Boston bombings and a Muslim identity crisis
The Tsarnaev brothers had a jumbled identity. I know, because I also had one as a Muslim immigrant to the United States. The challenge of the Boston bombings is for Muslim communities and law enforcement to help create a generation of Muslims with an American identity.
Perry Hall, Md.
We have seen the pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers. We know their names, and we are learning facts about their lives – one a boxer, and the other a student. But we still don’t really know their identity.Skip to next paragraph
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And neither did the brothers, as they allegedly planted those bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last week.
Or at least, that’s what my experience as an immigrant tells me. What the Tsarnaev brothers very likely had was a jumbled-up mass of conflicted identities, making them vulnerable to militant religious ideology. You can wait for the FBI to release their complete psychological profiles to believe that they had a conflicted identity, but I won’t.
Because I had one.
Almost two decades ago, I, too, landed in America with components of a conflicted identity. Let’s see. Where should I start? Immigrant? Check. Muslim? Check. Young male? Check. Anti-war? Check. Socially isolated? Check.
But there was a key difference: I was taught from childhood that jihad in these times means a personal struggle, not a holy war. I belong to an organized and educated worldwide Muslim community that professes, “Love for all. Hatred for none.”
In 2009, Tamerlan – the elder brother and an accomplished amateur boxer – hoped to compete for the US Olympic team. Last week, he was killed in a shootout with Boston police. In 2012, Dzhokhar – the younger brother and a college student – became a naturalized US citizen. Last Friday night, he was a captured traitor being transported to a hospital as jubilant residents of Watertown, Mass., chanted “USA, USA.”
Officials say Dzhokhar has indicated the brothers acted from hard-line Islamic beliefs and anger over the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A tweet from Dzhokhar hinted at his feelings of alienation among even his fellow Muslims: “Brothers at the mosque either think I’m a convert or that I’m from Algeria or Syria, just the other day a guy asked me how I came to Islam.” Most Chechens are Muslims.
A plethora of online clerics – who typically want someone’s else’s son to earn paradise by setting off explosives – live to recruit young, disillusioned Muslim men.
By juxtaposing the gruesome images of the “collateral damage” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine with out-of-context verses from the Quran, they infuse such religious fervor that gradually a disillusioned man who didn’t have a single American friend – as Tamerlan once said – musters enough courage to make 300 million American enemies. He falls for the illusion of a cause, a community, and an identity.