The two Boston bombers were born in Dagestan and despite their alleged grievance over the treatment of Chechens, never lived there. For law enforcement officials and counter-terror experts this radical view that inspired their heinous act is a conundrum. Even President Obama asked plaintively, “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence?”
Their relatives have expressed anguished bafflement. Some have suggested these young men had divided loyalties. Are they Muslim first or American? Others speculate that they came under the spell of an Australian cleric. Still others refer to tribal codes based on revenge for U.S. counter-terrorism strikes. Add feelings of guilt and frustration and there appears to be a combustible mix. But is any of this more than mere speculation?
Both brothers enrolled in college – the elder brother at Bunker Hill Community College, though he dropped out; the younger at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. The elder, Tamerlan, was a Golden Glove boxer and was married with a child. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, was a popular student at a Cambridge school and was given a scholarship to attend college.
By any reasonable standard both were doing well. They had the privileges of American life. Whether they appreciated these privileges is another question. Like the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, who became the leading advocate of jihad against the West, an educational exchange program developed into a revulsion of American life. Similarly, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, spent four years studying in North Carolina.
Is it possible that American educational institutions directly or inadvertently create the seeds of extremist behavior? After all the drumbeat of anti-American sentiment is ubiquitous at campuses across the country. To read the major textbooks on American history, one imbibes the view the U.S. is a colonial nation with an imperial drive to influence the world. Moreover, the government has systematically exploited Indians and minorities and, encouraged class hatred and the concentration of power in the hands of the privileged.
Why would one want to defend such a nation? And perhaps, one might go further in a desire to destroy such a nation. The radical critique has its validated moments, but it is a story told without nuance or balance. Achievement has been put on the backburner; there isn’t any sense in confusing intellectual consumers.
Frankly this position is also a theory. There isn’t any way of knowing whether American schools radicalize some students. Yet it is as plausible a theory as any other.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev once said, “I don’t have a single American friend.” Is that because no one wanted to befriend him or because he chose to distance himself from Americans? Radical Islam, embraced by these brothers, does provide an identity for lost souls; it also allows for the manifestation of indignation.
For these lost souls filled with hate, the justification of their action is war. The U.S. kills Muslims; hence Muslims should kill Americans. The fact that the U.S. spent blood and treasure to save Muslims from slaughter in the Balkans merely confuses the narrative.
If American liberty and the many gifts of American life cannot lead to acceptance at the very least and assimilation at best, it must be asked if separation is the answer. And if not separation, than a careful examination of what the American experience is all about for those who adopt this land as their new home.
Radicals in the Islamic world from Khomeni in Iran to Nazzar in Lebanon have declared war against the United States and the West. In this war recruits are sought. The Tsarnaev brothers fell into this category. There will be others. Since this is a war, it is high time we learned to defend ourselves by asking what we do to encourage radical sentiment and behavior in our own backyard.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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