By Farooq A. Kperogi
Let me begin by stating that I have problems with the term “conspiracy theory.” Its invocation is sometimes no more than an idle, off-handed rhetorical strategy to marginalize and delegitimize alternative narratives that are at variance with officially sanctioned perspectives on an issue.
This is not to deny, of course, that there are indeed some wacky and fringe narratives out there that are so bizarre in their illogic and paranoia they make you cringe in stupefied astonishment.
But for my reflections this week, I’ve decided to grudgingly use the term “conspiracy theory” because it appears to enjoy some traction in popular discourse. I am using it to denote perspectives that are located on the furthest margins of the official and semi-official narratives on the alleged attempt by Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab to bomb a U.S. airplane on December 25 last year.
For instance, some people have claimed that Abdul-Mutallab is a mere pawn in a sophisticated, smoothly executed international political chess game; that he was incapable of even contemplating much less carrying out a suicide bombing. People who advance this perspective say Umar was probably drugged and made to do what he was alleged to have done against his wishes.
The pro-Muslim version of this theory says that he was set up by the CIA or some other dark, sinister American organization to justify the continued profiling and maltreatment of Muslims—and the addition of northern Nigerian Muslims to the list.
A non-Muslim Nigerian version of this theory says Umar was set up by wicked Arab negrophobes who wanted to expend the life of a young Nigerian to make a point—and to expand the stretch of fears and insecurities that Americans must deal with. That is, it is not just Arabs that Americans must fear; Africans should be added to the list, too.
Still others say the Abdul-Mutallab plot is intended to hasten the disintegration of Nigeria, which some American think-tank has predicted would happen in a couple of years. The goal, goes the theory, is to have unfettered access to Nigeria’s oil reserves—as if that has not already been happening since independence.
Outside of Nigeria, there are two dominant strains of the conspiracy theory. The first says the Abdul-Mutallab incident is nothing more than a manufactured fear by individuals and corporations intent on making billions of dollars from the sale of body scanners for airports.
The second strain says the plot was planned to coincide with the expiration of the USA Patriot Act, which gives government sweeping powers in the “war against terror.” So, the argument goes, a new, hitherto unthought-of threat was deliberately manufactured by war-mongering neocons to sufficiently scare the American public into supporting an extension of the Patriot Act.
These conspiracies overlap obviously, but they are all united in depriving Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab of any agential power and in presenting him as some unthinking, helpless, and unresisting automaton that was remotely manipulated by forces outside of his comprehension and control.
Well, these theories, which are not only wildly popular on the fringes but have sometimes made it to mainstream media discourse, don’t connect a major dot. That dot is the role of Alhaji Umar Abdul-Mutallab, the alleged terrorist’s father. Where is he in all of these minatory schemes?
We know for a fact that the senior Abdul-Mutallab reported his son to Nigerian and U.S. security agencies. He told the agencies that his son had fallen into bad company and that he might be up to no good. Few weeks after this red flag, the son was caught pants down (pun intended) doing exactly what his dad confidentially told security agencies he might be up to.
Now, if Umar Farouk was indeed set up, his dad must be a part of the conclave where this/these diabolical scheme(s) was/were hatched. In fact, he would be the villain of the piece. Any father who would spend stupendous resources to educate his son in the best schools money can buy only to turn around to sacrifice that son in an iniquitous, malevolent plot must be the devil himself.
Or was the senior Abdul-Mutallab also drugged into confiding in security agencies that his son had fallen into the wrong hands and was likely going to be engaged in a terrorist act?
Of all the things I’ve read about the senior Abdul-Mutallab I’ve not yet read anything that has called into question his credibility. And the man has never denied reporting his son to security agencies. In Nigeria’s peculiar “Boko Haram” justice system, the report of the dad prior to the commission of the alleged offense by the son is more than sufficient “prima facie” evidence to get the son killed.
To be even marginally credible, the fringe narratives about Umar’s insidious and conspiratorial manipulation by evil, scheming, conniving external forces should account for why his father, who obviously lavished him with over-solicitous indulgence, reported him to security agencies weeks before he was alleged to have attempted to blow up a plane. Failing this, these narratives truly deserve to be tagged lazy, escapist conspiracy theories.