'The System Worked'

'The System Worked'

By Maggie Gallagher - December 31, 2009

"The system worked," quoth our homeland security chief.

Wow. That's quite some awesome system we have to protect American lives, isn't it?

Just think about it. Here's the system that works:

We let known terrorists, banned in Britain, board U.S. planes with bombs sewn into their underwear. Then, when they light themselves on fire in order to explode a planeful of innocent civilians, we count on the presence of Dutch filmmakers to leap across three sets of seats and smother the flames with their bare hands.

Brilliant plan. Sheer genius. Yup. That's real old-fashioned American ingenuity for you. Quite a system we got here, trust us.

Of course it helps a little that secretary Janet Napolitano later went on the "Today" show to clarify that "the comment is being taken out of context," and agreed with Matt Lauer's suggestion the system failed miserably. "Obviously we need to review those protocols," she told him and promised the American people that "an extensive review is under way," but meanwhile "air travel is safe." Feel better?

There were several true heroes of Flight 253. Jasper Schuringa, the Dutch filmmaker, heads the list. He told the press he heard a noise like a firework and saw smoke rising from several seats away across the aisle. He said: "When I saw the suspect was on fire, I freaked. I didn't think. Without hesitation, I just jumped over the seats."

God bless all the young men of the world who "freak" in emergencies by moving toward the danger to extinguish it.

But my heart goes out as well to Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, the father of the would-be terrorist bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

When his son disappeared into jihadism, Mutallab did what a father should do -- every single thing he could think of to both rescue his own son, and to save the lives of others.

According to press accounts, he traveled to Yemen to speak to his son, alerted U.S. authorities and turned to international security forces to try to recover his son from jihadi extremists.

My heart goes out to him and to every other Muslim mother and father who must worry about those unscrupulous agents of death who come for their sons.

For "jihadi cool" is a masculine game, a response not only to a crisis within Islam, but the larger crisis of masculinity in modernity. Jihadi cool is an ideology that appeals to young men looking for meaning in their lives.

Speaking to The Washington Post about the five middle-class Muslim young men from Northern Virginia arrested in Pakistan in December for joining the jihad, human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar said, "These guys are essentially brainwashed pawns of terrorist propaganda. These are wannabe thugs who are real-world idiots."

Young men are like that, too.

What we need, in addition to new protocols and a new Homeland Security chief, is a renewed culture of civilized masculinity.

We need more heroes, and more women and men who appreciate them.

Copyright 2009, Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher

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