistry students who can step into his place.
We are not fighting a war against toothpaste, shoes or underwear. Nor against bombs. Bombs after all don't make themselves or detonate themselves. That's what people are for and until we come to grips with the people making and detonating the bombs, then we will live in a world of bombs, where every item, no matter how innocuous, is treated as a potential explosive device, and every person in line as a potential explosive weapon.
The formula for fighting a War on Terror without defining a vector for that terror has led to a state of terror, in which everyone is either terrified or terrorized. The official word is that anyone and everyone can be a terrorist, and even though they all seem to be Muslim, the official position is that this is a complete coincidence, a misunderstanding of the religion of peace or a result of our foreign policy.
To believe any of these things is to also believe that history is bunk. Al-Asiri's last name indicates that he comes from the Asir province, the heartland of fanaticism in Saudi Arabia. Asir means "difficult" in Arabic. Six of the 9/11 hijackers came from Asir and Bin Laden praised its tribes as "forming the lion's share". Asir had been a source of violence and Islamic fanaticism long before American foreign policy mattered to anyone one outside the hemisphere. The Asiri Wahhabis had fought the Ottoman Empire in Asir going back to the early 1800's and then they fought the House of Saud. With global access, Asiris are able to extend their wars deep into our territory. To launch attacks well beyond their desert home.
The sword has given way to the bomb, though it is still used occasionally on hostages, and by importing Islam we have imported the way of the sword and the rule of the bomb. When the followers of the sword take the plane, then sooner or later they will bomb the plane or use the plane as a guided missile. There is no avoiding that.
The other meaning of "Asir" is prisoner. Without transportation, Muslims in Asir were imprisoned in their barren unwelcoming land. Given transportation we have all become their prisoners. Terrorist threats are enough to turn us into prisoners being herded into lines. While every courtesy is given to the Sons of Asir, lest we infuriate them further, the native population is imprisoned by regulations crafted to resist the attacks of an enemy whose name may not be spoken.
Rather than terrorizing the terrorists, our governments terrorize us. They make us into the prisoners of an endless terror while they appease the terrorists. By failing to define a clear enemy, we have all been made into the enemy.
The raid is as indigenous to Arabia as its sand. As Islam has become indigenous to America and Europe, the raid is becoming indigenous to Western nations as well, and no game of 'three monkeys' will change that. Islam spread by sword and terror, it survived by sword and terror, and it thrives by sword and terror. The body count of those slain by Muslim terrorists has translated directly into a quantum increase in Muslim political influence. The Mohammedan religion, once obscure, is now at the helm of foreign and domestic policy. Every aspect of government all the way up to NASA is tasked with winning its followers over and defusing the ticking time bomb of their violence.
When we finally hunt down Ibrahim al-Asiri somewhere in Yemen, which once laid claim to Asir and has a history of contending with the House of Saud, among the tribes who have feuds and grudges as old as the desert sands, we will be nowhere closer to winning the War on Terror. Not so long as we have our heads stuck in those same sands.
Demographics alone dictate that there will be more young men to replace al-Asiri than there will be to replace the American men going off to war against his cronies. And in a polygamous society, even upper class young Saudi men are not only replaceable, they are competition for the harems of the Bin Ladens, the elderly men trying to make their paradise on earth with the help of Viagra and wealth. Many of these young men will have university educations and ample encouragement to join the Jihad to carve out more territory for the Dar-al-Islam.
Some will emigrate to London or New York and carve out professional roles for themselves while participating in Muslim political groups to build their influence. Others will make bombs or blow them up. Either way they will be doing what young men in the Arabian Desert have always done, raiding to expand the territory of Islam, and the prestige of their families and tribes.
It's easy to snicker at the discrepancy of force between al-Asiri, embedding his bombs in underwear and a jet plane, but the bomb can bring down the jet. And the Sons of Asir can bring down the West. All it takes is enough time and effort, and so long as we give them money and an open door, the Muslim world will have plenty of both.
The latest conquests of Islam may take a century to complete, but if the demographic trends continue, then they will cover the territory from the warm coasts of Spain to the frozen depths of Russia. The raids will soften up the lands of the sword, cut away their people, intimidate their governments into making concessions and use brute numbers to swarm them and become the majority. It has happened for over a thousand years, long before American foreign policy was anything more than a dream, and it is happening now. All around us.
The biggest component of the bomb by far is still the jet plane, the passing shape that can either be a direct weapon or an indirect one. Before the 9/11 hijackers could hijack domestic flights, they had to obtain permission to arrive here on international ones. As the domestic population increases, the next wave of terrorists, men like Nidal Malik Hasan, Tariq Menhanna or Anwar Al-Awlaki, don't even need the planes.
When the number of Muslims proliferates, so does the number of bombs; the kind that al-Asiri makes and the kind that Arafat and the House of Saud made. The kind that blow up right away and the kind that tick slowly away from generation to generation, embedding themselves into a society, undermining it, chipping away at its roots, until it is time for them to go off. But whatever kind of bombs they are, when they go off they destroy our lives and our freedoms. And when there are enough Muslims around us, then life is a bomb.