Posts Tagged ‘Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Well, that’s over.  As I write this, I am watching NBC News coverage of the capture of “Suspect 2” in the Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  This has been one of those events when you feel like history is being made, so I want to write a couple blogs in the coming weeks in response.  This blog is the first of those.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

One of the disturbingly enthralling aspects of today’s media coverage has been the interviews and reactions of those that knew “suspect #2” before his apparent conversion to violence.  Over and over today, I have heard 19 and 20 year kids, high school teachers, and parents of friends describe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a extremely normal kid.  Most interviewees have been calling him quiet, athletic, friendly, helpful and kind.  The shock of those who knew him is telling.  No one foresaw this.

It seems the older Tsarnaev was more militant. Reports have depicted him as a loner; as ideological.  But, his younger brother doesn’t seem to fit that mold.  Now, this may be completely wrong.  Perhaps law enforcement will find loads of documents, and writings that prove that the younger Tsarnaev was the ring leader in this attack. I can’t say, though it seems unlikely at this point. We are left asking then, why would this seemingly normal kid commit this horrendous act?

Unfortunately, I know what many political figures, religious leaders, media spokespeople, and persons on the street will say.  It is Islam; violent, malicious Islam. I know this because such rhetoric has been making the rounds since hours after the attack.  But, even those who are not so inflammatory, or so prejudiced feel the need to simplify this situation for an angry, frightened viewing public.  As I heard Brian Williams, NBC head anchor say tonight, everything will be okay in the future “as long as we have more good guys, than bad guys.”

If the younger Tsarnaev had been killed tonight, such simplistic bombast and platitudes would most likely control all discourse. With him in custody, perhaps we can find out the truth of his motivations, and as the atrananthropologist Scott Atran has found, the motivations of terrorists can be surprisingly recognizable.   An incredibly brave scholar, Atran has spent the last decade interviewing members of terrorists groups, their families and their friends, compiling his conclusions in his 2008 book, Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.   His interviews  of young terrorists most often found that they “were campmates, school buddies, soccer pals, and the like, who became die hard bands of brothers in a tragic and misbegotten quest to save their imagined tribal community from…morally deformed” enemies. These youths join cells and organizations because they are intrigued by “the camaraderie of a cause, however admirable or abhorrent, and the courage and commitment that come from belonging to something larger.”  In other words, it is not necessarily ideology that makes these young men kill. They kill for their community. They kill to protect and strengthen their biological or social family.

Is this what happened here?  Is this how a ‘nice, kind kid’ became a murderer? Maybe.  Maybe not.  We should know soon enough. My one hope is that people pay attention to this young man’s motives, and don’t simply label him an Islamo-fascist, or a nut-job, or a bad-guy. Doing so only simplifies, and thus clouds, a complex phenomenon.