The Case of Faisal Shahzad

When British Pakistani, Amir Khan, rose to fame as a promising young boxer, overnight he became the symbol of a modern multicultural Britain.  This is unsurprising.  Everyone likes to own a good thing.  But the equally British (born and bred) 7/7 bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain, were quickly disowned by Britain and passed off as Pakistani.  Though their links to Pakistan were tenuous, a few stamps on the passport signifying infrequent visits to relatives, just as Amir Khan, Baroness Syeda Warsi, or any other member of an immigrant or expatriate family would have, the Pakistan connection was nevertheless played up.

The case of Faisal Shahzad, the inexpert Times Square bomber, has once again raised the spectre of the Pakistan connection.  A recently naturalized US citizen, Faisal Shahzad has more links to Pakistan than the 7/7 bombers.  Nevertheless, he has lived in America for the last several years, was educated there, married a woman who was brought up in America and had as many links to his new country as he did to the old.  Whether or not he was trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas is yet to be conclusively confirmed.  Reports differ with Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton focusing on a strong possibility of a Pakistan connection, General David Petraeus rejects the claim however, suggesting that Faisal was acting as a “lone wolf”.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would agree with General Petraeus for the simple reason that had he been trained in Waziristan, most likely the bomb would have worked.  Ask the Pakistanis who suffer such murderous explosions on a regular basis.  The only ones that have failed to result in large civilian casualties are the ones where courageous Pakistani policemen, suspecting suicide missions, apprehended the bombers prior to detonation, thus taking the brunt of the bombing at the police check posts and giving their own lives to protect ordinary citizens.  This is not to suggest that a potential link to Waziristan should be overlooked or prematurely dismissed.  All leads must be pursued and any incident which threatens innocent life deserves to be thoroughly investigated.  Pakistan must cooperate in the inquiry process, as it is doing, however the element of increased home-grown terrorism merits equal scrutiny.

It is no secret that radical clerics based in Europe and America have played a part in recruiting disgruntled youth to the cause of terrorism.  American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, assumed to have inspired the Christmas Day underwear bomber as well as the Fort Hood shooter, may be the most notorious of the home-grown militant clerics, but certainly cannot be the only one.  Just as Pakistan has neglected to regulate what is being preached in its mosques and madrassas, Britain and the US are also guilty of disinterest in the communal development of their immigrant Muslim communities.  As a result, oil-rich Muslim countries have stepped in to fund mosques and Islamic centres that encourage preaching suitable to their culture and interests, often at the expense of relegating women to secondary status and transferring much of the anti-American/anti-western sentiment found on the Muslim street to these communal places of worship.

I have prayed in mosques around the world and in non-Arabic speaking Muslim countries, like Pakistan or Turkey, it would be unheard of to broadcast the sermon ahead of the Friday prayer in any language other than the local one.  So, for example, in Pakistan, the sermon is in Urdu, in Turkey, it is in Turkish, but at Regent’s Park Mosque in Central London or at Paris’ Grand Mosque, the sermon is in Arabic.  Not only does this deprive the non-Arabic speaking Muslim community of participating fully in the religious service, but it also prevents adequate oversight of what is being said in the sermon.  Instead of encouraging their respective Muslim communities to become a part of mainstream society, Europe, in particular, facilitates their marginalisation.  America, on the other hand, may be slightly better at including its Muslims into the mainstream, primarily because of the fact that the average Muslim immigrants to the US have historically been much better educated than the ones in Europe, but after 9/11, the most harrowing cases of profiling against Muslims coupled with a foreign policy that resulted in mass destruction of Muslim life and property has led Muslims in America to be far more fearful, reserved, suspicious and resentful of the country in which they live.

Terrorism is a global problem and solutions too must be global in their reach.  America and Britain have already alienated their growing Muslim populations by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Further name-calling, such as referring to Pakistan as the “epicentre of global terrorism,” or browbeating a country that is suffering tragically from terrorism to “do more” is not looked upon positively within Pakistan or within its large immigrant populations in Britain and America.

In spite of the generous Kerry-Lugar aid package, anti-Americanism is on the rise in Pakistan as well as its immigrant communities.  And although sentiments in Pakistan may be more fervently against America, they are by no means unique.  According to a Pew Global Research poll, less than 30% of the population held a favourable image of the US in five key Muslim countries, namely Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey.  Anti-Americanism can stem from several different factors, including America’s historic support for dictatorial regimes and monarchies in Muslim countries, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centres set up at the behest of the US around the world, profiling and harassment of Muslims within the US, denial of visas to students and visitors without refunding exorbitant visa fees charged in the process, as well as envy of a superpower.  And thus even though the US has provided extensive aid to Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt as part of governmental agreements and also helped rather generously in times of natural calamities like the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan or the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, this good seems to have been overshadowed by the bad.

The good news is that anti-Americanism alone cannot lead to violence.  Many passionately anti-American Muslims will never pick up a gun, much less explode a bomb in Times Square.  A propensity for violence requires either a criminal mind or serious indoctrination and training.  But while the centres for indoctrination and training are sought out and eliminated both in places like Pakistan as well as in Europe and America, it is enormously important not to alienate the Muslim community at large.  Each case must be taken on its own facts and while links and connections must be explored, it must also be remembered that cooperation from Muslim countries and immigrant communities may be a lot more forthcoming if the US is willing to accept its own shortcomings by apologizing for them and compensating those who were wrongfully detained at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.  Moreover cases in which former CIA operatives may have switched sides, such as the December 2009 bombing in Khost where a Jordinian double agent took the lives of 8 CIA personnel, necessitate greater transparency and probity.

Pakistan is generally not averse to investigating terrorist links and there has been good cooperation between Pakistan and the US/Britain in not just pursuing leads from terrorist activities but also in preventing potential terrorism.  However, it is very unfortunate that in cases when terror suspects from Pakistan are found to be innocent, as in the case of the four boys who had been apprehended in England last year, no apology is forthcoming.  Not only were the four Pakistani boys whose parents had spent their life savings on sending their sons to Britain for a good education wrongly held but also deported without being allowed to complete their studies once it was found that they were innocent of the charges held against them.

Such incidents naturally fuel anti-western sentiment and play very well for those who like to quote the Quran out of context and claim that Muslims will never get a fair deal from the non-Muslim West, thus giving rise to far-fetched conspiracy theories.  It is equally disturbing however that a large section of the press in Europe and America does not seem to care about fostering greater understanding and cooperation on these issues and is more focused on creating demons and scapegoats.

The writer is a London-based political commentator and has previously worked for American and Pakistani law firms.  Website:  www.ayeshaijazkhan.com




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Ayesha Khan is a lawyer and author of “Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar“.  Twitter:  @ayeshaijazkhan  Website:  www.ayeshaijazkhan.com

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