A New Type of Hybrid Terror (Part 1): All-American Sons
Early Friday morning, right after midnight, I was putting the finishing touches on an article detailing the potential psychology behind violence, masculinity, and power embodied by male terrorists. Sitting on the couch next to one of my childhood friends, we watched, transfixed as reports came in of gunfire at MIT, an officer shot down, explosions in Watertown, Massachusetts.
For nearly a week, America speculated about who the Boston Bombers were. Some threw despicably racist slanders and insinuations on their twitter feeds. Others embodied the sentiments of everyone’s favourite questionable uncle, Rush Limbaugh; accusing liberals of perpetuating media propaganda of right winged radical assaults. Still others started conspiracy theories about the government’s involvement in the matter.
With the identification of the two young suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- one now dead and the other taken into custody -- CNN, CBS, and many other news outlets repeatedly planted the seed that these brothers were not American. They were Chechen. They were immigrants. And they were Muslim. They were the "other."
David Sirota wrote a compelling piece earlier this week for Slate online, Lets hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American. Dave charismatically argues,
“…white male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated/targeted for those shootings — even though most (mass murders) come at the hands of white dudes.”
Dave makes an insightful and critical case as to the way American society formulates its understanding of group association in regards to terrorist attacks.
Plainly speaking, if the terrorist is white, American society conceptualizes the terrorist as a lone wolf. We ignore the terrorist’s affiliation with other groups, political ideologies, or spiritual beliefs. That lone wolf terrorist was a fluke, a radical, and a special case.
The article makes a powerful argument about America’s social association of terrorism and grouping. On Friday, our media did nothing but perpetuate this association, or at the very least, make suggestions that will lead to "othering."
Media reported on the brothers' fundamentalist Islamic practice, with stories about the elder brother, Tamerlan, a successful boxer who immigrated five years ago , who was open about his Muslim beliefs, gave up alcohol and smoking, and believed that people had lost their values. Even Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnev’s own uncle portrayed these young men’s actions as potentially stemming from their inability to fit into American culture.
But if you ask any of Dzhokhar’s friends, he was one of the guys. More than that: Both of these boys were more than just one of the guys, they were your All-American sons.
26-year-old Tamerlan was a two-time Golden Glove champion, who was asked multiple times to go pro and fight in Vegas. The younger, Dzhokhar came of age in America over the course of the last ten years. He attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the same prestigious high school Ben Affleck and Matt Damon attended in Boston. He received a City Scholarship. He was described by Robin Young, Boston radio journalist;
“a beautiful young man…. My nephew was a dear fend of his. ... People just love him. We had a prom party a couple years ago ... he was beautiful in his tuxedo. ... Just recently my nephew and he were texting each other about going to a Super Bowl game. No one can believe that it's this young man.”
This is not the narrative of a young religious radical rejected from American culture. As a star athlete, a promising student, and second-year University of Massachusetts University student, Dzhokhar is anything but a deviant from the norm. He is exceptionally above the norm.
Not having a way to categorize the motives behind these acts of terror is scary. It’s scary because this type of terrorism may cross the tightly confined understandings we harbour.
It's petrifying because if these suspects really are the culprits behind the bombings, and they do carry both radical religious sentiments and All-American credentials, than we might have to reformulate an altogether new understanding of terrorism that goes far beyond what we understand now.
It is scary because we may have to admit to ourselves that domestic acts of terrorism and international terrorism have more in common than we want to believe.
Most unsettling, is that we must understand that we cannot categorize. That we must live with the uncomfortable fact that all we know is what we don’t know. And we may not know for a while. And that is a scary place for America.