Column: Radicals, Fervor and Isms
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has indicated that he and his brother, , acted alone and that they are not affiliated with any terrorist groups. He also told authorities that his brother masterminded the attacks, that they learned how to make bombs on the internet, and that they were motivated by religious fervor. The war on terrorism will never be the same, and that is a good thing.
First, let’s get our isms straight. People with precious little understanding of the geography and history of the Caucasus region have been speculating in the comments sections on news sites that the suspected bombers Russian homeland means that they were communists.
The Tsarnaev family is from Chechnya, one of the Muslim areas in Russia that wanted its independence after the Soviet Union crumbled. Chechens were never satisfied with the Soviet Union, specifically because communist teachings sought an end to religion. Chechnya tried to break away in the confusion of the Soviet collapse, but underestimated the Russian resolve to hold onto as much of Caucasus region as possible due to its economic value.
During the conflict in the nineties, the Tsarnaev family fled Chechnya and floated between other Muslim countries in the Caucasus and other Muslim provinces in Russia. Make no mistake, the Tsarnaevs may speak Russian, but they not ethnically Russian. There are some holdover communists in Russia today, but they are senior citizens who thought the pension plans were a lot better under the old system. Being young, Chechen Muslims that chose to seek asylum in the United States, you can take it to the bank that Communism had nothing to do with the suspected bombers motives.
The ism that matters here is Islamic radicalism. Of course, it could turn out to be the case that Dzhokhar is lying and that they weren’t acting alone, but if he is telling the truth, we are not going to be able to effectively prosecute the war on terrorism by focusing specifically on groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaida any longer.
Any radical, be they Christian, Muslim or anarchist, can find detailed information on how to build bombs on the internet. There was probably some local significance in the suspected bombers’ choice of targeting the marathon on Patriots day, but that kind of attack could have had the same devastating effect on any crowd, anywhere, on any day.
It seems that Tamerlan became much more fervent in his Islamic views in 2010 in part because of his feelings of general alienation and persecution of Muslims in the US. There is no effective way of preventing every angry young man from becoming radicalized and finding an excuse in whatever their belief system may be that they think justifies killing innocents to make a point. We can’t stop radicalism from happening.
What can be done is what was done in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Just as the amount of potentially explosive fertilizer someone can buy is now regulated, purchasing the necessary bomb making ingredients as listed on various internet sites can be controlled and put in a database for law enforcement.
If pharmacies need to see your id in order for you to purchase over the counter allergy medications, there is no good reason why you shouldn’t have to do the same when buying large amounts of ball bearings, BBs, and gunpowder. After all, who really needs more than one pressure cooker? Or the arsenal of guns and ammo that the brothers amassed, for that matter?
It is remarkable that for the last dozen years politicians who profess to be so concerned about terrorism have been so focused on Islamic radicalism abroad that they forgot about the homegrown Christian terrorists like McVeigh and the abortion clinic bombers.
If in the words of the Tsarnaevs’ uncle any “loser” can be radicalized and become a terrorist, then ending terrorism needs to become more than just a military effort in the Middle East. Maybe now that we have had a wholly domestic case of Islamic radicalism in action, we can get more focused on what the anti-terrorist effort should have been all along; a law enforcement effort focused on keeping weapons and weapon making materials out of the hands of radicals of all stripes.