Ahmed Rashid: The Times Square Bomber: Home-Grown Hatred?

The Times Square Bomber: Home-Grown Hatred?

By Ahmed Rashid

From The New York Review of Books

Published May 14, 2010

The Pakistani media is in a state of apoplexy about the would-be Times Square bomber, the Pakistani-born US citizen Faisal Shahzad. Predictably a great many commentators in the press and on the non-stop talk shows that run on over 25 TV news channels have discussed whether it was a CIA plot to embarrass Pakistan or provide an excuse for American troops to invade us: Was Shahzad an Indian or Israeli agent? And in any case, why should Washington hold Pakistan responsible, since he was an American citizen?

Not surprisingly, the Zardari government, the army, and Pakistani politicians have also muddied the waters. Although the government has said it will fully cooperate with US investigators seeking to find out which extremist groups trained Shahzad and where, Islamabad continues to fudge the paramount issue—the need for Pakistan to launch a comprehensive campaign against all extremist groups rather than the hit-and-miss anti-terrorism measures it is presently pursuing. That selective campaign leaves untouched the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan—including Mullah Omar and other top leaders—who are not killing Pakistanis but are organizing attacks against US troops in Afghanistan; it also has ignored the Punjabi Taliban groups who have been attacking Indian nationals and government buildings in Kashmir, Kabul, and elsewhere, as well as killing numerous Pakistanis in suicide bombings in Lahore and other cities.

Both the Zardari government and the press have also made much of the conflicting statements by US officials, with Hilary Clinton threatening Pakistan with dire consequences if it does not deal with terror attacks, while General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, and other military officials suggesting that Shahzad may have been a lone wolf. But what about the US press?

One would have thought that with the growing number of American Muslims who have been radicalized and planned or even launched an act of terrorism—the Fort Hood shooting spree of Army doctor Nadal Hasan last November is another example—there would be some effort to determine why Islamic radicalism is growing in the United States. But so far there has been very little. I have not yet read a single piece in The New York Times or The Washington Post that explores the broader milieu in which Shahzad became radicalized. Was he disturbed by particular aspects of American culture or foreign policy, that, combined with extremist ideas to which he was exposed, played havoc with his mind?

He may have trained in Pakistan and been inspired by this or that Pakistani radical preacher or leader. He is said by a “US government source” cited in The Los Angeles Times to have been “upset by repeated CIA drone attacks on militants in Pakistan.” Yet whatever ultimately put him on the path of wanting to blow up Times Square must have been related to what happened to him in the US where he spent most of his adult life. There have been lengthy journalistic pieces describing the basic facts of his life as a financial analyst, or as a good, quiet neighbor; there have been much-publicized raids on the homes of people who may have been connected with him in some way. But until now, the press has shown little interest in tackling the real causes for his radicalization in the US. Did he attend a mosque regularly, did he belong to an extremist or even just an ordinary Muslim network, who were his friends, what Web sites did he go to, what books were in his library, and what in particular made him so disillusioned with the good life in America?

Also little discussed has been his family background. He grew up within the military ruling elite in Pakistan (his father was an air vice marshal in the Pakistan Air Force), and enjoyed privileges that should have made him less vulnerable to disillusionment with America or the seductive charms of extremist propaganda: he was one of thousands of children of senior military officers who, courtesy of the Pentagon, have enjoyed scholarships in the US since the 1950s. The important question Americans should be asking is why members of Muslim communities in the United States, and white converts like “Jihad Jane,” are finding a cause in global jihadism ten years after September 11. Pakistanis do not understand what is going on now in America—but it seems Americans understand even less.

Who or what radicalized Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American street vendor who pleaded guilty last year to plotting to blow up subway stations in New York? What inspired David Headley, an affluent Pakistani-American, to help the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Tayab plan the 2008 Mumbai massacre? What motivated five young Muslim males to travel from Virginia to Pakistan late last year to seek jihadist training (they were arrested before they managed to do so)? Why did Bryant Neal Vinas, a convert to Islam, receive training in Pakistan in 2007 and plot to blow up New York’s Penn Station? And why did the Hasan, the Army doctor, suddenly decide to kill 13 fellow members of the military and wound 32 others at Fort Hood, where he was stationed?

These and other would-be terrorists arrested in the past few months have very little in common other than that they are Muslim. They hail from vastly different social and economic situations—from taxi drivers and street vendors to financial analysts—they come from across the US and they vary in their commitment to Islamic radicalism and their degree of contact with extremist groups abroad. We can only presume that what unites them is a purposeful hatred of the United States and its foreign policy—one that may take root during a process of slow radicalization—together with a desire to be part of a larger anti-American movement.

In the years since September 11, many academics and journalists have suggested that, in contrast to Muslim populations in Europe, where there have been much-publicized problems with extremism, America’s own Muslim population has been largely immune to radicalization. But ten years on we are seeing a change. Yet rather than trying to understand and explore this phenomenon, US journalists—and, it seems, the US government—are singularly obsessed with finding out which Pakistani group was responsible for training Shahzad or whether he had links to al’ Qaeda. Meanwhile, every failed act of terrorism on US soil may encourage dozens more young American Muslims to try and succeed. And until there is a greater understanding of—and effort to address—the underlying issues that lead to this kind of radicalization, we will not come any closer to preventing such attacks in the future.




Filed under Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, FATA, Identity, Islamism, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Taliban, Terrorism, USA, violence, War On Terror

11 responses to “Ahmed Rashid: The Times Square Bomber: Home-Grown Hatred?

  1. YLH

    Ahmad Rasheed has essentially concluded what I concluded in my article “Faisal Shahzad’s radicalisation”.

