Varieties of Sovereignty and Citizenship

By Sigal R. Ben-Porath; Rogers M. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Citizen Terrorists and the Challenges of Plural Citizenship

PETER H. SCHUCK

Americans commonly think of terrorists as foreigners, typically from the Mideast or “Afpak” region. Probability not xenophobia, underlies this belief, given the background of most known terrorists and the hundreds of millions of people around the world who despise America’s liberal culture, its sturdy support for Israel, its religious diversity and tolerance, and much else. Almost all of those who wish to destroy American power, institutions, and ways of life tend to fit the stereotype.

But in an era when the United States has become increasingly receptive to many forms of plural citizenship, it should not be surprising that some citizen terrorists identify with other societies. This reality was dramatized during just a few months in 2010 when three American citizens were arrested in connection with bomb plots: Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, for an unsuccessful car-bomb attempt in Times Square, and the other two for international jihadist activities. These three Americans are not the first to be prosecuted for such crimes. Jose Padilla’s “dirty bomb” plot and Timothy McVeigh’s mass murder in Oklahoma City are other examples of acts of terrorism perpetrated by Americans against Americans on American soil. Unlike McVeigh, most of the American terrorists have been dual citizens whose primary allegiance is to Islamic countries and Islaminspired creeds.

These examples of citizens engaged in domestic terrorism—which I define here as terrorist activity launched by American citizens against other Americans and not such activity initiated on U.S. soil by noncitizens—may be dreadful harbingers of catastrophes to come. Federal officials predict that

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