Good riddance to good riddance

Published: October 7, 2010

Do we dislike Faisal Shahzad because he is a criminal or because he is an educated urban criminal?

Jahanzaib Haque’s blog post, “Good riddance to Faisal Shahzad” contains justified condemnation for a man who is only the latest in a stream of Pakistanis and Muslims engendering unnecessary shame and vitriol. While I agree with Mr Haque’s sentiment, I cannot condone it. Too often, we are quick to dismiss anything unsuitable to our tastes but fail to understand or comprehend why it happens in the first place. More importantly, we do nothing to address the problem so that similar future events do not occur. Rather, we sweep it under the rug, say “good riddance” and hope it never arises again.

This is a big mistake.

Faisal Shahzad was an American citizen. He moved to America, lived the American dream, but slowly found himself disenchanted with the process. Somewhere along the line, he returned to Pakistan, linked with the Taliban and decided to bomb Times Square. He was caught, sentenced, end of story.

No, it’s not. The story is just beginning.

Whatever Faisal Shahzad’s background, he is still Pakistani. More importantly, Faisal Shahzad is one of many so-called urban, educated and exposed individuals who have been given opportunities most in this country are bereft of. Instead, like many who fit this demographic, they are slowly indoctrinated into extremism until a desire for malice in the name of religion takes over. Why does this happen?

It is easy to dismiss Faisal Shahzad and say he’s not like us, that we will not become like him. However, the most common complaint I heard after his capture was that, “he was one of us.” This was a very disturbing realization for two reasons. The first because those uttering this were not concerned about radicalization or terrorism; they were concerned about the subsequent harassment they would undergo at US airports. It is a very myopic and selfish perspective on behalf of Pakistanis who are more concerned with their convenience than darker, more familiar realities. Where did we go wrong?

Secondly, and more poignantly, it means there may be numerous Faisal Shehzad’s lurking in social groups, living their lives as contributing members of society while mulling over dastardly, terrorist plots in their heads. This means that the only difference between one of us and Faisal Shehzad is one of will and determination. Like many of us, he was just an ordinary guy going about his life, until something happened that gave him the will to sit and study CCTV footage of Times Square to maximize damage. Something macabre ensued that prompted him to load his truck with explosives with the intention to hurt, maim and kill. How did this happen?

Faisal Shahzad may just have been one lone actor driven to the brink by his circumstances. Maybe he was paid by our popular friends in Waziristan to do this. Or it’s possible that it is something more sinister.  Maybe Faisal is the result of a society that reveres thieves and criminals, that condones hypocrisy and greed,  that stands idly while youngsters in places like Sialkot are bludgeoned to death in public. Maybe Faisal is the product of a society so obsessed with material gain that the plight of the poor around him hardened his heart and furthered his resolve for salvation, come what may. Or maybe, Faisal really is like one us, our friends or our family members.  Perhaps our society’s apathy and lethargy in confronting, discussing or debating such matters left him with few options other than violence. Is it not time that we realized that the problem is not with people like him, but with people like us for failing to recognize or rectify such instances?

Are we not to blame for saying “good riddance,” too often, hoping the problem disappears?

As Cassius said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”


Hamza Usman

A writer with a Bachelor's in Political Science & History and a Master's in Global Communications. He tweets at @hamzausman.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.