What we know about Tamerlan Tsarnaev is that he was (a) Muslim and (b) enraged about something. Was he enraged, a la Sayyid Qutb, about the sexual libertinism of American culture? Was he enraged about perceived American support for Russia against Chechen rebels? Was he enraged about American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Was he acting on orders from a foreign terrorist group?
We don’t know yet. Yes, there’s plainly evidence of his growing Islamic extremism over the past three years. But if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last week, it’s that jumping to conclusions on this stuff is foolish.
This is high-minded nonsense. We know full well that Tamerlan had become a total extremist in his religion. He was thrown out of his own mosque for being a bigot; his family complained about his obsessive religiosity; he berated others for not being sufficiently devout; he had archaic notions of women’s role in society; he gave up his beloved boxing because of Islam. His YouTube account is full of Islamist extremism. And he deployed terrorist violence because of it.
That’s Jihad, Kevin. It’s religion in its most toxic form – as the AP finally acknowledged last night.
Friedersdorf writes that, if forced “to bet right now on this case, I’d put my money on the jihadist explanation too.” But he agrees with Drum:
Since 9/11, there have been numerous instances in which jumping to conclusions based on imperfect information caused damage. Think of all the people who confidently insisted on the obviousness of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill’s guilt, or Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, or the notion that all Guantanamo Bay prisoners were “the worst of the worst.” Has any harm ever been caused by a War on Terror pundit’s stubborn insistence on delaying judgement?
Yes, the information is imperfect. Yes, if all of this is some kind of set-up, I may have to recant. And I have always said that personal and psychological dynamics are obviously part of the picture, as they are with any crime. But just as silly as jumping to conclusions prematurely is the posture of aloof skepticism when the bleeding obvious is staring right at you. This was religious violence – the most terrifying any can be, because its perpetrators believe that God Almighty is protecting them.
And, to make an obvious but often overlooked point: here is a core difference between diagnosing Jihad and responding to it Cheney-style. You can do one without the other.