Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev: A New Type Of "All American" Terrorists?


Early on Friday, right after midnight, I was putting the finishing touches on an article detailing the potential psychology behind violence, masculinity, and power embodied by male terrorists. Sitting on the couch next to one of my childhood friends, we watched, transfixed as reports came in of gunfire at MIT, an officer shot down, explosions in the Watertown, Massachusetts area.

For the past week, America has speculated about who the Boston Bomber(s) is. Some threw despicably racist slanders and insinuations on their Twitter feeds. Others embodied the sentiments of everyone's favorite questionable uncle, conservative talk radio host Rush; accusing liberals of perpetuating media propaganda of right winged radical assaults. Still others started conspiracy theories about the government's involvement in the matter.

As the news broke early this morning of the identities of the two young suspected brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnev — the connection of the MIT shooters and the Boston bombers already being made — CNN, CBS and many other news fronts repeatedly planted the seed that these brothers were not American. They were Chechnyian. They were immigrants. They were the "other." What is their religious background?

Salon's David Sirota wrote a compelling piece earlier this week, "Lets hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American." Dave, charismatically, argues;

White male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated/targeted for those shootings — even though most (mass murders) come at the hands of white dudes.

Dave makes an insightful and critical case as to the way American society formulates its understanding of group association in regards to terrorist attacks.

Plainly speaking; if the terrorist is white, American society conceptualizes the terrorist as a "lone wolf." We ignore the terrorist's affiliation with other groups, political ideologies, or spiritual beliefs. Those groups are not representative of the individual's action. That lone wolf terrorist was a fluke, a radical, and a special case.

The article makes a powerful argument of America's social association of terrorists grouping. This morning, our media did doing nothing but perpetuate this association, or at the very least, plant the seeds that will lead to the idea of this "othering."

Ustream implicitly repeated reports of fundamentalist Islamic practice, reporting that the eldest brother, Tamerlan, a successful boxer who immigrated five years ago, was open about his Muslim beliefs, gave up alcohol and smoking, and believed that people had lost their values. Even Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnev's own uncle sighted these young men's actions as potentially stemming from their inability to fit into American culture.

But if you ask any of Dzhokhar's friends, he was one of the guys. More than that, these boys were more than just one of the guys; they were your All American sons.

Twenty-six-year-old Tamerian was a two time golden glove champion, who was asked multiple times to go pro and fight in Las Vegas, Nevada. The younger, Dzhokhar, came of age in America over the course of the last ten years. He attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School — the same prestigious high school Ben Affleck and Matt Damon attended in Boston. He received a City Scholarship. He was described by Boston radio journalist Robin Youngas;

A beautiful young man …. My nephew was a dear friend of his ... People just love him. We had a prom party a couple years ago ... he was beautiful in his tuxedo ... Just recently my nephew and he were texting each other about going to a Super Bowl game. No one can believe that it's this young man.

This is not the narrative of a young religious radical rejected from American culture. As a star athlete, a promising student, and enrolled in his second year of med school at Dartmouth, Dzhokhar is anything but a deviant from the norm. He is exceptionally above the norm.

Not having a way to categorize the motives behind these acts of terror is scary. It's scary because this type of terrorism may cross the tightly confined understandings we harbor.  

It's petrifying because if these suspects really are the culprits behind the bombings, and they do carry both radical religious sentiments and also boast these All American credentials, we might have to reformulate an altogether new understanding of terrorism that goes far beyond what we understand now.

It is scary because we may have to admit to ourselves that there is a closer link between domestic acts of terrorism and international terrorism, than what we want to believe.

Most unsettling, is that we must understand that we cannot categorize. That we must live with the uncomfortable fact that all we know is what we don't know. And we may not know for a while. And that is a scary place for America.