“What I understand about Faisal Shahzad” – The NYC Terrorist Suspect: by Wajahat Ali

As a Muslim Pakistani, I can’t tell you why he did it. But I know one violent nut can change how Americans see me

By Wajahat Ali


Last Saturday, I was drinking my chai, reading the latest Green Lantern comic, and participating in the glorious American hobby that is Googling when I saw the news about the foiled NYC Times Square terror plot. I immediately began reciting the “Post-Crisis Minority Mantra,” familiar to many ethnic minorities and religions in these troubled times:

“Please don’t let it be a Muslim or Pakistani dude. Please don’t let it be a Muslim or Pakistani dude.”

Back then, it wasn’t. They had footage of a suspicious white guy.

“Phew! Thank God!” I said out loud.

But I had to invoke the mantra repeatedly over the next few days, as details emerged and the truth became all too clear: The terrorist was a recently naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan named Faisal Shahzad. A Muslim Pakistani.

“No! Not again! Why, God, why??”

A Muslim born and raised in America with Pakistani parents, I was the “token” at early age. Growing up, I was like any other socially awkward, overweight, dorky American kid who wanted to date Alyssa Milano and beat Contra on my Nintendo without using the secret, unlimited life code — except my T-shirts were smeared with turmeric and lentil stains instead of PB and J, and in place of Lunchables my mom fed me homemade, green-colored, lamb patty burgers. I was the kid comfortable with all his identities — Muslim, American, Pakistani — and as such, I became the one people consulted when uncomfortable questions had to be asked, or misconceptions and stereotypes needed to be explained.

After news of the averted attack, I was hit with a blitzkrieg of texts, Facebook updates and gchat pings. Friends from varying backgrounds — Mexican-American, African-American, Arab-American — wanted to know what I thought about another “Rage Boy” foolishly attempting to commit violence with an amateurish terror plot. Several made a similar confession: How glad they were that the suspect didn’t belong to “their tribe.” What I did know, with a sinking feeling, was that many moderate, peaceful Pakistani Muslims like me were further doomed to collective mistrust and suspicion.

America has a long tradition of scapegoating (see African Americans, Jews, Irish and Japanese Americans), in which the criminal and moral bankruptcy of a few perverse individuals becomes an archetype for multitudes. But when painting the complex experience of Muslim Pakistanis in the mainstream media, there seems to be only two colors: “Crazy” and “Hella Crazy.” Islam was recently voted “the third worst brand disaster of the decade” thanks to a few deluded individuals — out of the vast 1.5 billion members of Muslim communities — who have engaged in violent jihadi movements, honor killings, suicide bombings and pathetic assassination threats directed at satirical cartoonists. Honestly, I cannot blame the average American, who gets his information from cable news or hate radio, for harboring such caricatures. The misunderstanding cuts both ways: When I travel in the Middle East, I’m asked why I invaded Iraq and want to impose my imperialistic might on sovereign nations. Thanks, George W. Bush, for this staggering global misconception.

But if “Muslim Pakistani American” were an asset, it would be more toxic than the Goldman Sachs Abacus CDO. If it were a stock, it would plummet to Enron levels.

Sometimes, I long for the blurry cultural identities of the 80s, when elementary school friends lumped all Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Egyptian immigrants in one brown-hued bucket: “India.” Who wouldn’t rather be affiliated with “Slumdog Millionaire,” Metro PCS’s Ranjit and Chad, Chicken Tikkah Masala, Bhangra remixes and Bollywood instead of religious extremism and Al Qaeda? Pakistani culture has some bomb biryani, lively and critical political commentary, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and dubious Lollywood entertainment.  But we rarely hear anything about that.

Sometimes, I feel Muslim Pakistanis are like Daffy Duck, always cursed to have the anvil drop on our heads, regardless of our patriotism, lack of criminal record, good credit score and groomed facial hair. The moderate and innocent majority collectively bear the brunt of the sins of a deluded minority, such as Faisal Shahzad.

This is something my white friends can never understand. They never get personal blowback when one of their members commits crimes. They are like Bugs Bunny to our Daffy Duck: They can get hit with a McVeigh, Madoff, Kaczynski, the Hutaris, even W. Bush. They just brush it off, make a wisecrack, and move along untouched. They are never asked to “prove their loyalty” or face increased racial profiling and “extra loving” pat downs at the airport.