    Now let us see Paki-bashers spin this one or call Ahmad Rashid an apologist.

  2. Cooperation with US admin = American slavery

  3. YLH

    Kashifiat ..laantis like you are responsible for the mess we are in.

    Is it true Zaid as in jamaat e islami at NED?

  4. Sadia Hussain

    How an individual is radicalized is quite complex to answers as one lacks the physic ability to do so. The foremost concern for Pakistan is was in anyway did Faisal Shahzad receive any assistance from elements in Pakistan? Or was he trained by the Taliban? If yes then we are responsible for training a terrorist whether he sneaked under our radar. The U.S needs to ponder upon how to engage naturalized Americans feel that they are part of the nation and they have common aspirations

  5. AASH

    “And until there is a greater understanding of—and effort to address—the underlying issues that lead to this kind of radicalization, we will not come any closer to preventing such attacks in the future.”

    Perhaps Ahmed Rashid can go through this for some answers and apply his “expert analysis” on the Taliban to it? And then maybe write a spectacularly less speculative piece on the issue? And concentrate on coherent arguments?


  6. Athar


    I agree with you, Laantis like him are responsible for all the mess – – so called apologists, victim mentality, conspiracy theories fanatics!

    Enough with you laantis. Wake UP!!!!

  7. Zainab Ali

    The recent shift in the national security strategy of US might help tackle this issue, because it totally concentrates on the reasons why and how the US citizens have been radicalized? It also lifts off the pressure that was mounting on Muslim communities in the west after 9/11, because US has realized that it has targeted mutual hatred among people from different ethnicities living in the US.

  8. Ali Abbas

    Copied below is what the muslim Canadian Congress had to say about this issue, in which they also highlight the role of North American, Saudi-funded apologist groups like CAIR and ISNA. This statement was published on May 7th; before the SC dismissed the appeals of Punjab and Federal Governments against release from house arrest of Hafiz Saeed.
    May 7, 2010

    Failed New York car bombing by Pakistani-American should serve as a wake-up call
    MCC urges Obama Administration to distance itself from Islamists promoting doctrine of ‘armed jihad’ and Sharia Law

    TORONTO – The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) has condemned the attempted bombing in New York, but has also expressed alarm at the continued refusal of American Islamic organizations to distance themselves from the doctrine of armed jihad, which is at the root of Islamic extremism and terrorism.

    The MCC has on numerous occasions urged North American Islamic groups to unequivocally declare the doctrine of armed Jihad and its underlying theology as dangerous, but our call has fallen on deaf ears.

    The MCC believes that unless the doctrine of “Armed Jihad” or “Lesser Jihad” as promoted by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami is declared as inapplicable in the 21st century, ritualistic condemnations of terrorism and violence in the name of Islam are not worth the paper they are written on. The MCC believes it is of utmost importance to acknowledge that both the Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood have a large number of associates operating openly in the USA and Canada and they provide fertile soil for terrorists like the New York car bomber, the Toronto-18 and the Ottawa Digi-bomber to flourish and find intellectual and ideological sustenance.

    The MCC believes the refusal of Islamic organization like CAIR and ISNA to out rightly condemn the doctrine of Jihad, or the ‘war against infidels’ has only contributed to the further emboldening of want-to-be martyrs.

    MCC would like to underscore the disturbing evidence about Pakistan having become the epicentre of Jihadi-activities despite the best efforts of the present government.

    Saudi funded Jihad-supporters from all over the world, including the USA and Canada , (men like Faisal Shahzad and Omar Khadr to name a few), regard Pakistan as a safe haven for their preparation and training of waging wars against the West. Fundamental Islamic ideology is taught at scores of Saudi funded mosques and ends at finishing schools in North Waziristan managed by the various Taliban affiliated Jihadi groups like Lashkar Jhangvi, Sipah Sahaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The fact that these groups are supported by one of the two leading political parties in Pakistan and the national media group does not help the situation.

    The MCC strongly believe that the Obama Administration is not helping the situation by seeking advice from individuals who not only endorse the doctrine of Jihad and support sharia law, but openly deny any connection between Islamist theology and on-going terrorist activities.

    The continued presence of these Islamist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the White House will only serve to encourage Jihadi-extremists in their continued terrorist activities. The US Administration must take into consideration that Pakistan’s “Security establishment”– the military and judiciary– is still protecting its Taliban assets and their various Jihadi affiliates. It is no surprise that the accused New York bomber is the son of a retired Vice Marshall of the Pakistan Air force.

    The MCC calls on the Obama Administration to distance itself from all Islamists and backers of the Muslim Brotherhood if it is to be taken seriously when it claims it is going to fight Islamic terrorism. As long as the White House takes advice from Islamists and considers Saudi Arabia as an ally, it is unwittingly playing in the hands of the very forces of Islamism that it claims to be fighting.

    – 30 –

    For more information, call:

    In Toronto, Sohail Raza, president MCC at (416) 505-1613
    In Ottawa, Salma Siddiqui, vice president MCC at (613) 864-4306

  9. D_a_n

    This MCC and the bumbling Sohail Raza and Salma Siddiqui just squandered their credibility with the following nugget:

    ‘It is no surprise that the accused New York bomber is the son of a retired Vice Marshall of the Pakistan Air force.’

    The comment is gratuitous, misleading, out of context and seeking to create a point where there is none. What rubbish.

  10. Hira Mir

    @kashifiat. What about the drones and the hefty amounts that we are receiving from our allies in the name of protecting this country from terrorism? Slaves don’t really get this kind of treatment. Crazy you say this. I think It is the mindset that should be changed in the country.