It is time to ask the question, “Why?”
Why would Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old, graduate-school-educated American citizen, a husband and father from a “good family,” want to murder strangers in the middle of Manhattan? Why was he willing to risk his freedom and family to commit a heinous crime?
It is the hardest part of this near-miss train of events to understand. It’s also the most important. I have a few thoughts. But let me instead provoke you to think. What if …
What if the United States were a poor country, deeply rooted in rather rigid Christian beliefs. What if a major Muslim nation, Iran if you’d like, grew aggressive, sending troops into Mexico along our border and, say, Cuba, not far from it. And what if periodically it sent unmanned planes, drones, into Texas to hunt and kill rebels opposed to its Mexican government, in the process regularly killing American civilians by accident. How would you feel?
As it waged this war, what if Iran regularly announced it had nothing against America’s Christians or the American people as long as they stayed out of the fight and accepted the corrupt Mexican leaders Iran had helped install. Would that make you feel better?
Getting the picture?
Here is what The New York Times writes in an article that suggests Shahzad may have had links to the Pakistan Taliban.
There is no doubt among intelligence officials that the barrage of attacks by C.I.A. drones over the past year has made Pakistan’s Taliban, which goes by the name Tehrik-i-Taliban, increasingly determined to seek revenge by finding any way possible to strike at the United States.
Let me be clear: No provocation, no scenario justifies terrorism. It is despicable. But that’s not the point.
My point is that American troops have been waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly a decade now. They have inadvertently killed many thousands of civilians, each of these deaths scarring a family, a village, multiple minds.
“Why do they hate us?” was a question millions of Americans asked after 9/11. The reasons, certainly complex, seem much easier to decipher today. Action breeds reaction, which breeds escalation, on both sides. We are the world’s mightiest country with the mightiest weapons. To an anti-American Pakistani, drones delivering a payload over the wrong target, a civilian target, may be just as despicable as a car bomb on a New York City street is to us.
Some Americans, perhaps even a majority, may believe fervently that we are fighting for democracy or protecting American interests, including the safety of our streets. But it does not take much imagination to realize that a counter-argument also can be made. It is an open question whether these wars, rather than preventing terrorism on our streets, may increase the odds of it. It’s an open question whether these wars, rather than feeding democracy, are fueling terrorism. Certainly to many in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, it is we who are the aggressors, we who are the haters.
Politicans of both American political parties can and should ask how Shahzad got on a plane when his name was on a “No Fly” list. They can ask, if they’d like, the unanswerable questions such as why no one had noticed him before. They can poke holes in an investigation that, to me was nothing short of miraculous in its ability to identify and arrest a suspect in a mere 53 hours.
In the end, though, there is this bigger question: Why? Because ultimately, terrorism can’t be prevented with guns or bombs or might. Instead, the fear it elicits leads to more guns and bombs and might even as it erodes the civil liberties and sense of sense of community that probably are the best defense against it.
This seems clear: the United States can’t indefinitely seal its borders or its cities from hostile foes while at the same time waging war on their soil, no matter how far away. When people feel attacked and threatened, they tend to strike back.