In the gulf of disbelief following thirty-year-old suburbanite Faisal Shahzad's attempt to blow up Times Square, a series of superficial personal artifacts emerge: Handwriting analysis, photos of refrigerated leftovers, his resume. Can we divine a real person from this stuff?
The news cycle is like a fruit-bearing tree. First, a seed is planted (event: bomb in Times Square), then authorities and journalists water it (investigation: ties to Pakistan, suburban background), and we get a valuable, nutritious product (conclusion: portrait of the upwardly mobile Connecticut jihadi). But the material that nourishes the main event—digging through personal artifacts and documents—inevitably gives rise to a hearty bed of also-ran weeds. By which I mean anecdotal, bullshit-laced stories like this New York Post analysis of Shahzad's handwriting. But they're tantalizing weeds, and as delicious as a dandelion salad.
EXHIBIT A: The Signature of a Terrorist
"He may be smiling in photos, but his signature is all rage," cautions the Daily News. Faisal's signature on a 2004 condo sale agreement says "He's angry at everybody and he's lashing out at the world." Tick marks located at points 1, 2, and 3 "indicate aggression and hatred." A large "upper zone" indicates "interest in philosophical ideals [and] religion," and since there's a tick here, religion is what makes him mad. The curlicue way he dots his i suggests "a desire to be different and not wanting to conform."
EXHIBIT B: The Food of a Terrorist
The Post also poked around Shahzad's Bridgeport, CT home and revealed the contents of his kitchen. A refrigerator of perishable foods is odd for a fleeing jihadi, but maybe his wife stocked it? Entenmann's poundcake and low-cost name brands suggest modest taste and budget. Is that a half-full Starbucks Frappuccino behind the Entenmann's? I'm thinking, "immersed in Western culture, but unable to swallow it whole."
EXHIBIT C: The Font Choice of a Terrorist
Talking Points Memo published Shahzad's three-page resume, featuring his gmail account and banal office jobs like "Client Reporting Analyst." The font, it appears, is Georgia—a quietly refined if somewhat expected choice, particularly if he is a Mac user. Three pages is a little long for a resume, but whatever, sometimes people don't know that. But we could go for "inflated ego," and if you pull a Patrick Bateman on the font, maybe you'd get something about a sense of superiority, because Georgia says "I'm too good for Times New Roman"?
EXHIBIT D: The Grooming Habits of a Terrorist
In this social networking photo, Shahzad appears to be heavy on the hair gel, which means he cared about worldly things like looking good for the ladies at some point. Bearded, as is traditional for conservative Muslim men, but meticulously neat. This is the hygiene of a man who cares about his place in society—the question is which society. The Post's bathroom photo confirms this. At the far left, we see that Shahzad uses the fancy Aquafresh toothpaste that comes in a shiny tube. That stuff makes your mouth so fresh.
Conclusion: It's hard not to obsess over these details. Terrorists: They like Starbucks, just like us! What is ultimately so terrifying about these details is that they are so unremarkable. Terrorists: A superficial glance into a stranger's kitchen won't protect you from them. [Image via NYMag]