The day after President Obama made his Predator joke at the White House Correspondents dinner, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, was in the middle of Times Square trying to blow the place up. I’m not saying there was any connection, although you never know: yet there is indeed a link between the casual arrogance that allowed an intelligent man like our chief executive to joke about a deadly weapon that has killed more innocent civilians in Pakistan than actual terrorists.
There are several issues being raised by this case, first and foremost the question of there being some connection to the Taliban, the Pakistani version of which has supposedly claimed responsibility. The accused, Faisal Shahzad, is said to have traveled to Pakistan several times, during which time he reportedly received bomb-making “training” from the Taliban. If that is true, it doesn’t say much for their tutoring skills: this makeshift “bomb,” which failed to go off, was apparently a collection of fireworks, propane tanks, fertilizer, and cheap alarm clocks put together by someone who had no idea what they were doing.
The idea that some guys in a cave somewhere in the mountains of the Hindu Kush are capable of plotting and executing a complex terrorist plot on the other side of the world, all by their lonesome selves, is at the core of the administration’s case for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The terrorists, we’re told, must be denied a “safe haven,” from within which they can “plan” and “plot” attacks on the United States. Yet all this planning and plotting has so far gotten them exactly nowhere: all they have to show for it are a couple of amateurish failures, and two of their drones in the clink.
Which just goes to show that we don’t need to occupy and “pacify” half of Central Asia in order to effectively fight terrorism: all we need are a couple hundred strategically positioned t-shirt vendors. Seriously, though, the unfolding of this incident underscored a point I’ve been making in this space for years: the battleground in the war on terrorism, so-called, is right here at home, not thousands of miles away from the target. The Bushian strategy was to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” and yet they are already over here, as Mr. Shahzad’s biography makes all too clear.
Which brings us to the second interesting aspect of this case: Shahzad is an American citizen, although not for long, if Senator Joe Lieberman has his way:
“I think it’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.”
The Senator is either grandstanding, or just plain ignorant – come to think of it, probably both. Because in the case of naturalized citizens, revocation of citizenship is the price one pays for treason: that’s already in the law. The standard is not that high: one merely has to be a member of any organization deemed “subversive” by the government for revocation proceedings to be brought.
Yet Shahzad has so far been convicted of nothing: there’s not even an indictment. The Senator would no doubt love to dispense with these formalities, but we aren’t there yet. The bomb, you remember, failed to go off. When one does, however, you can bet Lieberman will be the first to suggest suspending the Constitution – and he’ll be far from alone.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, thousands of Middle Easterners were rounded up, deported, questioned, and otherwise abused. The War Party would like nothing better than to see this repeated, and they’re doing their damnedest to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria, but the pitiful impotence of the hapless Shahzad is hardly up to the task.
In prosecuting the “war on terrorism” abroad, we have succeeded only in provoking an internal threat: there are millions of self-declared Muslims in this country. In pursuing what appears to be a war on Islam, we automatically generate a huge potential fifth column right here on the home front. This is bad news for those who care about the future of America, but good news for the War Party, which can never have too many targets for its boundless rage.
The oddness of this case is brought out in the details of Shahzad’s career – from being a financial analyst at the Affinion Group, in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he commuted from the home he and his wife had purchased in nearby Shelton, to quitting his job, in 2009, going off to Waziristan for “training,” and then returning to at the beginning of this year, a changed man. From Wall Street to Waziristan is a strange road to travel, and with such rapidity that it strikes me as distinctly odd. News articles talk about how, in the beginning, Shahzad and his wife – whose Facebook page says she “likes to party every night” – were friendly, at first, but later seemed to withdraw as Shahzad became more “radicalized,” but of what did this “radicalization” consist of?
What stands out about Shahzad and his family is their ordinariness – the wife, a University of Colorado graduate, majoring in business, and Shahzad, who spent his days calculating profit margins and tending his garden, not to mention a baby daughter nicknamed “Bunny Wabbit.” So typical is this family that they recently had their Shelton house foreclosed.
In a rational world, one would have to ask: these are terrorists? In this world, however, we can only wait for more of the story to come out. When it does, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s much less to this than meets the eye.