Saturday, May 8, 2010

FACTS & FICTION

BY GULMINA BILAL AHMED

The man himself certainly does not fit the textbook, conventional profile of a bomber. His looks and persona, as reflected in the pictures, is more of a model than an alleged bomber

Another week and another challenge for Pakistan. The week has been filled with reports about the New York City suspect bomber, Faisal Shahzad. Faisal has perplexed political analysts and psychologists alike. Faisal is what is termed to be a member of the social-political elite of Pakistan. He is a member of, in the words of Mohsin Hamid, the writer of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, part of the ‘air-conditioned’ section of Pakistani society. Members of this AC Club, according to Mohsin Hamid, are cushioned from the harsh realities of not only the Pakistani summer but also factors like economic and social poverty. Having a father who was an officer of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and then worked for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) after retirement, a paternal uncle who retired from the army as a general and among his many positions, also served as the inspector general of the Frontier Corps (FC). A father-in-law who was well settled in Karachi and a wife who studied in the US, has an accounting degree, is active on online social networking sites, posts beautiful pictures of herself and her husband, professing openly her love for him by stating “he is my everything” and says that her passions in life are, “fashion, shoes, bags, shopping and of course Faisal”. Not the profile of the wife of a man desirous of bombing New York.

The man himself certainly does not fit the textbook, conventional profile of a bomber. His looks and persona, as reflected in the pictures, is more of a model than an alleged bomber. He left the country at the age of 18, has studied in the US and worked on Wall Street. His house was up for foreclosure by J P Morgan, but during the present times of recession this is the challenge that a number of families are facing. He buys a licensed weapon legally and leaves a paper trail a mile long. The material that he bought consisted of six to eight boxes of 36 Silver Salute M88 fireworks, which according to firework experts “would not damage a watermelon. Thank goodness he used that”. However, the point is not what he used. His choice of material may reflect lack of technical knowledge, not lack of intent. Faisal has apparently made a full confession and has waived his right to a lawyer.

Given Faisal’s and his family’s profile and, most importantly, his circumstances, it is perplexing why he did it. This is not to say that such violent actions are undertaken by only a certain economic or educational section of society. The man who masterminded the failed rocket attacks on the Army House during the time of Musharraf was the son of an army brigadier. His accomplices were also retired personnel from the PAF. The ‘Shoe Bomber’ was also considerably educated and economically comfortable. The spokesperson of one faction of the Pakistani Taliban at one time used to be a converted Muslim American. However, there is one common factor in the profiles of all the above-mentioned cases. All of these individuals deliberately and clearly, at some point in their lives, underwent a shift in their mindsets and thinking. This does not appear to be true in Faisal Shahzad’s case. Yet, he himself has confessed to the crime.

Every attempted and successful act of terror is terrifying in itself. It paralyses reason and is aimed at creating a fear psychosis in society. The acts of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Asian Tigers and al Qaeda are all aimed at paralysing society and imposing their own viewpoints and mindsets. What Faisal was trying to impose is unknown presently, but perhaps will be known at a later stage. Presently, we are dealing with an additional challenge. The challenge of the conspiracy theorists.

One has written about Taliban apologists in the past. These are individuals who, in varying degrees, depending on the space that they have, try to make a case for the Taliban on the grounds that while their actions are incorrect, their stated cause is correct. That is the cause of political Islam. These people are present across Pakistani society. As mentioned earlier, these individuals advocate their cause with various intensities. If they have public space, they utilise that. However, there is also a small section of society that subscribed to a paranoia theory of Us vs Them, i.e. Pakistan vs the Western world. Any and every action of the Western world is considered to be designed to persecute Pakistan and they see in every political act of various governments a conspiracy to alienate Pakistan.

This is prevalent even in the matter of the analysis of the causes of Faisal Shahzad’s alleged act. The theory of Faisal Shahzad’s alleged bombing as a fabrication by the US to “pressurise Pakistan to agree to their demands” is being put forth by some quarters. Would the proponents of this theory bother to share what are those ‘demands’ of the US? Pakistan has been a US ally on this war for peace since 2001. This partnership has had some tough spots and readers would recall calls on the Pakistani government and its security agencies “to do more”. However, for a year now, this urging of doing more has quieted down and people like Holbrooke and Hilary Clinton have acknowledged that Pakistan was pulling its weight in the partnership. The recent Pak-US Strategic Dialogue is a case in point. Thus, what ‘demands’ is the US allegedly using to promote hype and stir not just among its own citizens but around the world?

Also, I am amused that this same lobby that is putting forth this theory is self-contradictory. On the one hand, this lobby/section of society declares that Pakistan is at the beck and call of the Western world and that they are calling the shots. This is the main argument behind the anti-American, in fact anti-Western sentiment that this lobby propagates. However, if this were true, then why would the big bad Western world create this drama of defaming Faisal Shahzad?

We have to distinguish between fact and fiction. This difference is very fuzzy presently. Let us accept it as such instead of making it even fuzzier by clumsy conspiracy theories.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at contact@individualland.com

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