There are many nuances to the story of Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev – and there is no doubt that, like all human beings their acts were, as my shrink often unhelpfully puts it, “multi-determined.” And there is a huge amount to learn from the stoner kid who got caught up in his brother’s religious fanaticism. But Glenn Greenwald veers into left-liberal self-parody this morning:
The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven – from accused (but exonerated) anthrax attacker Stephen Hatfill to accused (but exonerated) Atlanta Olympic bomber Richard Jewell to dozens if not hundreds of Guantanamo detainees accused of being the “worst of the worst” but who were guilty of nothing – people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial.
But beyond that issue, even those assuming the guilt of the Tsarnaev brothers seem to have no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of “terrorism” in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tuscon and Columbine. All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism).
Legally, the case for the presumption of innocence is absolutely right. But come on.
The dramatic confrontation between Tamerlan and his imam began when the 26-year-old interrupted a solemn Friday prayer service three months ago. The imam had just offered up assassinated civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. as a fine example of a man to emulate – but this reportedly enraged Tamerlan.
‘You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!’ Muhammad recalled Tamerlan shouting, shocking others in attendance according to the LA Times. Kicked out of the mosque for his outrageous behavior, Tamerlan did return to the prayer service after his outburst according to Muhammad.
‘He’s crazy to me,’ said Muhammad. ‘He had an anger inside.… I can’t explain what was in his mind.’
This is from the Daily Mail – which is almost as unreliable as the New York Post – but the sourced quotes from his own imam seem legit. So we see perhaps the core of what is in front of our noses: this was not about Islam or being Muslim as such. Look at Tamerlan’s family and his own imam. They all saw a young man drifting into something far more extremist, fundamentalist and bigoted. His uncle saw it:
‘I was shocked when I heard his words, his phrases, when every other word he starts sticking in words of God. I question what he’s doing for work, (and) he claimed he would just put everything in the will of God.”
We see the sexual puritanism of the neurotically fundamentalist. We have his YouTube page and the comments he made in the photography portfolio. To state today that we really still have no idea what motivated him and that rushing toward the word Jihadist is some form of Islamophobia seems completely bizarre to me.
When will some understand how dangerous religious fundamentalism truly is? And when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism) will likely produce violence when its extremist loners seek meaning in a bewildering multicultural modern world? This was an act of Jihad. That does not mean we elevate it above crime; it means we understand the nature of the crime. It only makes sense in the context of immediate Paradise, combined with worldly fame. And those convinced of the glories of martyrdom – of going out with a bang – are the hardest of all to stop.
(Video: Introductory clip from the YouTube account of Tamerlan Tsarnaev)
Update from a reader:
In your recent post about the issue of religious extremism and the alleged acts of terror by the Tsarnaev brothers, you said: “But does Glenn wonder why Tamerlan thought it was ok to beat his wife, whom he demanded convert to Islam?” Just a quick fact-check query. The coverage I seemed to recall reading and hearing indicated that although the elder brother, Tamerlan, was charged in some kind of domestic violence incident, as I understand the facts, it was for something he did to a former girlfriend who is NOT his current wife. And separately, as I understand the reporting, he did in fact push and convince his current wife to convert to Islam when they married, but it appears that that was not concurrent with domestic violence against her.