Monday, May 10, 2010

What Do BIDER Readers and the Times Square Bomber Have in Common?

The recession.  Yep, that's right.
Apparently, the Times Square Bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was down and out on his luck.  This may, or may not have been a factor in his efforts to blow up Times Square.
All of the news points to Shahzad's training in Al-Qaeda camps in the Taliban-controlled part of Pakistan.  But maybe the story is much simpler than that:
Speculation is growing that mundane money worries and a sense of personal failure have finally sent Shahzad, right, over the edge. For answers to the mystery of what drove Faisal Shahzad to try to turn downtown New York into a fireball, a poke among the rubbish in the back garden of his former home in Connecticut offers some torn and crumpled clues. 

Blowing around last week on the overgrown lawn was a discarded cache of personal mail, dumped there during a clearout when he abruptly vacated the house last year. The tale they tell, though, is not of contacts with shadowy terrorist groups or plots against the West, but a narrative that millions of ordinary Americans can identify with since the financial meltdown of 2008. One is a letter from the Connecticut Superior Court, demanding he attend a repossession hearing on his home; another is from a debt collection agency, saying he owed them more than $15,000.

Shocking, right?  Mr. Shahzad was a victim of the American Nightmare.  He came to this country to study computer science and be a success and live the American Dream, and he was put out of his home and deep in debt.  Could this have been a factor?  Does this story make it easier to relate to him?

Probably not, but there is more:

Shahzad's family is rich and well-respected. One sister is a doctor, another is a schoolteacher, and his older brother moved to Canada to work as a mechanical engineer

Shahzad, too, moved to study in the US in 1999 to gain a degree in computer science. When he married his partner Huma Mian, a Pakistani emigre from Colorado, the wedding was notable for mixed couples dancing, a sign that both families had a modern outlook. Indeed, to their neighbours in the Connecticut town of Sheldon, they were just another ordinary couple pursuing the Middle American dream. "They lived well. He worked, she didn't, and she just seemed to shop. My daughter used to play with her daughter every day and she came across as decent and genuine," said a neighbour Brenda Thurman, 37, a restaurant worker.

Yes, he had radical political views and was adamantly against U.S. involvement in various Middle Eastern conflicts, but one must acknowledge the financial triggers that must have set him off.  But for the recession, would there have been a Time Square Bomber?
I feel for his wife, who was American born. I'm not sure where she is right now.  I thought it was a bit strange that she did not appear to be an extremely observant Muslim--all of the pictures I've seen are sans headscarf.  It seems unlikely that a Muslim fanatic would have a wife who was so Western.  I think that there was probably some sort of connection to a fanatic Muslim group--but I'm wondering whether Shahzad's financial situation was the straw that broke the camel's back.

We all know how it feels to be considered a failure for either flunking out of law school, failing the bar or being laid off from a legal job, or never finding employment at all. Couple that with the familiar pressures of having siblings that are considered successful, and it's a recipe for cracking under pressure.

After reading this article, Shahzad did seem a bit more human than monster.  The fact is that I can relate to his dire financial circumstances.  But, I would never go to the lengths he went to to hurt the United States.  I wonder how many others would though.  Is he just the first in a line of many homegrown terrorists?


  1. The title of this post made me say "uh-oh"

    Honestly, I've heard conflicting stories about his background, particularly whether he was fired or he voluntarily quit his job and went over to Pakistan. If he was laid off, then yea, I would think the recession was a contributing factor. But if he quit... well, I dunno.

    For some reason, at one point I came up with a theory that his wife or family was kidnapped in Pakistan and held as leverage for him to be an under the radar terrorist. Pure 1000% speculation, but there was something that triggered that thought in me.

  2. I think it's also been reported that the Hutaree Christian militia consisted of unemployed and underemployed men. When you have little to live for and you are suicidally depressed, the barrier against your committing a violent act to further or express your belief system decreases. That is not to say that wealthy and comfortably middle class people will not engage in terrorism, just that it's harder to do when you are enjoying life or at least not suffering materially. I won't be at all surprised if we see an increasing amount of violence and terrorist-type attacks as our nation's economy continues to deteriorate.

  3. Good Post. Your insight is very valid, think how many discriminated minorities people must feel everyday. Knowing that opportunity and stability may always be just out of reach, inherently causing people to turn towards crime and retribution.

  4. I could blow up my law school with few regrets.

  5. does anyone else have a problem reading the comments in the new format of BIDER? I read it using internet explorer and firefox, and only the first few line of each comment are visable.

  6. @5 Yeah, in Firefox, the preceding comment overlaps with the name and date stamp of the following comment.

    Generally, though, this guy was a functional idiot, and, if our only options are to shoot the moon on some rockstar pipedream to pay back our student loans or double-down, take the maximum on them and then, likely, default, this guy proved that it's not very hard to get an MBA from University of Bridgeport. You apparently don't have to be that smart to get in there. May be a good place to waste more federal student loan dollars.

  7. Sorry about the problem with the comments section. It's the one glitch with this new format. I'm hoping it will be fixed soon. The comments overlap but you should be able to read the last sentence of each comment if you highlight it with your mouse.

  8. Certainly not endorsing terrorism, but this guy had the right idea when he set fire to his bills.

  9. I never thought of myself as being criminally-minded until I had to figure out how to pay back student loans.

    Anyone interested in a beautiful beachfront time-share?



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