Cleanliness is next to godliness 8



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When I was a wee young lad my mummy would absolutely insist that “cleanliness is next to godliness” as, indeed, she still preaches today with all of the righteous certainty of a Continuing Presbyterian. I was also asked probing personal questions like, “Have you washed behind your ears?”

God, I was led to believe, hated dirt. I learned at Sunday School that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper and I considered that not just reasonable given what was probably the state of the roads in Palestine at the time but a very decent gesture. I could have scoured the Bible for years and not found any reference at all to washing behind the ears.

I was also ordered, by maternal decree, to make sure I had clean undies on and a fresh hanky “in case of an accident” and I was always left wondering why. I had nightmare visions of the ambulance man refusing to take me to hospital after I had fallen off my bike or some other disaster because he had glimpsed un-clean underwear or a dirty hanky.

All of these childhood recollections came flooding back when I read again recently about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, otherwise known as the “underwear bomber”.

This warrior for Islam tried to blow up an American passenger aircraft, Northwest Flight 253 with almost 300 people on board from Amsterdam to Detroit, on Christmas Day, 2009. He had a bomb concealed in his underwear and John Pistole, head of the US Transportation Security Administration, has revealed that the bomb did not go off because Abdulmutallab had worn his underpants for more than two weeks prior to the flight.

While I have no doubt that Mr Pistole is a dedicated and energetic professional, I have come to appreciate his sense of delicacy and good taste. When he was asked if this meant that the “device” had become damp, he primly replied, “Let’s say it was degraded.”

It emerged at Abdulmutallab’s trial that he had spent more than 20 minutes in the toilet as the flight approached Detroit and, after he returned to his seat, he covered himself with a blanket. It was then that passengers heard “popping noises” and smelled a foul odour. And, no, I don’t even want to think about that much less speculate.

Mind you, having flown with several American airlines, I would not have been unduly alarmed by that given what US airlines are pleased to refer to as their in-flight meals. I can only hope that Northwest Airlines were sufficiently culturally aware to serve him halal tucker.

Then it was noticed that his trouser leg and the part of the wall of the plane next to him was on fire which probably was not a reaction to the food. A brave and quick-thinking passenger jumped on him and subdued him – causing second degree burns to his hands – while flight attendants doused the fire.

After an emergency landing, Abdulmutallab was arrested and treated for first and second degree burns to his hands and second degree burns to his right inner thigh and genitalia.

Just why they were only second degree burns to his below the waist area somewhat puzzles me, given where the bomb was concealed. Perhaps, when finishing up in the toilet, he didn’t properly adjust his clothing – something else that mummy strongly advises – and we can only wonder if he washed his hands.

After initially pleading not guilty this deranged fruitloop changed his plea to guilty of eight charges and sacked his lawyer saying he wanted to defend himself.

His defence consisted of shouting out several times, “Allah Akbar” – “God is great” in Arabic – and announcing that he was “proud to kill in the name of God, and that is what God told us to do in the Quran”.

After he was sentenced to life with no chance of parole, he said, “Today is a day of victory and God is great ” and that al-Qaeda, which had inspired him and provided his bomb, would eventually triumph with acts like his although, presumably from their perspective rather more successful acts, until “the righteous servants of Allah inherit the world.”

As anybody would imagine, in the aftermath of this failed attack there was a furious reaction yet the US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napoli actually announced, “once the incident occurred, the system worked.” To be fair, she didn’t actually say that the Dutch citizen and film director Jasper Schuringa was a secret member of some US counter-terrorism outfit when he subdued Abdulmutallab and the next day, after everybody fell about in disbelief or laughter (or both), she recanted and said the system “failed miserably.”

Perhaps in his zealousness, Abdulmutallab forgot that the Holy Quran declares, “For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean”. For his lack of personal hygiene alone, I don’t like his chances of getting 72 virgins in paradise.

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. Russell you are the gift that keeps on giving

    1 REPLY
    • Dear Lyn – It will be a continuing pleasure to write even if you are the only grateful reader. Many blessings upon you and your house!

  2. Thank you for that amusing story, Russell. It was amusing mainly because the bomb failed to detonate. However, I smiled at the reason – unclean underwear! My grandmother used to tell me when I was young to wear clean underwear in case I got hit by a bus. I never did follow her logic, similar to your thought. Surely if I had been hit by a bus my outer and underwear would have become very dirty indeed. 🙂

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