All the media are blah-blahing about how the two young ethnic Chechens were "radicalized." One of the memes I've been hearing is "self-radicalization," which is how they discuss Muslims who behave badly but never received indoctrination or training from an organization of religious radicals, an FBI informer, or the Pakistani ISI. We're meant to think they just find it on the internet, and soon a haze of blood drifts across their eyes.
It's true that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was back in Dagestan for six months in 2012 but, as best we can tell, all he did there was mope around his aunt and uncle's house. Tamerlan arrived in the United States at the age of 15. His little brother Dzhokar was eight when he arrived, and never visited Chechnya or Dagestan afterwards. If they genuinely were "radicalized," it didn't happen in the Caucasus, or over the internet. It happened in the United States.
Tamerlan arrived dealing with a very different culture, a new language, conflict between his parents, and what often is the very worst year of adolescence. He was an outsider, and the Islamophobia so soon after 9-11 almost certainly made him feel even more of a stranger. Encouraged by his mother, he joined a mosque, but eventually denounced the imam for being too secular. The imam thought it was okay for American Muslims to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Isolation is hell, and people in hell do desperate things to escape. I'm pretty sure Tamerlan committed "suicide by cop." I guess he thought he was accomplishing the will of Allah, but I can't see him as a religious radical. I see only a fucked-up, overgrown boy.
Dzhokar made a better adjustment to the United States, as one might expect because of his age and his good looks. He did well in what, for him, was the very accepting and nurturing community of the Cambridge schools. When he went on to college, though, he was tossed out of the nest. He was flunking out, and I guess he was spending more time with his brother. Maybe we'll learn more as he recovers.
I feel for those boys — and, really, they were just boys, trying to be men. This does not in any way detract from my grief for the victims of their crime — and, yes, it was a crime, not a political statement — but sometimes everybody involved is a victim. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were victims too, and maybe even Ted Kacynski. They were tortured souls.
Call me crazy. Call me a bleeding heart liberal. I don't care. I think we do it to ourselves.