In retrospect, the failed New York bomber Faisal Shahzad wasn’t so perfectly useless after all. Because I see articles popping up across US media proposing a radical new idea to their readers: that the terrorist could be in their midst, carrying a US passport and living on double cheeseburgers and Diet Cokes. I wonder why allegedly advanced western civilisation takes so long to cotton on to the simplest emerging realities. They invented modern globalisation circa 1600, when the East India Company was incorporated. Surely they’ve had enough time to get abreast of its effects.
One of the most powerful forces loosed by globalisation, child of the colonial age, was the mass movement of people across national borders. Whether they were driven across by violence like the Armenian diaspora, or lured by the promise of prosperity like the Jamaicans in London, they were propelled by the forces of globalisation. Over the last four centuries, it has blurred the one-to-one mapping between citizenship and allegiance.
In the last half-century, cheap intercontinental mass transit, popularly known as air travel, has accelerated the trend. And now, thanks to the distance-annihilating properties of cellular telephony and the internet, home is rarely just one place. You can be in two places at the same time, at home in both and getting anxiety attacks over a conflict of interest. If you’re smart, you resolve it by writing a critically acclaimed book like The Reluctant Fundamentalist. If you’re dumb, you plant a bomb in Times Square.
Let us praise dumbness, for it takes a bomb in the backyard to wake up the western powers. Earlier, the UK had spent decades agonising over Kashmir and Punjab, materially supporting insurgencies as independence movements while carefully blinding themselves to the reality of terrorism in India. And refusing to acknowledge that Pakistan was becoming a terror nursery, because that would have scrambled carefully cultivated geopolitical equations. But when the London Underground was bombed and the terror came home, they immediately concluded that all independence fighters were terrorists of Pakistani origin. There was something obscene about the speed with which they changed their mind, after decades of pious denial.
Back in 1990, the British conservative politician Norman Tebbit had proposed a controversial test of loyalty for immigrants given wings by globalisation. Which cricket side did the British Asian community cheer at Lord’s, he asked. Were they still harking back to where they had come from, or had they been assimilated?
Tebbit was ahead of his time, perhaps enlightened by a Provision IRA bombing in Brighton in 1984 in which he and his wife were seriously injured. But he did not see far enough ahead into the globalised future. Millions of people would fail the Tebbit Test today, and yet they would not be planning to bomb anyone.
Why not, I wonder. Consider the provocation. This week, the US Attorney General has declared Shahzad to be a Pakistani Taliban stooge, while Hillary Clinton has paradoxically assured us that she would have had to let slip the dogs of war if Pakistan were proved to be complicit. Such bare-faced duplicity is so trying that you just want to pack up and go home. But alas, in the age of globalisation, home isn’t where it used to be.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal