Getting to Know You

Posted by lapata on October 04, 2010 · 1 min read

My new column, a review of Granta 112 ("the Pakistan issue") is up on Bookslut. Here's an excerpt:

Green is the theme color in the Shahzads' bedroom. The curtains pick up the tone of the bed linens, and a bamboo print hung between the windows extends the botanical motif.

"There was nothing out of the ordinary about the house," Del Vecchio [his real estate agent] says. "There was nothing obvious; no radical posters or anything."

--From a description of the home of Faisal Shahzad (“The Times Square Bomber”) in Connecticut, in CNN Money

When Faisal Shahzad was arrested for trying to detonate a bomb in Times Square last spring, his prepared statements, read out when he entered his guilty plea, were mostly ignored by the media. Instead we were treated to speculations about how and where he was "radicalized," and real estate slideshows of his abandoned over-mortgaged home in Connecticut: “Our conversations were plain-vanilla, mostly about the real estate market,” muses his former real estate agent. Where in this suburban drab do we see the makings of a bloodthirsty killer? Lorraine Adams's moving piece in the new Granta 112, an issue dedicated to Pakistan, is the first in-depth look at Shahzad's case that takes us beyond this befuddlement over the yawning chasm between his suburban décor and the quickie seminar he took in bomb-making techniques from the Pakistani Taliban.

Read the rest here.


Ajit | October 06, 2010

There have been a lot of 'moving accounts' about Faisal Shahzad and Ajmal Kasab in some quarters. It's a curious phenomenon. ;-)

omar | October 07, 2010

Its not curious at all. Imagine people who are intelligent enough to write well and who want the world to change. They also think they know who the enemy resisting their preferrred change really is (USA, colonialism, "postcolonial-fill in the blanks"). Ajmal Kasab and Faisal Shahzad took up arms to change the world and attacked the main enemy (or enemies...India being a postcolonial elitist state or whatever). And they were "poor people" (really poor in the case of Kasab, psychologically poor in the case of Faisal since colonial and postcolonial XYZ had robbed him of his agency and his self respect). Their chosen method was crude and their targets a bit too broad (probably in part because postcolonial ZZZ had robbed them of a culturally-based authentic education, so they didnt know any better). But what self-respecting intellectual can ignore the justness of their cause? Or the terrible privations that led them to chose to kill civilians indiscriminately? And of course, as Chairman Mao said, you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. Some sympathy is natural. The rest is details.... Of course, I am being facetious, but only partly so.

Ajit | October 07, 2010

Omar, that was brilliant. :-) In comparison, I am going to sound like a complete wonk but to state the blindingly obvious: Shahzad grew up in an atmosphere of feudal privilege most of his leftwing sympathisers can only dream about. He came to America thanks to this accident of privilege not by struggling through GRE exams by the light of midnight oil. He seems to have suffered no discrimination - at least none that your average illegal immigrant would recognize as such. Despite this he tried something which if - thanks to his stupidity - had not failed would have killed/maimed/widowed/orphaned people including some who - unlike his apologists - actually know what privation is.

Akbar | October 07, 2010

Ajit and Omar I guess you both have a point. I consider Bruce Fein as one of brilliant American . Here is his take on FS situition from an American's perspective. The colloquy of convicted Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad with United States District Judge Miriam Cederbaum speaks volumes. She challenged Shahzad's self-description as a Muslim soldier because his contemplated violence targeted civilians, "Did you look around to see who they were?" "Well, the people select the government," Shahzad retorted. "We consider them all the same. The drones, when they hit ..." Cedarbaum interrupted: "Including the children?" Shahzad countered: "Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It's a war, and in war, they kill people. They're killing all Muslims." Later, he added: "I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die." And Mr Fein continues; "The United States should have anticipated the predator drone blow-back. The 1770 Boston Massacre occasioned but five American deaths, but engendered colonial hatred of the British that cascaded throughout the colonies. Thomas Paine's heralded pamphlet Common Sense, a figurative battering ram for the colonists during the Revolutionary War, scorned reconciliation with Britain after their scorched earth warfare: The Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, 'Come, come, we shall be friends again, for all this.' But examine the passion and feelings of mankind, Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature, and then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land? If you cannot do all these, then are you only deceiving yourselves, and by your delay bringing ruin upon posterity...But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have, and still can shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant. "

omar | October 07, 2010

One thing to keep in mind is that the drones hit very few "civilians". I anticipate a rash of links to media articles claiming that in fact most of their victims are civilians. But as an authentic agent of the elders of Zion, i assure you they are wrong. The targeting is very very accurate. That you choose to believe otherwise is something I cannot do anything about...

Salman | October 08, 2010

Drones are awesome! I think they should be used within U.S. as well. They provide awesome policing, and a humane way to execute criminals and terrorists. Ajit: If he had suffered discrimination, would that have mattered. Wouldn't a piece that highlights that discrimination be brushed off as terrorist-sympathizing or left-wing poco bs? By that logic, writers should only write to make the readers feel better about themselves by painting the perp as an inhuman monster that they can condemn and move on, and by presenting the terrorist act as the only salient fact of his/her life. Add a generous dose of epithets - like radical, extremist, Taliban, Pakistani, Muslim, Terrorist, all basically printable versions of swear words like shit head and what not - to the outrage, and voila. The readers feel good about themselves, that they have expressed outrage and condemned the act. They have had their fill of the outrage/news porn. They have done their part and can now go watch that new movie that came out. Outrage, while has a purpose, is not reflection or analysis.