In the last two days, many other Pakistani American Muslims like me have been bombarded with one question: “Why did Faisal Shahzad do it?” Let it be known that Pakistanis and Muslims are not like the Borg, some cybernetic species with a collective consciousness. There is no broadcast frequency that alerts us to the internal machinations of an angry or confused individual who simply happens to share our skin color, ethnicity or religious affiliation. We are not “alerted” when they create their diabolical plans to commit mayhem. It’s akin to me asking all my white friends: Why does the Tea Party think Obama is a Muslim? What goes on in the mind of those crazy-ass white, Christian militias who hate the government? Or really: Why do white people wear cargo shorts?

But what I can tell you is that the news hits us differently. A friend of mine born and raised in his country, who is both a religious Muslim and shares strong Pakistani roots, emailed me saying he was “ashamed and disgraced” about Faisal Shahzad. A Pakistani immigrant uncle in the Texas community was outraged that the suspect tried to commit terror despite having just “recited a pledge of allegiance to his adopted country … still the greatest country on the fact of the earth, warts and all notwithstanding.” We face increased calls to “police our own.” (Perhaps people forget that it was a Senegalese Muslim immigrant by the name of Aliou Niasse responsible for tipping off the NYPD to the burning vehicle.)

But the overwhelming response to this averted tragedy amongst Pakistani Muslim Americans was simple: anger, disgust, outrage. Just like any other American.

Wajahat Ali is the author “The Domestic Crusaders,” a play about a Muslim Pakistani American family.


22 thoughts on ““What I understand about Faisal Shahzad” – The NYC Terrorist Suspect: by Wajahat Ali

  1. Thanks for being so articulate — please forgive those of us white people who have been so smug and judgmental.

  2. Very well said, being a born and bread Pakistani I can say, its no easy task traveling with a green passport thanks to the crazy few!

  3. Thank you. Thank you. umm…Thank you. =)
    That’s all I have to say, keep up the good work mashaAllah!

  4. a) So what do you think of Blackest night?

    b) Wow, I didn’t realize that the guy who spotted the truck was Muslim too. I saw he was Black but I don’t think they even gave his name on the brief report I caught about the event.

    c) I’m not sure I am satisfied with just saying that we aren’t the Borg and we just don’t understand why someone would do that. Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I would say that to some degree his behavior WAS understandable. At least, according to the reports,
    he was angry at the US’ use of predator drones in Pakistan and apparently he himself had witnessed an attack (and was almost killed) when he was in Patkistan.

    In fact maybe I REALLY shouldn’t say this but alot of the stated grievances of terrorists make sense (the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, US support of ISrael, US bias in the middle eastern conflict, US support of Middle eastern dictators, the presence of military bases in the Hijaz, etc.) And if Muslims felt more confident and strong in US society, we could play an important role as a LOYAL but critical opposition to the the more negative aspects of current US foreign policy.

    d) I would even bet that being part of the process would help to reduce terrorism in the long run.

    • I agree that all Pukistanis should not be tarred with the same brush. Same way the citizens and proto citizens of Terror Central should not blame all westerners for Iran and Afghanistan and attempt to kill innocents. So Because of US Government war (that started on the killing of 1000s of INNOCENTS) should not be replied to by attempting to kill innocents which anyway is against Islam. So stop using Iraq and Afghanistan as excuse for these attempts at unislamic barberiies.
      What the Pukistanis in US should do is stand up as one and declare that there will be 100% social boycott and reporting of even a word against the west and any supecious activity among the themselves. If that is done there will be zilch visas in future to anywhere and they will also attempt to send back all the non-citizen pukis on one pretext or another. Indians will stand up and point out who is NOT an Indian but a Puki.
      Even as it is Pukis are running “Indian restaurants”. Easy to distinguish!!Read the menu. If beef and Halal dishes are there get out and walk away. Thats what I do.
      I hope to see Europe and Americas Puki free some day.

