Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unknown Unknowns

(Click on image to enlarge and then waddle on back.)

David Horsey is a bit naive in this column, even more naive than I am.  The shift from college student to terrorist under our way of thinking is really not as simple as Horsey seems to be suggesting.

It’s not hard to concoct a scenario for Tamerlan that ends with a bombing. But Dzokhar?

Seven years younger than Tamerlan, Dzokhar came to the U.S. when he was 8 years old. Recently, he became a citizen. In between, he lived a relatively normal American life.

He was a successful student and competed on his high school wrestling team. He had many friends. Those friends say he was upbeat, always smiling. He was enrolled at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. He lived in a dorm. He went to parties. He worked out at the gym.

To one teacher, he did express an interest in the troubled history of his distant family homeland, but he seems to have been happy living a well-adjusted American life.

How could Dzokhar have pivoted from that to the vicious act of which he is accused?

It is good that police were able to apprehend him alive. If and when he recovers from his serious wounds, Dzokhar may be able to enlighten us about his apparent turn to heartless violence. In the meantime, there will be plenty of speculation. ...

Dzokhar is 19 years old, an age when many young men act on impulse and sudden passions.

It is the age when boys trying to prove their manhood are easy to recruit. It may be to the military, it may be to religion, it may be to the brotherhood of a hard-drinking fraternity or it may be to a cause that promises them the chance to change the world.   [Emphasis added]

While, like David Horsey, I am interested in Dzokhar's motivation for the bombing, I am doubtful that a simple "phase of life" change is behind it.  I am also not certain that even if that is the case the reasoning will be particularly helpful to our understanding of just why this kind of incident can occur.

Echidne too is curious about the motivation, but also about the semantics we are using to discuss the case of the two brothers from Chechnya.

So.  At the time I write this we don't know what may have motivated the Tsarnaev brothers, in any case, but the flag of war has already been raised.   Even if the older brother had raised such a flag himself, taking that seriously would be a mistake.  It would give him (and any copycats) exactly the kind of martyrdom and glory they desire.  Being called a criminal is not glamorous.  It is also much closer to the truth.   [Emphasis added]

Echidne's entire post should be read because it makes a pretty solid case that the way we frame the issue clarifies the issue, or at least should.  An attack on our soil is terrorism.  Our attack (via drone, say) on another country's soil? Simply a rational attack to protect our interests.  This kind of analysis can be very useful because it makes how Dzokhar will be charged and will be treated part of the discourse.  It should also cause us to extend the analysis to our own behavior.

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