Doctrine, Disaffection and Violence
The news is full of stories of the FBI and others “scrambling” for clues to understand the motivation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the chief Boston Bomber. So far we know that he was unsuccessful as a boxer, married, a father, unemployed and a follower of “radical Islam.”
Patriot Gone Awry
Tsarnaev’s trajectory has been charted before in the form of Timothy McVeigh. Some details are different but the essentials remain the same. McVeigh, too, ultimately failed in his goals as a soldier, becoming both unemployed and a wanderer. He also embraced an ultra radical doctrine of gun rights and the “Patriot Movement” that included a strong anti-federal government component. McVeigh quit the NRA because it was not sufficiently radical. He was very intelligent, with an IQ well above average.
Of course, the normal recourse to a professional setback or personal failure is to try again or select another path. Tsarnaev and McVeigh instead opted for rigid apocalyptic doctrines that oddly channeled failures as mundane as perceived sexual or relationship inadequacy or employment problems into scenarios involving the federal government.
McVeigh was in Waco during the seige, traveling there to express his outrage and support. He also went to Area 51 in New Mexico and to Gulfport, Mississippi, to investigate “government conspiracies.”
Grounded in Grozny?
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s earlier path is both obscured and partially explained by his Chechen origins and his exposure to a terrorist culture grounded there in their “no holds barred” fight with the Russians in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic. Chechens were heavily involved in the 2004 Beslan, North Ossetia, hostage taking at a school where 380 people, many of them young children, were killed.
Tsarnaev went to Chechnya and Dagestan last year and it was there that his full embrace of Anti-US and radical Islamic doctrine apparently began.
In the case of both McVeigh and Tsarnaev, personal failures resulted in terminal disaffection and the subsequent decision to cast their fate with violent radicals. It must have been seductive and empowering to once again have both purpose and a clear path. In fact, committing to a moral ideology, with or without a religious component, is in part how most people chart their lives. But, in their case, the operative component was violence.
Personal failure and disaffection are part of the human condition. And, being a radical is neither negative nor criminal. It is the descent into violence and terror that sets them apart.
The Role of Foriegn Policy and War
McVeigh and Tsarnaev both refer to wars as at least partial explanations for their violence. McVeigh to the First Gulf War where he served and Tsarnaev to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some writers have suggested that Tsarnaev’s war reference is really hatred at the Russians for their Chechen adventures so that anti-Russian sentiment morphs into anti-American sentiment, surely an irony of some proportion.
McVeigh taunted the US in his writings suggesting that they had done much more than he: “Remember Dresden? How about Hanoi? Tripoli? Baghdad? What about the big ones — Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” His characterization of US military actions as essentially state-sponsored terrorism against civilians speaks for itself.
Is American foreign policy and the wars which result at least the partial pretense for terrorism here? The answer would seem to be a resounding yes, at least according to the perpetrators of Oklahoma City, 9/11 and Boston.
Democracy and Terror
What sets McVeigh and Tsarnaev apart from Bin Laden is their grounding in American culture and democratic institutions, as fallible as they can be. And, youthful disaffection which descends into terror is deeply disconcerting.
Doctrines of violence and hate (KKK, Westboro, skinheads, etc.) will be with us always but when they serve as a beacon calling the young and disaffected, perhaps it is time to pause and ponder.