The first thing that struck me when I read about last weekend's attempted car bombing in Times Square was that the car the alleged bomber is accused of trying to blow up is a Nissan Pathfinder. My car is also a Pathfinder. Then I actually spent some time on the Internet trying to find out what year the Pathfinder slated to be blown up is. On some level, I think, I felt insulted.
I wanted to make sure that the Pathfinder that the accused, Faisal Shahzad, is said to have selected from Craigslist is a lot older than my car.
It is! Mr. Shahzad's car is a 1993. Mine's a 2000. And according to sources, this particular '93 had some issues with the chassis, which my car doesn't have. Fine.
But still, I wondered, why a Pathfinder? It's the last car I would have chosen if I were a bomber. Sure, the mileage is good for a small truck, and it's a great car to take camping. But that doesn't make it a car I would want to use in any kind of doomed-to-fail assault on Times Square.
For starters, parking is at a premium in Manhattan, and a Pathfinder is not small. But the main point, considering the terribly designed bomb, is that the back of a Pathfinder is very open to the public eye. Anyone walking by that car in Times Square could have seen exactly how stupid-looking the bomb was. If there's one thing I know about New Yorkers, it's that they're not going hold back about something like that.
If you try to blow up New York City with a crap bomb, you're going to hear about it. I've known people who've realized too late that they had carried the wrong handbag to a party in New York; they left that party immediately and booked a flight to Saudi Arabia on the way to the airport, much as Mr. Shahzad is said to have done.
You drive into Manhattan in a car past its prime, with Connecticut plates, that contains a "bomb" made out of propane tanks, gas cans, some firecrackers that apparently couldn't blow a child's finger off (and those things are like butter) and several bags of, as it turns out, non-explosive fertilizer, and basically you're committing social suicide.
Which does appear to be the only kind of suicide that al-Qaeda can rally from its recruits these days.
Lately, they've given us the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber and now (if Mr. Shahzad really did attend al-Qaeda training camps) Mr. Well-If-This-Doesn't-Work-I-Can-Always-Grow-Heritage-Tomatoes. I'm beginning to think that there's some suddenly fashionable mullah in Waziristan who teaches his students that the worst thing they can possibly do to the infidels is annoy them.
Mr. Shahzad holds an MBA from a U.S. university. Am I starting a culture war if I say, trust an MBA not to know anything about fertilizer? And he doesn't appear to have been particularly religious. He held a $200,000 mortgage on his Connecticut home, which he abandoned when he was unable to sell it. He had been granted a $68,000 line of credit. Alleged al-Qaeda recruits seem to have gone from fanatical to dedicated to disaffected to over-leveraged.
Terrorists have rarely been the angry, goat-herding types that make for mythical villains - the kind of evil killers that people fuss about convicting and then incarcerating. Many Americans seem to believe that foreign-born terrorists need to be locked away inside mountains, on top of pillars, strapped to magical chairs, like the ruthless snow leopard, Tai Lung, in Kung Fu Panda. And that reading them their Miranda rights will make them grow wings. This is counterproductive to actually preventing terrorism.
An ABC news headline this week read, "A Life Thrown Away: Faisal Shahzad, From MBA to Alleged Terrorist." First of all, times being what they are, I think many MBAs would just be happy to have "alleged" still in their headline.
But why is there still so much surprise over this trajectory? Like most of those attracted to cults, terrorists are usually educated and middle-class. In this case, the accused would appear to have more in common with the computer programmer who flew his plane into the Internal Revenue Service building in Texas in February - rage that becomes mania. And given the idiot-to-genius ratio in our society, there are always going to be more Evil Idiots than Evil Geniuses.