Today we looked into the identity of the would-be Times Square bomber, trying to figure out what makes a person want to blow up a bunch of strangers in the name of... something. One commenter offered some insight.

From spikenard:

I actually do think that Faisal Shahzad's life is interesting, caught as it is between recognisable, everyday Western life and being radicalized, which by all accounts at this point seems to have occurred only recently in his life. As a person from a Muslim background who has grown up in the West mostly, it's disturbing to me to see someone like Shahzad (or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab), become terrorists. I don't really understand why this would happen to them - my usual understanding of why Islamic terrorism exists doesn't really apply in these cases.

All I can suspect in Shahzad's case is that his personal frustrations (his faltering career, his money troubles) found a conduit in religion, somehow. Islamic extremists, and conservatives, tend to present their arguments with appeals to a purer, less materialistic time, and with discussions of the utopia that would exist if we all lived 'truly Islamically' in the kind of community the Prophet did (and of course, it is the West who is stopping Muslims from doing this, and who have committed crimes against Muslims). I wonder if that appealed to him, or I wonder if he just found an outlet for his resentment, anger and frustration. In any case, I think what he did seems desperate - I wonder how long it took him to plan it, and how long he took to develop into the kind of person who could justify that to themselves?

But I also know that it's possible to live an almost schizophrenic life between two cultures - to have two separate identities. A lot of people, especially the children of first generation immigrants, who have a 'home' culture and an 'outside' culture do that as a matter of course and have no problem with it... so maybe it's not that weird that his life looks so benign and recognisable on the one hand, yet he could engage with something totally opposed to it on the other hand. Maybe expecting him to be 'Western', totally, just because he used Aquafresh and liked Starbucks is the strange thing.