Wednesday morning. You walk bleary-eyed to the metro to get to work. The sidewalk is bustling with other morning commuters, a sea of black suits and unfashionable commuter sneakers (you are in Washington, D.C. after all). As you are about to get on the escalator, you grab a copy of the Express, the Washington Post’s free commuter newspaper. This is enough to jolt you awake:
(And no, I’m not referring to the Cinco de Mayo guide to top-shelf tequilas.)
Ever since Faisal Shahzad was arrested for trying to blow up a car in Times Square over the weekend, we have been inundated with news items analyzing every minute detail of the Pakistani-American’s life. Media outlets have left no stone unturned as they attempt to fit Shahzad into a profiled box and understand how and why such a man could threaten the safety of Americans.
But Faisal Shahzad, dear news agencies, can’t be boxed in. And while that astounds you, that he doesn’t fit your narrow profile of a terrorist, this should really not be news to you. Just like not all Muslims are terrorists, not all terrorists are impoverished and uneducated young men. (Remember Jihad Jane?)
Here are a few non-sensical gems over the past few days I found worthy of sharing (the blue lines are what I’d imagine to be the reporters’ inner thoughts):
- From Reuters: “This is our son,” retired school teacher Nazirullah Khan told Reuters by telephone. “I recognized him. Last time when I met him, he didn’t have a beard. I attended his wedding.” No beard = no terrorist. Beard = terrorist. Easy.
- From the NY Times: “When they [Shahzad & wife] returned to the United States, his colleagues at the cosmetics maker Elizabeth Arden celebrated with a small office party.” What would-be terrorists work at Elizabeth Arden?! That’s crazy talk.
- Also from the NY Times: “A Pakistani man said that an acquaintance of his who was a friend of the Shahzad family told him that within the past year, Mr. Shahzad had peered critically at a glass of whiskey the friend was holding, indicating a judgmental stance typical for rigid jihadis.” Not a boozehound. Definitely a terrorist.
- From BBC News: “He was a jovial type, very active and playful. But after his marriage some three years ago, he began to change. He moved his base from Peshawar to Karachi, grew a beard, and grew quieter and withdrawn,” says Faiz Ahmad, a local elder. Wow. Getting married, sucks, dude!
- From CNN: “He was quiet. He would wear all black and jog at night. He said he didn’t like the sunlight,” Brenda Thurman [his next-door neighbor] said. It seems like Shahzad was also a Twilight fan, and was most probably Team Edward. Most probably.
Ultimately, the so-called stereotype of a terrorist does not really exist. And that’s because there is a difference between would-be jihadists residing in the West and those living in countries like Pakistan – the recruits who surf jihadist chat rooms sitting at home in London and those living in a village in Waziristan. The complexities and nuances among these groups are endless. Faisal Shahzad may be a Pakistani-American, but he was not only “Made in Pakistan.” Yes, Pakistan is plagued with a vast number of issues. We have an undeniable terror problem. But the right solution in this case is to have both countries – the U.S. and Pakistan – look inward at their own societies and take responsibility for the issues at hand. Reuters, in its coverage framed the question very well when it said,
To what extent was Shahzad an “amateur” who had been radicalised in the United States in a way that may have prompted him to seek training or contacts with Pakistan-based militant groups? Or alternatively to what extent should Pakistan-based militant groups be seen as “exporting” their jihadi ideology abroad?