Precisely what led New York terror suspect Faisal Shahzad to try and set off a car-bomb in Times Square is not yet known. His journey from child of privilege to transnational jihadist was fuelled by the ideas of Yemen-based Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, shaped by contacts with Jaish-e-Mohammad operatives in Karachi, and transformed into action by training and funds from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The stereotypical elements supposed to drive jihadists — poverty or indoctrination in madrasas — had no role in his life. The son of an affluent Pakistan Air Force officer, Shahzad studied in the United States before starting a reasonable career. Post-9/11, it has become clear that many young people from well-heeled backgrounds are being drawn to jihadist groups: Daniel Pearl's executioner Syed Omar Sheikh, British-born al-Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot, and Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley were all products of western affluence. Last year alone, the U.S. faced over a dozen jihadist attacks initiated by American nationals. Many citizens of European states are also known to be fighting alongside the Taliban and its Islamist allies.
Why is the diasporic jihadist threat growing? Pakistan's reluctance to dismantle the infrastructure of jihadist groups — set up, in the main, as instruments of the state against India — is one reason. Would-be jihadists in the West now have ready access to training and funds. There is also a second, deeper, problem. More than a decade ago, Hanif Kureishi explored the cultural tensions that underpin western Islamism in his novella, My Son, The Fanatic. Kureishi's story centres on the problematic relationship between Pakistan-born Briton Pervez, for whom Great Britain represents unlimited opportunity, and his son, Farid. The young man rebels against his father's search for upward mobility, arguing that the West is “a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes.” Many diasporic jihadists are driven less by theology than by rage against the societies around them. Researchers have found this rage to be made up of an inchoate mix of political discontent, cultural dislocation, and even sexual anxieties. Unfortunately, hundreds of young diaspora Indians, among them Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, have been drawn to the diverse fundamentalisms of the homeland their parents left. The seduction of young people by extremists reflects the failure of immigrant communities and political institutions to tackle the problem at its roots. Politicians, community leaders, and intellectuals must work together to marginalise the extremists in their fold and intervene at various levels to counter the dangerous trend.
The first paragraph of the above Editorial had the detail “British-born al-Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot”. It should have been “Indian-born”.