The South Asia Channel

What if Faisal Shahzad became radicalized in the United States?

Journalists and commentators have been quick to focus on Faisal Shahzad’s lifestyle — his marriage, his nighttime jogs — while remaining surprisingly uncurious about his motives and radicalization. The New York Times recycled a series of anecdotes to paint Shahzad as simply another disaffected middle-class Muslim, the latest in a long string of undifferentiated Pakistani jihadists. The Wall Street ...

Journalists and commentators have been quick to focus on Faisal Shahzad's lifestyle -- his marriage, his nighttime jogs -- while remaining surprisingly uncurious about his motives and radicalization. The New York Times recycled a series of anecdotes to paint Shahzad as simply another disaffected middle-class Muslim, the latest in a long string of undifferentiated Pakistani jihadists. The Wall Street Journal wondered "Why Pakistan Produces Jihadists."

Did Pakistan really "produce" Shahzad? It's too early to tell because little is known about his radicalization trajectory, particularly about what started Shahzad down the path to planting a car bomb in Times Square: Was he radicalized in South Asia, or did he seek jihadi contacts in Pakistan only after first becoming indoctrinated in the United States?

And what pushed Shahzad toward radicalism? Was it simply a "sudden interest in religion," as many news reports have suggested? Or was he motivated by specific grievances -- U.S. drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, for example, or his reported financial woes?

Journalists and commentators have been quick to focus on Faisal Shahzad’s lifestyle — his marriage, his nighttime jogs — while remaining surprisingly uncurious about his motives and radicalization. The New York Times recycled a series of anecdotes to paint Shahzad as simply another disaffected middle-class Muslim, the latest in a long string of undifferentiated Pakistani jihadists. The Wall Street Journal wondered “Why Pakistan Produces Jihadists.”

Did Pakistan really “produce” Shahzad? It’s too early to tell because little is known about his radicalization trajectory, particularly about what started Shahzad down the path to planting a car bomb in Times Square: Was he radicalized in South Asia, or did he seek jihadi contacts in Pakistan only after first becoming indoctrinated in the United States?

And what pushed Shahzad toward radicalism? Was it simply a “sudden interest in religion,” as many news reports have suggested? Or was he motivated by specific grievances — U.S. drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, for example, or his reported financial woes?

Pakistan undeniably has a problem with Islamist terrorism, and Pakistani militants seem to have provided Shahzad with training and ideological support. But Shahzad is not simply the latest model to roll off the jihadi assembly line, and his motives and radicalization trajectory deserve greater attention. Perhaps they have their roots in the United States instead of Pakistan.

Gregg Carlstrom is a journalist based in Doha and blogs at The Majlis.

Gregg Carlstrom is a journalist based in Cairo.

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