Careful portrait of terrorism suspect

The New York Times carried a profile today of NajibullahZazi, a 24-year-oldman suspected of a terrorism conspiracy.I admire the way Michael Wilson wrote the piece because itreflectsahumility often missing innews coverage: Although the piece is well-reported, it makes clearthatmuch about Zazi is not known, and that he has not been proven guilty of the charges against him.The article explores the way Islam played a role in Zazi's life, but avoids the trap of equating religious fervor with terrorism:

"Even if he is proven to be the aspiring terrorist the government asserts, how and why he became one may not be understood for months, if ever. The suspects who have been charged with terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks were fueled by a variety of motivations and influences, and often a mix of them: politics, family, economic deprivation, social alienation, the work of a terrorist recruiter. Religion sometimes provides a general framework and sense of identity, but other factors and events frequently drive the transformation."

The article is quite chilling, nonetheless. Zazi - suspected of a conspiracy to set off bombs on the New York City subway on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack - was a friendly vendor of coffee and doughnuts several blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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