Faisal Shahzad, the terrorist who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, pleaded guilty yesterday to a series of terrorism and weapons charges. He apparently intended his guilty plea to send a message to the United States that if it did not stop “meddling” in Muslim lands and get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, more attacks would be coming. (As if Muslim extremists did not start this process with the 9/11 attacks, or the even earlier attack on the USS Cole and the failed World Trade Center bombing.)
What many Americans find most disturbing about people like Faisal Shahzad is that his example strikes at the core of a deeply-held belief: that if our enemies simply got to know us, they would inevitably understand that we mean them no harm and indeed would accept our way of life as the better path. Shahzad, like the 9/11 terrorists before him, demonstrates that that belief simply cannot be applied to everyone. Born in Pakistan, Shahzad moved to the United States when he was 18 and was a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in suburban Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was thoroughly exposed to American culture — yet he somehow became a radicalized Muslim, went to Pakistan to receive weeks of explosives training, received infusions of cash from the Pakistani Taliban, and then tried to deliver a devastating, murderous blow to the country that welcomed him and his family.
It is a sad day in America when we cannot trust our neighbors to behave as Americans, whatever their religious or cultural beliefs. The challenge for our society will be to maintain appropriate vigilance for signs of terrorist activity while not becoming inherently suspicious of anyone who looks different. It will not be an easy task.