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Was the Airplane Terrorist Scammed? - By Rabbi BZ Kravitz

Was the Airplane Terrorist Scammed?
By Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

Christmas day’s failed terrorist plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight has police and airline personnel beefing up security, and others wondering how this could happen.

Umar Mutallab, the 23-year-old Nigeria born terrorist, was subdued by other passengers while trying to ignite an explosive device attached to his body. To many, Umar’s youthful appearance, fluent English and education made him an unlikely terrorist suspect.

Michael Rimmer, a Briton who taught history at the British International School in Lome, Togo, knew Umar and said, “In all the time I taught Umar we never had cross words…. Somewhere along the line he must have met some sort of fanatics, and they must have turned his mind."

Rimmer’s comment brings back memories. Who can forget the image of John Walker Lindh, with his face encrusted in mud? Lindh, who grew up in northern California’s affluent Marin County, had been brainwashed to join and fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan until he was captured in 2001 by US forces.

Once again it appears that a young man, Umar Mutallab, may have been recruited scammed, and brainwashed to join a terrorist organization.

There are several important lessons to take from this incident. Firstly, mind control and deception are frequently used by terrorists to recruit and indoctrinate new members. Secondly, we should not be so naïve to think the terrorist profile excludes educated, young and good looking individuals. Doing so lets our guard down and makes us more vulnerable to attack.

Finally, despite their education, many young people lack critical thinking skills and the tools to cope with peer pressure.

Perhaps the following quote sums up the attitude we should take and the lesson we should teach our children:

“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring compassionate, and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true - it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes, and ambitions, to follow a rainbow."

- Jeanne Mills


Jeanne Mills was a member of the “People's Temple” cult and subsequent victim of assassination a year following the November 18, 1978 Jonestown suicides/murders of 911 adults and children.

It is an extreme case when an American youth is manipulated into joining a terrorist group. However, a lack of proper preparation does leave many students vulnerable to the overtures of deceptive cults and scam artists.

Dr. William Sargant in his classic work, “Battle for the Mind,” points out that the best defense against mind-control and thought reform is an awareness of manipulative techniques and a pre-existing and strong belief system.

In other words, the famous Latin expression Caveat Emptor, "Let the buyer beware," is a powerful defense again the persuasion of cults, missionary and even terrorists.

Developing critical thinking skills needs to start at a very young age. We teach our children to look both ways before they cross the street, and we need them to “look both ways” before they are confronted by the numerous seductive challenges that exist today.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founder of Jews for Judaism and its Be-True.org student initiative that empowers youth to make critical choices.

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