Ajit | October 08, 2010

Akbar, my house hath not burnt down, nay. But this is immaterial. I have great sympathy for you if your house has burned down. I will march in rallies to protest the injustice done to you. However, I will not let *my* house be burned down by someone who has himself been wronged (by someone else) - let alone by a pretender who claims to speak in his name. And I will not speak on behalf of those who seek such neanderthal justice nor have anyh regard for those who defend them. To draw your attention to the moral issues involved, let me remind you of an identical situation. In February 2002, a train was torched in Godhra, India in the course of being attacked by some people, resulting in a host of people being burnt alive. Subsequently, some *other* people sought retribution by butchering *some completely unrelated* set of innocent people. Should I now keep harping on the first act of injustice and demand sympathy on behalf of the criminals who did the latter ? The 'curious phenomenon' I mentioned in my first comment is that almost everyone I know sees the nastiness in this latter event. Yet many apparently sane people do not see the analogy when they speak of Shahzad and Kasab.

Akbar | October 08, 2010

However, I will not let *my* house be burned down by someone who has himself been wronged (by someone else) — let alone by a pretender who claims to speak in his name. And I will not speak on behalf of those who seek such neanderthal justice nor have anyh regard for those who defend them. Ajit I do not think me or Bruce Fein that I quoted in this case are apologising for FS phenomenon or condoning it. What we are doing is instead of assigning motives to FS and Judging him, letting him speak for himself and then with a cool and calm head analyse whether US foreign policy has any role(I do not blame it in entirety) in this curious phenomenon of ever expanding pool of "Jihadis". As the poet said "Dard Bahrta gia joon joon dawa ki". Here Glen Greenwald has put very nicely "Our national foreign policy seems boiled down to this premise: we must and will continue to bomb, invade and control Muslim countries until they stop wanting to attack and bomb us or, at least, are unable to continue to do so. Obviously, though, if we continue to engage in that behavior, that day will never come, given that this behavior is precisely what fuels most of it. Just ask them and they'll be more than happy to explain it, as Faisal Shahzad has spent months attempting to do." And here are excerpts from a report from Actual experts at Pentagon Office of the Secretary of Defense 3140 Defense Pentagon Washington, DC 20301-3140 23 Sep 2004 MEMORANDUM FOR ACTING UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (ACQUISITION, TECHNOLOGY & LOGISTICS) SUBJECT: Final Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Strategic Communication "............................ ...................... •• Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states. •• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved. •• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim selfdetermination. •• Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support. •• What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam. •• Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic — namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is — for Americans — really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves. Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of “dissemination of information,” or even one of crafting and delivering the “right” message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none — the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam." - - Office of the Secretary of Defense, 23 Sep 2004

omar | October 09, 2010

Salman, I made no comment about whether drones are good or bad, just that they are very accurate and kill very few civilians, so those claiming that hundreds or even thousands of civilians are dying at the hands of the drones are misinformed. Personally, I do not see any reason to use drones within the US. The state has a pretty good grip over the US (some would say "too good a grip") and there is no need to use drones when your local police department can arrest the accused. Personally, I am also in favor of using drones to hunt down terrorists in FATA because I think the alternative is a Pak army operation and if you want you can see video of Orakzai on youtube and see what is the more indiscriminate and crude instrument of war. There IS a war on. Of course, another alternative (and there can be many alternatives, not just two) is to hand FATA over to the Islamic Emirate and let them negotiate their modus vivendi with Afghanistan. I think that may be the most morally sound alternative, but Pakistani nationalists may not like it. Certainly Faisal Shahzad and fellow morons were incited by American military action and policies abroad. But the question still remains if their response was a good response or a bad one? I am incited to some anger by the drug war in the US. If I blow myself up in Chicago tomorrow, should we discuss stopping the drug war or dismiss my response as an asinine and stupid response which is not going to make anything better and killed several innocents in the process. Trying to "understand" my problem is hardly the first response to that stupid action.

Ajit | October 10, 2010

Akbar, I see your drone attacks and raise you a 9/11. How far back do you want to go ? This sport can go on without end and we can pile up innocent bodies higher than the World Trade Center.

Akbar | October 10, 2010

Akbar, I see your drone attacks and raise you a 9/11. How far back do you want to go ? Ajit, you mean it otherway round, here is 9/11 so here come the drones? Everybody can pick their favourite point when the history of this conflict started . So one may chose to start it with ANY suicide attck or may like to start it with what the Defence Reviw Board called "USA's self serving Hypocrisy" and perceived" oppression of certain lands and people". No that would be a univariate analysis off course we can bring other variables in the picture based on our very own prejuidices. So as a physician I would like to go to the root, when the seed of this destruction was sown and judiciously examine all the factors which are perpetuating this conflict now called OCO. This sport can go on without end and we can pile up innocent bodies higher than the World Trade Center. Well it is going on! and somehow or other I feel "Accuracy of Drones" and selective Moral outrage are not sufficient factors to stop it.

omar | October 10, 2010

Selective moral outrage probably isnt going to help. But the accuracy of the drones is a definite step forward in warfare.....we have to be thankful for all positive developments. Evolution takes time.