    • In fact maybe I REALLY shouldn’t say this but alot of the stated grievances of terrorists make sense (the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, US support of ISrael, US bias in the middle eastern conflict, US support of Middle eastern dictators, the presence of military bases in the Hijaz, etc.) And if Muslims felt more confident and strong in US society, we could play an important role as a LOYAL but critical opposition to the the more negative aspects of current US foreign policy – stop playing victim.
      so Polish people should start to wear bombs and kill Russians, or the same for Ukrainians?
      why you are not concerned by the atrocities commited by Moroccans on the people of West Sahara?
      they are living in far worse conditions that those fat fake Falastinians and no one cares about them.

    • go back to Terrorist islamic republic of pukistan aka Terror Central and change it. Get out of peaceful countries.

  5. ‘bomb biryani’….
    way to take back the word, awesome.
    Pakistan has much to offer to the world by way of delicious food.

    • like Bomb biruyani, granade ball curry; AK-47 chicken, yada yada. Pukistan has nothing to offer but sorrow for innocents in the name of the most (camel)pissfull religion.

      • whoa, whoa chillax
        You have very bad spelling.
        Additionally, one could say the same thing for the United States of America.
        Read your history re: Congo, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan.

        So it’s not like the US is every innocent peasants best friend, oh no, MUCHOS CONTRARIOIS MY NON AMIGO.

        Pakistan has amazing food, maybe if you ate some you wouldn’t be such a terrible speller or a jerk.
        Hope that helps!

  6. The reason why pakistanis get a bad name (and in some cases all muslims) is because unlike other societies there is no open and vocal opposition to counter the jihadis. In western countries and even India for every nut case that does something bad, there is a large internal opposition who opposes them and fights against them. When it comes to islamic jihad the rest of the world has to fight the jihadis while the best you get out of moderate muslims is either an excuse for why some muslims turn to extremism or someone claiming I’m not part of it. The moderate muslims protest very loudly, file cases for civil rights etc when they are racially profiled, but till date there isn’t a single really strong and active opposition from a group of pakistanis against the jihadis nor from any muslim country or group.

    This is why in other cases people can differentiate between the main stream society and the nutjobs, but in case of pakistan it is not so evident.

    People like the author will have to really take up the fight against the terrorists who pretend to be their brethen so that rest of the world can understand clearly whose side you are on.

    • In the case of Pukistan, there is no civil society or moderate faction. I am DELIBERATELY using this spelling because it explains the country and the people very well. There was a time when I used to be cordial and respectful of Puki colleagues. Now no more because scratch any puki u find a jihadi.(My colleagues were high officials in the heirarchy; if they are so juhadi what can be the aam abdul be?). If anybody opposes, I feel it is Taqiyya. Nothing more.

      • If you can’t see an overwhelming vast majority of civil and moderate pakistani society, then you are either riding your egoistic horses too high, blatantly naive of your useless sick existence or just an Indilun … ops sorry a typo there, I meant to say indian. hmm, I am leaning more towards my last assessment. I’ve got really good pills for you, it’ll help with getting your sanity back and probably help with your english spellings too.

