Joan Vennochi

Denial over the bomb plot

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / May 6, 2010

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AMERICANS CAN handle the truth. But when it comes to terrorist acts on American soil, government officials are reluctant to give it to us straight from the start.

Instant analysis of the Times Square bomb scare kicked off with the usual official disclaimers: Don’t presume a Muslim extremist had anything to do with it.

It was likely a “lone wolf’’ operation, suggested Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, or, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speculated, “somebody with a political agenda who doesn’t like the health care bill or something.’’ Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, said it was being treated as a “potential terrorist attack’’ but it could be a “one-off’’ or isolated incident.

The arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, quickly ended alternative theories. Shahzad is not a Tea-Partier-gone-wild or someone unable to take the pressure of home foreclosure, as some news reports intimated. He told authorities his efforts to blow up innocent people are connected to the Pakistani Taliban.

The SUV parked in Times Square and packed with crude explosives appears to represent that group’s first effort to attack the United States. It stands as yet another, thankfully failed, effort by terrorists with Islamic ties to attack in America.

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the corresponding war on terror that American troops have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the average citizen gets it. Some Muslim extremists want to kill Americans and will keep on trying to accomplish their mission.

It’s the first thought that registers when a bomb is placed in cars, shoes, or underwear by someone described as Muslim. What’s so terrible about acknowledging that link?

Politicians and law enforcement officials understandably do not want the narrative to get ahead of the facts. They do not want to panic the populace, especially in New York, where the hurt of the World Trade Center attacks is so personal.

There is also well-intentioned reluctance to stigmatize all Muslims, because of the extremist views of some Muslims.

But the “lone wolf’’ theory does not make a terrorist attack any less terrifying than one connected to an official pack of wolves — especially if the lone wolf is inspired by the same pack mentality.

Whether or not Shahzad was connected to a militant jihadist Pakistani network, “he is not a lone wolf,’’ argues M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a group that promotes the separation of religion and state. “The ideas that drove him to act did not hatch in his own mind. We ignore to our own detriment the common ideology, the common malignant virus of the slippery slope of political Islam that takes over these Muslims. When are we going to wake up as a nation?’’

Jasser, whose views are controversial to some Muslims, also believes that “many politicians are in denial or in avoidance behavior that there is a common ideology that threatens us. It is far more dismissive and expedient to say, ‘Well, just this last case must be isolated, forget the previous 100.’ ’’

Some of that political denial comes from troubling fact: Every terrorist plot launched by Muslim extremists cannot be foiled before it threatens human life. A combination of luck and vigilance has stopped a string of attempts, from Richard Reid’s attempted shoe-bombing in December 2001 to an attempted bombing of the New York subway system, from the bomb carried in the underwear of a passenger on a Northwest Airlines flight last December to the Times Square incident .

Denial also springs from the blood sport that is American politics. The fight against terrorism no longer unites the country. It divides it along partisan lines. It’s all about blame, not shared accountability.

Today, it’s a sign of political weakness to acknowledge an attempt by a Muslim extremist to attack in the United States.

Americans know the truth. It’s time for politicians — Republican and Democratic — to trust them to with the realities of the problem. It’s also time for politicians to stop using the reality as a reason to attack each other.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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