Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, has been arrested in connection to the attempted Times Square car bombing. Like other Americans, the Muslim (and Pakistani) American community is relieved that this attack failed and no lives were taken due to this dastardly deed.
The mainstream cable news networks have gone into overdrive, discussing the case in great detail and analyzing it in every which way. Dozens of so-called “terrorism experts” talk in somber terms about the existential threat that Islamic radicalism poses.
Yet, it is amazing that none of them ask (and seek to really answer) the simple question: Why? Why do these extremist Muslims keep targeting the United States? It seems to be the most obvious and intuitive question.
As of now we do not know the motivation of the alleged car bomber but one speculation is that the bomber was targeting Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, in response to the South Park controversy. But could there be another reason as to why he did what he did?
Representative Ron Paul dared to explore that question in a televised debate, arguing: “They don’t come here to attack us because we are rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there [attacking them].” When Dr. Paul said this seemingly common sense and painfully obvious thing, Rudy Guiliani–who virtually copyrighted 9/11–threw a hissy-fit and demanded Paul to issue an immediate apology, and went on to say that it was the most “absurd” explanation for 9/11 he’s ever heard. The Republicans tried to silence Ron Paul, fearful that he would point out such an obvious fact that it may force them to reconsider their war-mongering views.
Similarly, the mainstream media engages in self-censorship, refusing to ask the most obvious question: why? Why did this man of Pakistani descent attempt to bomb the United States of America? Mayor Bloomberg tried to answer this question:
Terrorists around the world feel threatened by the freedoms we have in this country and want to take our freedoms away from us.
This preposterous answer reflects George Bush’s famous “terrorists hate us for our freedoms.” Such a response divides the world neatly into good guys and bad guys. Us vs. Them. We Americans are the good guys, and those evil Mooslems are the bad guys. The bad guys hate us because of how good we are.
But could there be another reason that possibly motivated the bomber? Could it have anything to do with what has caused widespread anti-American sentiment in his country of origin? U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil have killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians. According to Pakistani sources, upwards of 687 Pakistani civilians have died at the hands of U.S. drone attacks. CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen placed the number a bit lower:
Since 2006, our analysis indicates, 83 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have killed between 760 and 1,050 people. Among them were about 20 leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban and allied groups, all of whom have been killed since January 2008…The real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 260 to 320, or one-third of those killed.
Regardless of whether the number is closer to 260 or 687, the point is: the U.S. is killing Pakistani civilians–men, women, and children. At least one-third of those killed are civilians.
UN human rights investigator Philip Alston has said that the drone attacks may “violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law”, and demanded the United States to prove otherwise. The ACLU declared that this drone policy “violates international law” and is “unconstitutional”, and has converted “the entire world” into a “war zone.” In a strongly worded letter to the President of the United States, the ACLU wrote:
The program you have reportedly endorsed is not simply illegal but also unwise, because how our country responds to the threat of terrorism will in large measure determine the rules that govern every nation’s conduct in similar contexts. If the United States claims the authority to use lethal force against suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere in the world – using unmanned drones or other means – then other countries will regard that conduct as justified. The prospect of foreign governments hunting and killing their enemies within our borders or those of our allies is abhorrent.
Only 9% of Pakistanis support the U.S. led drone attacks–and only 6% amongst the Pashto speaking people who live in the NWFP (the area being bombed). Pakistani officials have declared the drone attacks on Pakistani soil to constitute an “act of war,” a feeling shared by the vast majority of the country’s citizenry.
Could it possibly be–I dare ask–that some Pakistanis would want to bomb Times Square because our country has committed what they perceive as numerous acts of war, which have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children? How would we feel if Pakistani predator drones were killing hundreds of New Yorkers? After 9/11, Americans had blood in their eyes, and that burning anger resulted in the U.S. invading two countries, bombing both into the stone ages and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Some Americans even contemplated nuking Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities of Islam. So do we find it surprising that a handful of Pakistani extremists might want to strike inside the U.S.?
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan, an angry Pakistani woman asked her why she didn’t consider drone attacks to be terrorism. Whether or not the attacks fit the definition of terrorism, to the hundreds of dead civilians it is irrelevant (and largely only of academic interest) whether the bombs fall from the skies (drone attacks) or are packed into parked cars. The result is the same. But as long as Americans drop bombs from far distances, they feel immune to the feelings of guilt from the very real consequences.
There is, however, one major difference between the drone attacks and the terrorist attacks like the failed Times Square bombing. The former are ordered by the United States government, whereas the latter are not carried out by any country’s government. The Pakistanis would argue that at least their government didn’t order the Times Square bombing, whereas the drone attacks are ordered by the U.S. government.
There is a very real anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan, and the question must be asked: why? Why would any of them want to attack us? I believe I have presented the most likely reason.
Because I have the audacity to ask and answer this question, I will no doubt be accused of being unpatriotic. Yet, I consider it extremely patriotic to speak the truth on this matter. It is only by properly understanding the origins of terrorism that we can seek to end it, and thereby save American lives. None of this condones what the Times Square bomber did. I hope the man arrested for this terrorist act is given a fair trial and–if found guilty–punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Neither am I saying that the Muslim community has no role to play in tackling extremism within their ranks. Although I reject Islamophobic claims that Muslims are “silent” when it comes to terrorism, I do believe that more must be done…much more. Yet, the efforts of the Muslim community will invariably fail if the Islamic world’s main grievance–our interventionist foreign policy–is not reevaluated.
When attacked, we ought to be able to ask the question “why” without being accused of being unpatriotic or of condoning the act. We must move beyond George Bush’s simplistic mentality.
It seems that I was right: