Peter Bergen describes an evil family that thought of themselves as noble in a chapter in his book United States of Jihad. It is in some ways an ironic story, and the details shed some light on the unpleasant types who become idealists for Allah.
The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a M[uslim] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.
I don’t argue with fools who say Islam is terrorism it’s not worth a thing, let an idiot remain an idiot.
But by his actions, he lent credence to the idea that Islam and terrorism do go together, maybe not always, but too often.
Jahar’s family came from a town four thousand miles to the east of Manhattan, a grim Caspian port city. For murky reasons that may have involved crossing some local gangsters, the Tsarnaevs applied for refugee status in the States. They wanted out.
Over the course of 2002 and 2003 the family immigrated to Massachusetts. At first everything seemed to be going somewhat well. The father, Anzor, was an adept car mechanic, and his wife Zubeidat, a cosmologist, performed facials in their home. The eldest son Tamerlan dreamed of becoming an Olympic boxer, a goal that seemed less and less far-fetched as he swiftly ascended in the New England boxing scene.
Meanwhile, Jahar captained his high school wrestling team at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and upon graduation he won scholarships from both the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the city of Cambridge. At UMass Dartmouth, Jahar was seen as an easygoing, party-loving skateboarder. Facebook documents his active nightlife, and his prolific tweets were the typical musings of an indifferent (indeed failing) American college student: homework that was late, sleeping in, sex, girls, marijuana, and alcohol.”
Worried about this, his mother, who herself was getting more religious, began urging him to embrace his Islamic heritage.
Tamerlan’s dreams of boxing were blocked by a rule change that prohibited non-U.S. citizens from competing. Various disasters followed. Anzor got into a fight at a restaurant and was struck in the head by a steel pole, an injury from which he never quite recovered. Then his business took a dive and he became ill, diagnosed with cancer. The family now subsisted on welfare and food stamps. In 2011, Anzor and Zubeidat divorced, and Anzor went back to Dagestan. Zubeidat became a Muslim fundamentalist, but her new-found religiosity did not stop her from shoplifting sixteen hundred dollar’s worth of clothes from Lord & Taylor. The couple’s daughters moved to New Jersey, where one of them was arrested for selling marijuana.
Tamerlan told a confidante that he heard a “voice” in his head that told him to do certain things.
Not only that, but Jahar, Tamerlan, and their mother came to believe that 9/11 was engineered by the U.S. government to create mass hatred for Muslims.
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.
This certainly illustrates that he did not believe he, himself was evil.
Peter Bergen then tells the reader about the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and the six stage process they looked at, which involved:
2. Ideation – the idea that violence is both necessary and justified.
3. Research and planning – constructing the plot
4. Preparation – finding a weapon or mode of assault
5. Breach – enacting the plan to get inside whatever security perimeter surrounds the target
We don’t mean grievance like ‘I’m mad because the guy cut me off in traffic.’ Grievance that is the kind that sorts of eats at your core..
There are also inhibitors that prevent someone going down the path to violence, such as family ties, having a good job, and religious beliefs. Sometimes these inhibitors “topple like dominoes, with one inhibitor knocking over the next in a sequence of decline–frequently, rapid decline.” The loss of a job, for instance, might trigger a divorce, and that might trigger, in turn, the loss of a house, and so on.
In the case of the Boston Marathon bombers, the grievance was that the Muslims were supposedly under attack by the U.S. They then moved to ideation, were they came to believe that it was necessary to avenge this grievance. The inhibitors did fall like dominoes. Tamerlan was both unemployed and unemployable. Jahar, often wreathed in smoke from his joints, was struggling in school and lacked a stabilizing family life after his parents’ acrimonious divorce.
Tamerlan had lost a big dream (of being an Olympic boxer). One hypothesis mentioned in Peter Bergen’s book is that Tamerlan blamed others for the decline in his fortunes. Some people don’t take personal responsibility, instead they “collect injustices”. After that, explains forensic psychologist Reid Meloy, they feel moral outrage, and they embed their personal grievance in a cause.
The irony is that the lone terrorist often has not himself suffered any oppression. Tamerlan’s family had been welcomed to the U.S. as refugees, he and his siblings had attended free American schools, and his family had survived on welfare payments when the going got tough. Jahar had been given scholarships to help him with college.
The judge at Jahar’s trial (Tamerlan had died in an intense shootout with the police) said
Surely someone who believes that God smiles on and rewards the deliberate killing and maiming of innocents believes in a cruel God. That is not, it cannot be, the God of Islam.
After looking at “Islamic State” and the various mass killings in Paris and New York and elsewhere, I would have to ask the judge, why can it not be the God of Islam?
Without Islam, Tamerlan and Jahar would still have been contemptible, with Tamerlan being a violent murderer as well, but they would not have bombed the marathon. Islam was what logicians call a “necessary condition.”
Tamerlan had actually stood up in his mosque and called the Muslim preacher an unbeliever for saying that Dr. Martin Luther King was a great man. This made other worshippers shouted “Leave now!” at Tamerlan until he left the premises. He was a very self-righteous type at this point. Perhaps that is a clue, but it is hard to see in practice how lone holy warriors can be stopped in time. Maybe one clue is that they are just plain obnoxious people, before and after they latch on to their cause.
United States of Jihad – Peter Bergen (2016)