Friday, May 7, 2010

Faisal Shahzad: A Man For All Seasons

Passport has a nice summary of the news media feeding frenzy that took place after Faisal Shahzad's Times Square would-be carbomb fizzled.

Read all about what we thought we knew, but didn't really:

The bomber was a "lone wolf." Or maybe he was actually trained in Pakistan.

The bomber was a "white male." Or a light-skinned South Asian.

The guy taking off his shirt in the video was involved. Probably not.

Vietnam veteran Lance Orton first noticed the smoking van. Or maybe it was Senegalese immigrant Aliou Niasse.

The bombing was in response to South Park's depiction of the Prophet Muhammed. Or U.S. foreign policy.

Faisal Shahzad was arrested with two other men. But they didn't do anything.

Faisal Shahzad is from Karachi. Or maybe it was Peshawar. Or Kashmir.

Faisal Shahzad's father was a Pakistani military official. Or maybe it was his grandfather.

The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attempt. Until they denied it. But it still kinda seems like they did it.

I can add a few more. Mayor Bloomberg speculated that the bomber must be a Tea Party guy upset about the healthcare bill. Or about something else. Shahazad was under the eagle-eyed surveillance of the FBI every moment. Or he slipped away, and the FBI lost him until after he had boarded a flight to Dubai. Shahzad was on a terrorist watchhlist in 1999. Or he wasn't really. Shahzad was motivated by news reports of Predator drone strikes in Pakistan. Or by video tapes of a Yemeni cleric's sermons. (Those last two might not be contradictory, I'll admit).

Maybe it's because of the ambiguity about him that Shahzad has become a regular Rorschach test for domestic politics. Do you notice how he seems to provide a peg for advancing all sorts of political narratives? His home mortage was foreclosed, so he's a victim of the housing bubble. He bought a gun, so new gun restrictions ought to be imposed. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen, so we need to tighten up our naturalization procedures. He received both a student visa and a 'specialized work' H1-B visa, so we ought to stop admitting Muslims.

The development of this case will be a treasure trove of political opportunism.

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