Above: the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerian on right) immediately before the bombs went off
There’s something thoroughly distasteful about the way elements of both left and right attempt to use terrorist incidents to bolster their predetermined agendas. Fox News (etc) will immediately point the finger at Islamists. Socialist Worker (UK) and their ilk will respond by reminding us that it’s not always Islamists who do these things, usually name-checking Timothy McVeigh and/or Anders Behring Breivik and concentrating upon the dangers of “Islamophobia.” As far as I’m aware, the “blowback” explanation/justification for terrorism is the exclusive preserve of a certain kind of leftist but I may even be wrong about that.
So I’m not about to draw sweeping conclusions from the revelation (to be aired on BBC Panorama tonight) that one of the (suspected) Boston bombers was simultaneously a militant Islamist and a subscriber to publications espousing white supremacy and anti-government conspiracy theories.
According to the BBC, Tamerian Tsarnaev possessed articles arguing that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing were US government conspiracies, and another on “the rape of our gun rights.”
He also possessed material condemning US drone attacks and the plight of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
I opened by criticising those who use terrorist outrages to justify a simplistic political agenda, so I’ll try to avoid doing that myself. The motives of the Tsarnaev brothers are not obvious, and mental health may well be a factor. They were not members of any Islamist network. As ethnic Chechens, they spent their early years in a troubled and violent region. In the US, Tamerian lived a relatively comfortable and apparently conventional life, but seems to have become a militant Islamist when his boxing ambitions were frustrated due to his lack of citizenship.
The BBC quotes a friend of the brothers, saying: “He (Tamerian) just didn’t like America. He felt like America was just basically attacking all Middle Eastern countries…you know, trying to take their oil.”
And on the all-important (but too often overlooked) distinction between Islam and Islamism, it’s worth noting the words of Nicole Mossalam, spokesperson for the mosque that Tamerian occasionally visited:
“As far as connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity .. all these were pretty much lacking.
“I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience.”
* Panorama – ‘The Brothers who Bombed Boston’ will be screened tonight, Monday 5 August on BBC One and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.