The Psyche Of The Jihadist

What’s really striking to me as a psychological matter is how mellow and sweet Djohar Tsarnaev seemed to his friends. What’s also striking is how both assimilated and yet not assimilated both brothers appear. Their peers are expressing utter disbelief. From one of the captions on Tamerlan’s boxing photo-essay:

Tamerlan says he doesn’t drink or smoke anymore: “God said no alcohol.” A muslim, he says: “There are Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 11.27.05 AMno values anymore,” and worries that “people can’t control themselves.”

Tamerlan says he doesn’t usually take his shirt off so girls don’t get bad ideas: “I’m very religious.”

Tamerlan says he loves the movie “Borat,” even though some of the jokes are a bit too much.

If he wins enough fights there, Tamerlan says he could be selected for the US Olympic team and be naturalized American. Unless his native Chechnya becomes independent, Tamerlan says he would rather compete for the United States than for Russia.

The only suggestion that this is connected to international terrorism is from the shooting and explosive tactics used by the Tsarnaev brothers last night. That may have required some kind of training. But the testimonies from those who knew Djohar – including credible sources like a former teacher-friend of his – suggest nothing of the kind. “There is no way in the world …” is the general reaction. “Nothing in his behavior or comportment; he was a great athlete, a great sportsman … a typical kid.” A former teacher: “This is beyond unbelievable.”

But notice the sexual prudery that is sometimes found among Jihadists: “There are no values anymore” … “People can’t control themselves.” And the Amazon wish-list suggests a very careful and radicalized mindset. But it also feels geeky and loner-y and webby to me. You don’t need formal training to become a Jihadist. You just need the Internet.

This is a reminder that we live in a new world: where the Internet can give people ideas, can turn mellow stoners into paranoid mass-murderers. And a reminder that we live in the same world. You never truly know what’s going on inside the minds of others.