This is one of those stories that reminds you of what makes The New York Times so great.
In the two weeks since Faisal Shahzad was arrested for allegedly planting a massive bomb in Times Square, a team of reporters, including one who won a Pulitzer for a series of stories in 2006 about a Brooklyn imam, dug deep into Shahzad’s life and produced a 3,111-word profile that contains just about every detail you could want to know.
Here’s the opening of “For Times Sq. Suspect, Long Roots of Discontent“:
Just after midnight on Feb. 25, 2006, Faisal Shahzad sent a lengthy e-mail message to a group of friends. The trials of his fellow Muslims weighed on him — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the plight of Palestinians, the publication in Denmark of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.
Mr. Shahzad was wrestling with how to respond. He understood the notion that Islam forbids the killing of innocents, he wrote. But to those who insist only on “peaceful protest,” he posed a question: “Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows?
“Everyone knows how the Muslim country bows down to pressure from west. Everyone knows the kind of humiliation we are faced with around the globe.”
Great details, thanks to good reporting. (It evokes for me memories of when a college MSA leader told me: “Blowing yourself up is not something everyone can do or something that everyone has the courage to do.”) Such is the strength of religion reporting by Andrea Elliott, the aforementioned Pulitzer-winner who penned this multi-byline article.
The story doesn’t get bogged down by discussing Shahzad in the broader context of homegrown terrorists. Maybe it should have, but as executed, the structure works well. We are taken from the bomb being found in Times Square at the beginning of the month back to his childhood in the liberal home of a vice marshal of the Pakistani Air Force. From there, his immigration to the U.S. on a student visa, and then through his post-9/11 transformation that oddly crested with him getting his U.S. citizenship in April 2009.
There are tons of great details, and revealing quotes, packed into this story, especially in the sections that show the war within Shahzad’s own world of Pakistani immigrants and Pakistani-Americans and with his own family back in Pakistan.
While Mr. Shahzad seemed eager to carve out a life in his host country, his anger at America flared early. The classmate recalled walking into Mr. Shahzad’s apartment a few days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to find him staring at news footage of the planes hitting the towers.
“They had it coming,” Mr. Shahzad said, according to the friend, a Pakistani-American. The friend said Mr. Shahzad believed that Western countries had conspired to mistreat Muslims. “He would just go off,” said the friend, adding that he paid little heed to Mr. Shahzad’s eruptions, dismissing them as a product of his fierce Pashtun pride.
Which makes it so tough, as a media critic to know what to talk about. Hagiography isn’t really my strong suit. I’d just recommend you read this story, and let us GetReligionistas know if I missed something glaring.
Also, keep an eye out for Andrea Elliott’s byline. It’s always worth a read.