The South Asia Channel

Shared responsibilities

It has been nearly a week since the attempted car bombing in Times Square, and though investigators have uncovered many critical details in the last six days, the journey to this point has been muddled with confusion, while the ramifications remain ambiguous. Here’s what we do know — the perpetrator of the botched attack was ...

It has been nearly a week since the attempted car bombing in Times Square, and though investigators have uncovered many critical details in the last six days, the journey to this point has been muddled with confusion, while the ramifications remain ambiguous.

Here's what we do know -- the perpetrator of the botched attack was Faisal Shahzad, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who was well educated and came from a "privileged and moderate" family in Pakistan. By all media accounts, Shahzad's story is particularly significant because he doesn't fit the profile of a terrorist and a would-be suicide bomber, an angle the Western media has labored upon at length, at times to patronizing degrees.

But if Shahzad's journey has taught us anything it's that a terrorist stereotype does not exist. Forget the ages 18 to 35, impoverished, uneducated male bracket. That myth has been debunked countless times. Radicalization is a far more nuanced phenomenon, one that cannot be boxed in a series of checklists. Recognizing the complexity of the problem is only the first step in tackling potential solutions.

It has been nearly a week since the attempted car bombing in Times Square, and though investigators have uncovered many critical details in the last six days, the journey to this point has been muddled with confusion, while the ramifications remain ambiguous.

Here’s what we do know — the perpetrator of the botched attack was Faisal Shahzad, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who was well educated and came from a "privileged and moderate" family in Pakistan. By all media accounts, Shahzad’s story is particularly significant because he doesn’t fit the profile of a terrorist and a would-be suicide bomber, an angle the Western media has labored upon at length, at times to patronizing degrees.

But if Shahzad’s journey has taught us anything it’s that a terrorist stereotype does not exist. Forget the ages 18 to 35, impoverished, uneducated male bracket. That myth has been debunked countless times. Radicalization is a far more nuanced phenomenon, one that cannot be boxed in a series of checklists. Recognizing the complexity of the problem is only the first step in tackling potential solutions.

The question now, of course, is how do we address other would-be Faisal Shahzads, men living seemingly "anti-terrorist" lives? Although one reaction would be to cast a net over the entire "Muslim world" with the hope of catching the bad seeds, that tactic will only further polarize and exacerbate the situation. And though the spotlight will inevitably shift back to Pakistan’s fight against militancy, it’s also important for the United States to understand its role in the problem. In the chicken-versus-egg debate, responsibility is shared.

Kalsoom Lakhani is the director of Social Vision, the strategic philanthropy arm of ML Resources in Washington, D.C. She is from Islamabad, Pakistan, and blogs at CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan.  

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