Two recent high-profile terror cases have made the chilling reality that terrorism is still a threat all too clear.
The first was an al-Qaida suicide bombing attempt on a Saudi prince. The assailant was able to get close enough to actually blow himself up in the same room as the Saudi leader. His method? Hiding explosives inside his body, where they did not react to metal detectors. Aside from the bomber, there were no civilian casualties because the bombs detonated downward, blowing a large cavity in the earth instead of harming the prince. Nevertheless, this disturbing new innovation could revitalize the terrorist threat. It could particularly affect airport security.
The second case is perhaps more disturbing because it takes place closer to home. Najibullah Zazi was born in Afghanistan and spent several years in Pakistan during his youth, but the majority of his teenage and adult years were spent in the United States. He worked a series of service-related jobs: in a grocery store, for an airport limo service and at his father’s coffee cart in Lower Manhattan. He was known as a friendly, conscientious worker who had become increasingly religious in recent years.
Now the 24-year-old is being held without bail by the FBI as a suspected terrorist. Zazi is accused of receiving explosives training in Pakistan and buying large quantities of bomb-making chemicals in the form of beauty products.
Authorities honed in on Zazi on Sept. 6 when he began an overnight drive from Denver to New York City. It is suspected that Zazi planned a commuter train bombing to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. He has not been proven guilty and Zazi denies the claims.
There are several disturbing qualities to Zazi’s case. On the one hand, if the FBI’s accusations prove incorrect, it will spark a wave of anti-Americanism and claims of religious persecution both within US borders and abroad.
But if Zazi is proven guilty of harboring terrorist ambitions, faithful Muslims around the country could face new suspicion and fear that is unwarranted — and yet understandable. For if Zazi did in fact trick everyone from the customs agents in JFK airport (he traveled to Pakistan multiple times to visit family) to his daily customers at the coffee cart, then couldn’t any extremist do the same?
We are often told when we board trains or buses to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. The problem that this case highlights is one that has really existed all along: How can we know what “terrorist behavior” looks like?
The fact is that terrorists can be all kinds of people — not just the ones whose pictures we often see on TV. So how do we reconcile our duty to know what “terrorist behavior” looks like with our undeniable obligation to treat all of our peers equally?
Former President George W. Bush may have made poor policy decisions in later years, but one thing he did do well was assure Americans in the wake 9/11 that not all Muslims were a threat. In his 2001 State of the Union address, Bush said that “the enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends.” In the weeks following the attacks, American Muslims were reassured that they would not be blamed for the actions of an extremist minority.
Americans must think critically. Under no circumstances can we tolerate baseless religious profiling. American Muslims deserve the respect and equal treatment that the United States upholds as its highest values.
Of course, idealism and a moral high ground may not be enough of an incentive for everyone. For those critics, it is worthwhile to note that Zazi’s case is actually positive when considered from a national security perspective. Long before his alleged planned attack, Zazi’s every move was being tracked by FBI agents.
If nothing else, we can rest assured that our government is doing everything possible to locate terrorists within our nation. Eight years after 9/11, the terrorist threat is still very real. But rather than taking it upon ourselves to judge, let’s respect our country’s vigilance and innovation, and let the government do the terror-hunting for us.
Rosaleen O’Sullivan is a junior majoring in English and international relations. Her column, “Global Grind,” runs Mondays.