In October 2009, on the Bill Maher show, there was an amazing round of conversation about what makes a terrorist. With a little help from going back and looking at what was said, I can still remember it.
Bill Maher started off by saying that a young man who was just arrested as a terrorist was living an American life. “He doesn’t hate America, he loves America and feels guilty.” By day the terrorists love all the taboo parts of America, getting a beer, going to a titty bar, and then out of guilt, they plot to blow something up….
Richard Dawkins said it is about religion. That Islam promotes going after non-believers. Then Thomas Friedman said that it was about the disparity between what they thought Islam was and the reality of their life. The terrorists thought of Islam as religion 3.0 – Christianity was religion 2.0, Judaism 1.0 and Hinduism 0.0 – but life under Islam didn’t measure up. Their religion was better but their life was worse and they hate their own governments for it.
Finally Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, who represents a huge Muslim population, after saying that her constituents were good citizens and many were in the military protecting America, said that terrorists were disenfranchised individuals who were alienated from society.
It seems to me that all of the above still rings true and what happened is more complicated and stranger than the above. On the complicated side, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are very different from each other. Tamerlan was married, had a child, had been back to Dagestan and Chechnya where he may or may not have been radicalized, and claimed to be a devout Muslim. Sort of what we have been lead to believe is your run of the mill terrorist.
Dzhokhar is the more shocking and the more enigmatic to me. In many way, he just seemed to be around for the ride especially in the surveillance camera videos where Dzhokhar is walking around with his hat on backwards. After the bombing, he seemed to have pretended to lead his life as if nothing had happened. (My favorite post bombing tweet is I’m a stress free kind of guy.) On the other hand, Dzhokhar did try to commit suicide by shooting himself in the mouth.
I want to put one or both of them is pre-explained slots, to find a pattern, and they don’t fit very well. Neither quite fits as Jose Padilla or Dylan Klebold. And maybe that is the pattern. People say that All politics is local, maybe everything is local. Maybe the only person that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev closely resembles is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
One comparison that I did find interesting was Andrew Sullivan‘s comparison – on Padilla vs Tsarnaev; Bush vs Obama – in which Sullivan said:
The first US citizen, Jose Padilla, was captured on US soil, detained without formal charges, accused of plotting a dirty bomb, and then brutally tortured until he was a human wreck. Eventually, the dirty bomb charges were dropped in the legal process. And there was a serious question about whether, after such brutal torture and isolation, he had been psychologically brutalized by his own government to the point of insanity.
Tsarnaev, in contrast, was formally charged this morning, will be tried in a civilian court, go through due process, and face a weight of evidence against him.
This is why we elected Obama. To bring America back. To defend this country without betraying its core principles.
I like to think that this is true. I like to think that today we are acting from a more reasonable, less panicky state of mind today.