By now you’ve probably heard of reports that the al Qaeda franchise based in Yemen is entertaining the idea of implanting explosive devices and/or materials inside the bodies of suicide bombers. At the Financial Times, Daniel Dombey (registration required) reports:

Washington has warned that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may plan to surgically implant explosive devices in suicide bombers in order to blow up US-bound flights and that air passengers face more security measures as a result.

At Slate, William Saletan explains that jihadists have been caught thinking aloud online about potential procedures.

Seal a plastic explosive such as PETN in a packet, cut open your volunteer, insert the packet, stitch up the incision, and let it heal. In a man, the packet could go into the buttocks or abdomen. In a woman, it could be a breast implant. [Never mind if it sounds like a Lady Gaga outfit. – RW] Give the bomber a syringe to inject TATP, which will detonate the bomb.

Said syringe might be allowed past the TSA check via a doctor’s note explaining that the passenger is a diabetic. Meanwhile, detecting what’s beneath the skin is beyond the capabilities of airport scanning equipment. That kind of technology – X-ray, MRI, CT scans — is usually confined to medical facilities. But it may soon be coming to an airport near you. Saletan again.

Morpho, a global security firm, is working on a radio-wave device to detect what it calls “bombs in bodies.” Nesch, an imaging company, advertises low-dose X-ray technology that can detect explosives “hidden both inside & outside of the human body.” Valley Forge Composite Technologies, which makes screening devices for bombs and weapons, is marketing a radiographic imaging system that can “see through individuals”…

Spending exorbitant amounts of money and taking invasiveness of physical privacy about as far as it can go is one way of handling it. Then, of course, the United States could intensify international and domestic surveillance – of necessity, focusing on health professionals – not to mention drone strikes.

It can’t be denied that these approaches smack of panic. But, it’s unrealistic for progressives to expect the public to live with, however slight, a threat this nightmarish. Who isn’t freaked out by the prospect of his or her flight blown up mid-air and the passengers cast out into the sky, spending their last minutes watching the earth rush up at them? (Personally, when flying after 9/11, I needed to play this scenario out in my mind while waiting for take-off. Staring it down seemed to help. I mean, there are worse ways to die. Oh, right, there aren’t.)

Along with resisting yet more civil liberties restrictions, as progressives, we seek, of course, to lighten or erase entirely U.S. footprints in the Middle East, perhaps the only sure way to cool jihadists’ fevered imaginations. Since that’s not happening anytime soon, a word to the wise in the interim: Even though jihadists lose – their lives, anyway – in suicide attacks, ultimately they win. Like bin Laden famously did, their survivors take delight in the extent to which the United States spends down its “national treasure” (as if there’s anything left there) on ill-advised invasions abroad and of its own citizens’ bodies in airports.

Purely as a military tactic, because those attacked are reluctant to reply in kind, suicide bombing has no answer. We in the West can console ourselves with the thought that we’re supposedly too civilized to both use ourselves as weapons and target civilians. But we need to face facts and acknowledge that jihadists, and their terrorist ancestors who also employed the practice, have built a better weapon.

When not an act of desperation, as with the Japanese at the end of World War II, suicide bombing is fundamentally an act of the voiceless. Give them a voice, honor their, uh, commitment to their cause, and bring them to the table. Won’t that be an incentive for more groups to use suicide bombing? In fact, if earth is crawling with that many individuals ready and willing to blow themselves up, what’s called for are desperate measures – like forging foreign policies that drive fewer people to blow themselves up everywhere from their own marketplaces to our skies.

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