Friday, January 8, 2010

The Christmas Day bombing

We are inundated with so much news that it’s hard sometimes to know what stories to take seriously. But as I heard during my very busy Christmas season that a man tried to blow up an airplane flying to Detroit on Christmas Day my first thought was “that is serious.”

And indeed—the coverage by the media and the response by the United States government to the ignition of a bomb by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on an airplane shows the seriousness.

The question that seems to be driving the aftermath of this story is “how can this happen?” How can a man succeed in detonating a bomb on an airplane after all of the billions of dollars spent on security and all of the significant organization and re-organization of intelligence agencies that exist to thwart such an action. How can this happen?

I am not an expert on intelligence or bombs or counter-terrorism, but I do have some experience in observing the human condition. My perhaps overly simplistic response to the “how can this happen?” question is if enough people want to bomb an airplane eventually someone will accomplish such evil. And, of course, our government is required to try to prevent such attacks. But no amount of regulation or security measures can protect us from anyone who wants to kill others.

We live in an age where such attacks have become common-place. The Columbine attack was the first one. Late last year another attack occurred at Fort Hood—and most of us don’t even remember that the day after the Fort Hood attack another attack occurred in Orlando.

Sure there is a difference between bombing an airplane and taking a gun to fire at people indiscriminately, but the common element in the actions is the condition of the human heart. Our heart is capable of incredible good and incredible evil. Sometimes evil wins out. As I look at the bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and other acts of admittedly shocking violence I see a bottom-line spiritual issue.

And though I am at a certain level supportive of the security measures taken by our government and in the use of technology to thwart attacks, no amount of technology or government intervention can ultimately change the human heart.

I don’t have the hubris to proclaim an answer to airport bombers; however I do believe we in 21st century America must change our expectations of our world. Do we really expect to live in a world where such awful violence doesn’t happen?

I appreciated most of what David Brooks wrote about this issue. His column can be found here: In particular I appreciated the following words, “Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.”

It seems that soon we’ll have full-body scanners at airports, just as we had to take off our shoes after the shoe-bomber detonated a bomb. I guess I’m supportive of these measures, but I won’t be surprised if someone figures out a way to beat these systems.

We live in a very dangerous world. I don’t expect perfection—because we humans can’t achieve it.

The act by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is another wake-up call for all of us to be more effective in influencing the human heart towards good.

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