Friday, 7 May 2010

Of Pakistani natives, Nigerian ‘underwear bombers’ and Islam’s lost generation

Like Faisal Shahzad (FS), the American citizen accused of attempting to bomb Times Square, I too am a Pakistani 'native.'
Media reports suggest FS lived in the United States from the age of eighteen, for the last twelve years. Courtesy of the US taxpayer, he will probably stay in the US for many more decades.

Until a few days ago, FS was American. Then he parked the infamous Nissan SUV at Times Square and instantaneously became a 'Pakistani native.' Like me.
Surely, Islam has a problem. Why eleven Arabs believed flying airplanes into buildings was an act of war is beyond normal comprehension. Yet, the behaviour was justified by complicated, if distorted, theological arguments proposed by a small group of radical Islamic militants.
Arguably, the lure of extremist Islam has only grown in stature during the last nine years. In a menacing twist, the appeal of such deviant arguments has moved beyond the realms of the typical illiterate and impoverished foot soldier.
It's easy to understand why a fourteen year old Kandahari boy fights 'occupying infidels, 'especially if he has lost family members in 'tragic accidents' (of course, duly investigated by NATO / ISAF). It's quite another for the son of a member of Nigeria's wealthy elite to become the 'Christmas Underwear Bomber,' or the son of a (retired) senior officer of Pakistan's Air Force to want to kill civilians in Islam's name.

Balanced individuals generally do not have suicidal tendencies. Suicidal tendencies are considered the preserve of the mentally unstable. Typically, people are driven to contemplate suicide due to feelings of despondency and helplessness. The causes are scrutinized by psychologists and medical practitioners.
Is the impotence felt by some Muslims part of the problem? I suspect so. It also appears as if the US invasion of Iraq was a turning point for the world's Muslims.
Baghdad, former capital of the Islamic Caliphate and the Tigris – Euphrates civilization (remember learning about the cuneiform alphabet?), was easily overrun by a foreign army (with external Arab help of course). There was no contest. Saddam 'Mother of all Dictators' Hussein was captured like a sewer rat hiding in a basement near his hometown.
Undoubtedly, Saddam was a vicious dictator who had waged war against two of his neighbours. But Saddam was (and is) certainly not the only dictator worthy of regime change.
The Iraq war exposed the political, military and cultural weakness of the Islamic world. The Islamic psyche suffered a humiliating blow from which it is still recovering. For all its huffing and puffing, the Islamic world is a paper tiger.
Then it turned out that the war was justified on a falsehood, the elusive weapons of mass destruction.
The US Department of Defense Central Command's area of responsibility

To a large extent, the politics are irrelevant. Parliamentary inquiry commissions or Congressional hearings can investigate the legality of the war to their hearts content. Such legal niceties will not make an iota of difference to the Muslim street. They will remember Abu Ghraib or the air attacks on wedding parties in Afghanistan.
To some extent, even all that misses the point.
One century ago, Muslims were barely exposed to modern technology. Suddenly, Muslim societies are grappling with the effects of laptops, Play Stations, Metallica and Hollywood on their social milieu. There has been a social dislocation of gargantuan proportions, especially since the Muslim world bypassed any form of an industrial revolution.
Islamic theology has not had enough time to digest these changes. The bearded gentry still hark about modernizers like Ataturk being part of a Jewish conspiracy, or how modern technology only leads people down the path of the devil.
As a 'native,' I am not seeking to justify terrorism. I am suggesting that it is more than just a 'law and order' issue. FS, a seemingly normal young man who lived in the US for almost his entire adult life suddenly becomes entranced by militant Islam. Why?

Yes, the FBI should interrogate FS but equally important he must undergo serious psychiatric investigations to unearth what drives an individual to such acts. Was it linked to the fact that FS was a financial bankrupt with his house under foreclosure? Or, to what extent did events in Pakistan's tribal areas, FS is a Pashtun, act as a catalyst in his decision.
These and many other questions fall in the realm of medical professionals, not detectives. The natives can only be civilized once the answers are known.
Perhaps next time a National University of Singapore professor chides me by suggesting my commitment to Singapore is 'weak' it will remind me that I am not merely a Singaporean citizen. In reality I am simply a Pakistani 'native' residing in Singapore.


  1. Great close true.

  2. Hi Samy,

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    I am glad you enjoyed the article. One of the points I am trying to get across is that while it is easy to blame the Islamic world / Pakistan for such incidents - western nations must also do some soul searching to determine why they are the targets of such intense hatred.

    It is an extremely complex problem and perhaps only historians (a few centuries from today) will be able to decipher the causes of the current unrest.

    Kind regards,