January 7, 2010

The Cost of Lonliness

"The internet postings begin in 2005, and they're clearly written by a lonely young man. One post in 2005 read: I'm in a situation where I do not have a friend. I have no one to speak to. I don't know what to do. Abdulmutallab was young, didn't speak Arabic very well and was looking for religious guidance on the internet." - From a 12/30/09 story on NPR about Christmas Day bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, "In Bomb Plot Probe, Spotlight Falls on Yemeni Cleric"

There has been much ink and bandwith spent in the past three weeks on evalutating the causes of the near-tragedy in the skies over Detroit on the evening of Christmas Day. In my mind, this nugget of information should be front and center. It's not about full body scanners in airports. It's not about "connecting the dots," within the lines of communication in the intelligence community. It's about a lonely young man. A young man with a baby face in a strange place without a friend.

Instead of wondering whether better intelligence would have prevented this man from taking fire and a bomb onto an airplane, I have a better question: What if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had had a friend? I don't mean a co-conspirator. I mean someone who had cared about him, been ready to sit with him and laugh with him and to listen to his deep pain and questions and share his joy.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He is a person with a name and a father who cared enough about his son to tell someone that something was very wrong with the young man. He was once an innocent baby. On some day or night, before he went on the internet and discovered a nefarious distorter of Islam who taught him to be a terrorist, he was a lonely, confused kid.

Where were we?

It's become a joke when someone commits a heinous crime that his neighbors invariably say, "He was quiet, kept to himself." Who is this "he"? Who is the lonely boy or man (or girl or woman, though far less often)? Is it my neighbor?

"Who is my neighbor?" asked the legal scholar of Jesus. Jesus replies with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews, because they were a half-Jewish people who had intermarried with Gentiles and had different ideas about the Law. It was shocking to think of a Samaritan coming to the aid of a Jew.

But what if one of us, if I, had reached out my Samaritan hand in an offer of friendship to my neighbor, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? I cannot even pronounce his name. His skin is dark and mine is light. He is a young Nigerian man and I am a middle-aged American woman. Who is the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in my neighborhood? In yours?


  1. Our neighbor is Mr.Jim. . . not a terrorist, but a lonely man. Stricken with an anxiety disorder these past 6 months. He walks, and walks, and walks. Can't be still for long. Complains of sleepless nights and fears, of loosing weight and feeling the weight of responsibility of those who work for him (especially if he goes bankrupt.) However, if you are just present, just listen; he will sit, he will eat, he will rest, you can encourage him, you can hug him, you can see he still struggles. . .but he isn't totallly alone. . . even if only for these moments he knows someone cares.
    As belivers we are the hands and feet of Christ. He works through us to reach out, to love, to be compassionate, to fill a need, to train up those who will follow and who will also need to be able to answer the question "who is my neighbor?." Kristen

  2. So powerful, sister.