Putting the Error in Terrorism

I’m waiting in eager anticipation for The Express Tribune to be launched in Islamabad. So far this newest of Pakistan’s papers is available in Karachi, and a day or so later here in the capital. It has a clean, fresh design and a lively turn in human interest stories. Best of all though is Sami Shah‘s column every Thursday.

Last week he turned his neat brand of sarcasm on Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber. The newspapers here have used a lot of ink poring over Shahzad’s life. No-one else though has used it as a chance to examine Pakistan’s booming reputation for exporting world-class terror.

That is, until Faisal bloody Shahzad. You have to be a truly terrible terrorist when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan refuses to acknowledge you. This is an organisation that is on the verge of claiming responsibility for the Hindenberg disaster and the Apollo 13 problems. They have, of course, since backtracked and claimed to have trained Faisal but even they don’t sound like they believe themselves. It’s more a case of trying to buy some brand presence on a new celebrity. Faisal, for his part, could not have done more damage to the terrorism industry if he visited Mullah Omar, Hakeemullah Mehsud and Osama bin Laden while wearing a tracking device that was pinging his GPRS coordinates to a drone flying directly overhead. His claims of having attended bomb-making classes in South Waziristan are blatantly a case of lying on one’s resume. It’s safe to say, the first lesson taught on the first day of classes in North Waziristan, the Harvard of bomb-making, is “Don’t lock the keys to your getaway car inside the car that’s supposed to blow up.”

Too many people blew themselves up in too many creative ways for this buffoon to so callously ruin it all. We can’t afford to be known as the country that put the ‘error’ in ‘terrorism.’

Not everyone enjoyed Sami’s take. A couple of comments suggested Sami had picked the wrong topic for his humour. But they amounted to a tiny minority among the supportive messages, some demanding “putting the error in terrorism” T-shirts. When I called Sami up in Karachi he said he wasn’t surprised that so many people got the joke.

“A lot of people don’t realise there’s a very dark sense of humour here,” he said. “It’s one of the ways people deal with it. Pakistan is in a constant state of post-traumatic stress disorder. You can scream and cry or you can crack jokes about it.”

Sami certainly falls into the latter camp. But is there a message in his satire? Is there a point beyond the jokes? Well yes, there’s a much more serious issue beneath the froth – and a question that has been ignored by a lot of the media coverage here. Most reporters have been keen to highlight Shahzad’s life in the US. And investigators have played down links with militants, repeatedly saying he had spent little time in Pakistan. All of which is to avoid the big question: Why is it always Pakistan?


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