Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb

Article excerpt

Has post-9/11 fear created a not-so-brave new world of bullies and fools?

If Rip Van Winkle were to read A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of

His Arm a Tiny Bomb upon waking, he would most likely shake his head

and dismiss it as farce.

Alas, you'll only find this title in the "non-fiction" section

of bookstores and libraries; it's published by an esteemed academic

press and written by a respected professor of English at an elite

American college. Indeed, "truth is stranger than fiction," and

"you just can't make this stuff up." (Although, coincidentally,

journalist/novelist/poet/professor Amitava Kumar also had a novel -

"Nobody Does the Right Thing" - published on the same day as

"Foreigner.")

Novel aside, "Foreigner" is part contemporary history, part

investigative journalism, part political treatise, part memoir -

and an absolute must-read. My greatest fear is that the readers who

most need to read this book will not.

Kumar is an excellent storyteller. He's also immensely convincing.

Drawing on his vast, voracious knowledge of literature, film,

television, and breaking headlines, Kumar makes a case that post- 9/11

fear has created a not-so-brave new world of bullies and fools.

Moving fluidly between his adopted US home and his birthplace of

India - another country altered by concerns over terrorism -

Kumar carefully exposes what he sees as the senseless abuse of power

justified by the "war on terror": "[M]uch of my reportage here

is in the service of presenting the anti-terrorism state as the

biggest bungler," Kumar writes in his acknowledgements as he thanks

"the non-experts," "the losers," and "the small people."

Kumar first focuses on two ineffectual men, each of whom he

classifies as an "accidental terrorist." He demonstrates in rich

detail the ways in which both men were victims of legal entrapment,

more guilty of stupidity than actual terrorism, manipulated into

crime by others who were mostly concerned with saving themselves in

the eyes of an already nervous US government.

The first "accidental terrorist" is Hemant Lakhani, a

nearly-70-year-old failed businessman with delusions of grandeur, who

was convicted of trying to sell a missile to a would-be terrorist.

The missile was a dud, shipped to a New Jersey hotel room by the FBI,

and brokered by a "terrorist" who proved to be FBI informant

Habib Rehman. Rehman - also a failed businessman - had

considerable debts, a self-confessed track record as a liar, and a

history of tax evasion. His handsome salary was funded by US

taxpayers.

The second terrorist manque is Shawahar Matin Siraj, a 24-year- old

Pakistani American, convicted of conspiring to bomb a NYC subway

station. Kumar wryly questions the validity of "prosecut[ing] an

individual as a bomber when there is no bomb on the scene." The

lead witness against the unsophisticated Siraj - who is caught on

tape insisting on "No killing" and wants to "ask [his]

mother's permission" - was Osama Eldawoody, an Egyptian-born

nuclear engineer. …

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