Yemen is an ancient country on the southern heel of the Arabian peninsula, the crucible of many of the peoples and customs we now think of as Arab. But to most Westerners, it is little more than a code word for bizarre terror plots. The branch of al-Qaeda based there has made three efforts to plant bombs on US-bound jetliners, starting with the “crotch bomber” in late 2009, who tried to detonate himself as his flight approached Detroit and succeeded only in burning his own genitals. The plots have grown steadily more sophisticated, and fears of another terror strike originating in Yemen are said to keep President Obama up at night. Yemen is often described in newspaper shorthand as “the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden,” even though his father left there for Saudi Arabia as a very young man.