Maybe Faisal Shahzad isn’t that simple

Robert Wright, writing on the New York Times website, had a very intelligent takedown of simplistic attitudes towards jihadism as exhibited by Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Goldberg, who treat religious violence as an entity that exists on its own, divorced from any realities of the world, almost like it’s something some people are born with.

Wright invites Pipes and Goldberg (and many others) to imagine a more complex reality. He writes:

In the universe I’m positing, the following scenario is conceivable:

A Pakistani guy moves to America, goes to college, gets a job, starts a family. He grows unhappy. Maybe he’s having financial problems (though I’m skeptical, for reasons outlined by Charles Lane here, that Shahzad’s home foreclosure actually signifies as much); or maybe the problem is just that he doesn’t find his social niche. And maybe he was a bit unstable to begin with — which would make it harder to find his niche and might intensify his reaction to not finding it.

Anyway, for whatever reason, he feels alienated in America. He stays in touch with people and events back home in Pakistan, and this gives him another reason to dislike America: American drones are firing missiles into Pakistan, sometimes killing women and children.

Thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take him long to find like-minded folks, or to come under the influence of a radical imam operating out of Yemen. “Jihadi intent” is taking shape, and eventually he comes into the fold of actual jihadis, a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan. They give him what he hadn’t found in America: a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. The basic ingredients of bomb-planting behavior are now in place.

I think Wright makes a good point here. We (Americans, that is) need to understand that it’s possible that policies like invading Muslim countries, locking up accused terrorists in secret prisons, and supporting repressive “secular” regimes are making the United States less, and not more, safe. A prime recruiting tool for jihadist groups in Pakistan are videos depicting American violence against Muslims. Less violence would make for less propaganda.

But while I’m on the topic of Faisal Shahzad, I want to raise something else.

Shahzad supposedly trained with the Pakistani Taliban before attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square. This has now been corroborated by the Pakistani intelligence services and, apparently, by a confessed accomplice in Pakistan. But the whole thing leaves me with some questions.

First of all, there is something odd about the bomb itself, which New York police described as “crude.” A militant organization with almost ten years of bombings under their belt (no pun intended) should presumably be able to train someone how to make a decent bomb, particularly in what would be a major operation for the group. But the thing that I find even more incongruous is the fact that Shahzad is still alive. He supposedly left the bomb in his Nissan and then fled the scene. That doesn’t sound that strange until you think about the regularity with which the Pakistani Taliban uses suicide bombers, not planted car bombs, in its attacks. Wouldn’t someone who has trained with the Pakistani Taliban be sufficiently indoctrinated to blow himself up? Wouldn’t that be a more surefire plan?

It’s also worth considering that the Pakistani Taliban has never attempted an attack outside of Pakistan before, though I suppose this could be explained away by going back to my (Robert Wright’s) earlier point about American policies encouraging radicalism. With predator drones, piloted from Virginia, killing Pakistani civilians almost daily, it’s certainly not inconceivable that the Pakistani group would attempt to expand its reach.

I’m not suggesting that the Times Square bombing attempt was fabricated or the connection to the Pakistani Taliban doesn’t exist. But it seems to me that the situation deserves a little more consideration than it has received.

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Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism

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