The title of this post is itself a bit of a false flag. I’m not interested in the theories that cheaply and easily reverse the responsibility for crimes and terrorist attacks on the ostensible victims. Not that such things don’t ever happen (the Maine; the Reichstag fire), but that such rationalizations are too obviously a shortcut to eliminating cognitive dissonance. Their logic is roughly: “The group I identify with is accused of having done a despicable thing. But because they’re the group I identify with, they can’t have done it, so it must be an evil and despicable plot designed to justify attacks on the wonderful and upstanding people who are my team.”
Rationalization, then, is the thread I’m following.
I think the experts currently filling the radio waves with their short courses in Chechen and Dagestani history are probably biting at a papier-mâché lizard’s tail. Once they get it between their teeth, it will drop off and the real lizard of motivation will scurry away. I see a different pattern of causality which relegates nationalism and Islam to secondary status. As, if you look at the consequences, we should do; for the Boston bombings did absolutely nothing to advance or publicize the Chechen cause, to get revenge for prior evils or win allies for an international conspiracy.
(Parenthetically, I see nothing newsworthy in the boys’ mother claiming that they must have been framed. She’s their mother, after all. I bet you hope your mother would give you the benefit of the doubt in such circumstances too.)
I start from an incident in the history of Tamerlan Tsarnaev that most people seem to be treating as a mere incident. The police were called in to deal with a domestic violence episode: the trained boxer was arrested for assault and battery on his wife. This charge would later delay his receiving citizenship. His father later complained, “In America, you can’t even touch a woman.”
Let’s hear the chorus of cultural relativists spring to the defense of wife-beating. I give you three seconds; please do it in the yard, because I won’t have you saying such things in the house.
Okay? So back to our story. A violent guy, on this bit of evidence, who was able to channel some of his violent energy into the ritualized and potentially rewarding venue of boxing. That was a smart adaptive move. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep whatever was driving him contained in the boxing ring; he took it out on a probably less muscular and less well-trained female. (I’m not acquainted with the former Mrs. Tsarnaev, so I am only assuming that it was an unequal combat.)
His desire to become a boxing star– a path which would have woven together his pleasure in hurting people with a social desire for approval– was frustrated. For whatever reason, he didn’t make it as a boxer. And his most famous round in or out of the ring was written up by the police in a way that made him again feel aggrieved, victimized, dominated.
Islam comes in handy here as an excuse. Like many religions, it contains a justification for claiming the authority to inflict pain on others. In particular, on women. My purpose is not to scold all Muslims, and I am aware that there are plenty of adult male Christians, Jews, Confucians, etc., who take comfort in the texts of their religion when they inflict pain on women and children, exploit and cheat them, exclude them from positions of authority, and so forth. Plenty of Americans are attracted to the harsher forms of fundamentalist Christianity precisely because they condone the use of physical force to keep the “weaker sex” down. I’ll be pleasantly surprised, of course, when someone reports to me an Islamic congregation that accords women full rights of preaching, teaching, and self-determination. But the motive I am following here is not, in sum, adequately known if tagged with the marker “Islam.”
So a guy with a violent past and a chip on his shoulder against Americans in general (members of this weird society where women are legal equals of men, and wives can even talk back to their husbands, and there’s nothing you can do about it, not even in the privacy of your own home using the strength of your two fists) twigs onto a ranting variety of his religion that raises violence to the status of solution to all problems. He may have learned to make pressure-cooker bombs by reading Internet pages; he may have chatted with the friendly neighborhood IED-maker in Dagestan. Wherever he got the knowledge, he used it to snuff out the lives and blow off the limbs of infidels who were massed on the street in Boston to cheer for athletes (and by their cheering taking away from him some measure of the applause that he would have wanted, I suppose, as a would-be Golden Gloves contendah).
Islam and Chechen nationalism, it seems to me, are falsely flagged contributing causes, mere rationalizations in the larger system of causes that includes resentment of American women, anger at the justice system, an identification with bomb-throwers that didn’t go as far as carrying out a suicide mission (the guy’s self-regard was too strong for that; he wanted to be in the audience for the fallout from the deed). So let’s stop talking about these handy labels that exteriorize the violence and exile it to some remote mountain region that’s really the Russians’ problem, and focus on the far more recognizable wife-batterer obsessed with claiming status.
How the younger brother got coopted I don’t know yet. No doubt much will be made, at his trial, of his fear of the older brother. That’s the only line of defense I can see, whether it’s true or not. But in the interest of figuring out what really motivates people to do harm to defenseless strangers, let’s look at the Tsarnaevs as individuals, not members of a category made out to be vaguely menacing.