  7. My dear Pukistani:
    Tell me about ONE desire in you other than to fly the green rag from red fort. YOU attacked India in 48; YOU attacked India in 65; YOU caused such disruption in Bangladesh that India had to go in and settle issues; YOU attacked India in 1999 in Kargil. Each time you got your ass licked. Have you bought one gun with your money? You go around with the begging bowl to get arms to attack India. All the while the poor uneducated Puki aam abdul raves and rants about an Islam that would make the Prophet (PBUH) turn in his grave. You violate all tenets of Islam so that you are all just apostates. We all know how you are treated in the Middle East. You people get no work visas in East Africa; YOU have to pay 3 TIMES the visa fees in East Africa that other nationalities – including Indians – pay. No international airport will allow a green passport holder to walk through without a second glance and scrutiny. In the US in flight lines we are automatically picked out for scrutiny while Indians standing in front and behind you are waved through. Why??? I feel like puking every time I see and feel all this. I treat myself as a non-pukistani. I do not wear a beard. Do you know the history of the salwar kamiz that we (used to) wear proudly? It was imposed on us by the kaffir Hindu General Hari Singh Nalwa saying as Pashtuns are women so wear womens’s clothes. They wore it out of necessity and we wear it proudly being ignorant of the context. That’s what we are – ignoramuses.
    Having won NO war; destroyed the country by mismanagement – Look at India – we started out together – they had the same problems but multiplied “n” times. Where are they now? Where are we now? Where will they be in another 20 years and will we even exist by then? Once the Afghan issue is settled, US will walk out WITH OUR NUKES.
    I am sure that we will never be attacked by India despite the propaganda of Kiyanahi and his predecessors and successors. We will have no war unless we initiate it on behalf of the west or the chinks for whom we are wh***s to be used and discarded. We are happy to be that as long as we imagine we are hurting India. If we initiate another, I am sure that will be our end. All our nukes not withstanding (if we can really use them), Indian elephant will just trample us underfoot.
    What raison d’être have we for our existence other than hate for India. For India we are NOTHING more than a pin prick and soon not even that.
    We can be proud of the fact that we also export IT just like India. But the difference is our IT is – INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM.
    I should be joking as my namesake used to teach in old Delhi during Mogul times. But no jokes come from a sad heart.
    By the way on Mogul “Rule”, after Aurangzeb the Mogul “Emperors” were pensioners of Marathas with their “Rule” confined to some jagirs and forts. All myths to the contrary and wet dreams of Pukistanis.
    The way forward is PEACE. NOT terrorism. That PEACE can be achieved by proper education, ridding us of the hate and lies from our text books. Where J is NOT jihad.
    Isn’t it a pity that we swallowed the Wahabi interpretation of jihad with 72 Houris and 28 pre-pubescent boys waiting to please the jihadist in Jannat? As someone who has read both the present Quran and the one in Tashkent museum that pre-dates the present and the various versions of Hadits, let me tell my Jihadi braiders that what awaits is not Houris but HUR – white raisins – which was a delicacy at the time of The Prophet (PBUH).
    Islam in its pure form is a religion of peace. But where can we find it? We mouth the words and do the opposite. So we are NOT Muslims as envisaged by the Prophet (PBUH) so let us not go forth in the name of Islam – we are not ENTITLED. Our way forward is to respect human rights and embrace peace; accept that non-Muslims also exist in the world and let us live happily together. I shudder to think what it will be like living in a Talibanised world. I am 60 so I will not see it yet I may see the destruction of Islam if things go the way it is going.
    I am sorry friends for the long rant. It came out of anguish seeing the destruction of a beautiful ideology at the hands of fools who are willing tools of Chinese and Americans.

  8. Oh I forgot to add confine Mullahs to mosques. Stop their interference in Politics and National life; use the aid we get to reform education. Have peace with India and take India’s help and guidence in establishing true democracy.(not American help there). Nip all terrorist tendencies in the bud and eliminate the out dated fudal set up. Stop using attacks in islamic areas by the west as an excuse but look inward and remove the iniquities and exploitations inside. Once these are done, Islam will be a fortress none can breach (I am NOT saying THEN we can start jihad against Kuffrs *smile*) Aim should be peace and prosperity.

    The list is long long.

    Then no No Faisal Shahzad will be born to shame us.

    • i am assuming you live in the US, so in about 4 years “we” meaning pakistani americans will play a role in paying for your retirement benefits, and soon enough the “bomb baryani” will catch up to your cholesterol and you won’t be here anymore but the rest of us 700 million pakistanis (proud of it or not) will, so suck it up, move to India if you love it so much, and let us civilized folks who actually got over discrimination back in the 60s live in peace.

      • where I live matters not. My retirement benifits will be paid for by ALL the nationalities of the world including by a couple of IGs of Police, one from Karachi and one from NWFP and at least a few thousand puki soldiers contributing :). My cholestrol has always been under control, do not worry about that.

        Other than personal attack is there anything you can contribute?

        Let us see how we can stop using terror as an instrument of State policy that will destroy us alone.

        Also please remember that we all come from the same stock – Indians and Pukis. The difference is we set out to be pak and ended up being napak. We are not even pure practicing muslims. Remember killing ONE innocent is killing humanity and makes him and HIS SOCIETY munafiq. Especially when the sarkar is encouraging it. I will never stay in Pukistan tho I miss the peaceful Mardan that is hell now.

        I will not reply to any personal attack hereafter. But if there is a discussion on what to do to make us true muslims and make our nation something other than beggeristan I will talk. Otherwise NO!!

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