I guest lectured before a mass media and communications class at Manhattan Community College last night. My official subject was 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, but when I opened the floor to questions, the discussion ranged much wider. The kids had been exposed to a fair amount of conspiracy theory–not just about 9/11, but Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Jay-Z’s ties to the Illuminati, the unwonted power and influence of Skull & Bones, and more. Many of them had seen the movie Zeitgeist; at least half of them had read or had heard something about Milton William Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse. One of them told me about the writings of Jordan Maxwell, who I was embarrassed to admit I was completely unfamiliar with. What struck me was how well-developed their critical faculties are. They intuited that most of the writers and film makers that purvey conspiracy theories have a larger agenda than they let on; they were intrigued by the theories but deeply suspicious of them as well.
One of the students asked me what I thought about the attempted Times Square bombing and I had to admit that I was at a loss. The would-be bomber seemed so hapless (he’d purchased the wrong kind of fertilizer and M-88 fireworks that “wouldn’t damage a watermelon,” according to the president of the company that manufactured them; he’d neglected to open the valve on the propane tank and left identifying materials in the car) that I found it hard to believe that he had been rigorously trained in bomb making by the Pakistan Taliban–unless the Pakistan Taliban 1) Is as inept as their recruit seems to be, or 2) For whatever reason (diversionary tactics–perhaps they are trying to distract us from something much bigger on the horizon? maybe they assumed he was a mole?) they wanted him to fail. (TPM has some new speculation on the subject here; the best soundbite comes from ex-ATF agent and explosive expert James Cavanaugh: “I believe he went through some training. [But] I would venture to say, he’s not the valedictorian of the bomb school”).
The media has run in several different directions at once with this story. There’s the hero-making, positive uplift angle–the sharp-eyed T-shirt vendors; the swift-acting police officials who disarmed the bomb, traced it back to its source, and snatched the fleeing perpetrator off an airliner and into custody within 72 hours. That meme lost a lot of its momentum when it came out that, for all his incompetence, he’d very nearly gotten away–he’d eluded the police who were supposed to have him under surveillance; Emirate airlines had taken his cash and neglected to update their No-Fly list, where they would have seen his name (new regulations now require them to run updates more frequently).
And then there was the right wing angle. Desperate to deprive the Obama administration of any credit for the arrest, senators and pundits went on television to deplore Shahzad’s Mirandization–why hadn’t he been tortured? And who made this terrorist into a citizen? Loath to miss an opportunity to demagogue, Senator Lieberman proposed legislation to allow terror suspects to be stripped of their citizenship. Writing in the National Review Online, Mark Steyn drew the thoughtful conclusion that wealthy, cosmopolitan, educated, seemingly westernized Arabs are pretty much all consumed with hatred for us and that we underestimate them at our peril.
He’s not an exception, he’s the rule. The Pantybomber is a wealthy Nigerian who lived in a London flat worth £2 million. Kafeel Ahmed, who died driving a flaming SUV into the concourse of Glasgow Airport, was president of the Islamic Society of Queen’s University, Belfast. Omar Sheikh, the man who beheaded Daniel Pearl, was a graduate of the London School of Economics. Mohammed Atta was a Hamburg University engineering student. Osama bin Laden went to summer school at Oxford. Educated men. Westernized men. Men who could be pulling down big six-figure salaries anywhere on the planet — were it not that their Islamic identity trumps everything else: elite education, high-paying job, Western passport.
The fact that we haven’t deported or arrested all of them, Steyn says, proves that we’ve caved into political correctness. “The Islamization of the West proceeds apace; why draw attention to it and risk a backlash?”
The details that are emerging about Shahzad’s troubled life–a foreclosed house, a stalled career, his adoring wife and children living halfway across the world in war-torn Pakistan–suggests that maybe the personal became the political somewhere along the way. His father is a retired Vice Marshal in the Pakistani Air Force. A cousin of his father told reporters that Shahzad was a patsy, that his arrest was “a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns.”
One of the students told me that what she’s been hearing is that it was all a hoax, planned and executed by the NYPD. “Now that people are worried about terrorism again,” she said, “They’re laying off teachers instead of cops.”
It seems like as good an explanation as any, at this point.