The Paradoxes of the Boston Bombings

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media


A certain American (or for that matter Westernized) resident or citizen — usually male, almost always young, born a Muslim, prone to guilt over temporary secularization or Westernization, as often (or more so) from Pakistan, a Russian Islamic province, the Balkans, Iran, the Philippines, or Africa as from the Arab Middle East, usually failing in American society, always absorbed within American popular culture and guilty over such absorption — at some moment channels his own sense of failure into radical Islam. He seeks some sort of cosmic resonance and redemption for his own personal inadequacies. Presto, a pathetic loser [1] becomes a wannabe bin Laden jihadist, as murder becomes cause for publicity.

The would-be Times Square bomber, Major Hasan, those who killed Jews in Los Angeles and Seattle, and the Salt Lake City shopping-center killer find empowerment in the laxity and tolerance of American culture that seems to grant unlimited rights to the newcomer or second-generation without commensurate responsibilities about learning — and learning to love — the culture and history of their adopted country. We don’t call these killers “terrorists.” We claim that they have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. And yet they give proof that a post-9/11 Islamism energizes their violence — and sometimes enables it by contacts and training [2].

Holy Struggle?

Like it or not, two  half-educated and young killers, at the expense of a few hundred dollars and one dead, with very little capital, shut down an entire city, committed mass mayhem, ruined the lives of hundreds, destroyed the Boston Marathon, and cost the city billions of dollars. But for the chance scans of video cameras, the Tsarnaevs might well have let off more bombs and turned their terror of a day into far greater mayhem of a week. That lesson is not lost on jihadists. To the degree they can enthuse another Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Chechnya or reach a Major Hasan at a mosque or on the Internet, they will continue. I expect more al-Qaedism.

Drones, fairly or not, are now branded as a convenient way to kill a few hundred terrorist suspects without bothering the American people, but they also put us to sleep about radical Islam by making it out of sight, out of mind. The next phases of the war will probably be fought on American soil, waged by al-Qaedists rather than al-Qaeda. Video cameras and good police work may prevent some terrorism. But ultimately we need to change the landscape of the American mind, and try honesty instead of therapy [3] about the nature of the danger.

I would also look very carefully at immigration policy. Is America so short of manpower that we need a Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his brother, his mother, or his father in the United States?

Would not more frequent denial into the U.S. prompt more respect for America than does near pro forma entry? Would not the free use of words like “terrorism” and “Islamist” again convey better the image of a confident society that cares not what jihadists or their supporters think than does worry over offending those who hate us?

Unless we drop the therapeutic and embrace the tragic, we are looking at a lot more Bostons — and sooner than we think. We caricatured George Bush’s “dead or alive” crudity, but for purposes of defeating the Islamists it beatsJohn Brennan’s sermons [4] such as “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one’s community.”

I fear in the next weeks we will be reading commentary [5] on the Boston bombing from the Left emphasizing the brutalizing effects [6] of America upon immigrants,  our failure to offer the necessary psychological and material support to victims like the Tsarnaevs, and in general how we in redneck fashion blame-game defenseless immigrants — all in between lectures about drawing false inferences about radical Islam.

The Art of Bomb-making

One does not learn to set off bombs successfully by downloading information from the Internet. I can fix my dryer through the help of web-based blueprints, but would not even try if there were a chance that the job would blow me up. Tamerlan Tsarnaev needed to be taught the do’s and don’t’s of assembling even a so-called crude bomb. Most likely, he obtained that expertise firsthand. He required some practice in letting a device off, if the two pressure cookers were to work at the marathon. Tamerlan Tsarnaev acquired such information either during his return home or from an experienced terrorist inside the U.S. If the latter, brace yourselves for more to come in the ensuing weeks, unless the FBI knows more than do we. Al-Qaedism is a sort of sudden snap to attention, when a zealot decides to act out against the perceived corruption and crimes of his generous host and discovers that there are all sorts of resources out there to help him live his dreams.

The Tsarnaev Reactions

I understand the horror of learning that one’s child is a cold-hearted killer. I admire the Tsarnaev uncle for stressing the need of his nephew to apologize to the victims. But the reactions of the father, the mother, and the aunt are prima facie evidence for relief that the former two are now gone from the U.S., and the latter should be. We are collectively tired of guests trashing the culture that accepted them, blaming their own problems as parents vaguely on the U.S. or some unnamed dark forces, or simply denying when overwhelming evidence makes clear their children’s responsibility for mass mayhem.  America is not yet a socialist paradise, and those who come here do so fully warned.

The Character of the Two Tsarnaevs — and the Notion of “I Can’t Believe…”

I am not so struck by the glowing testimonials from fellow teenagers and twenty-somethings about the two monstrous Tsarnaevs, to the effect that they seemed great guys. Such is the power of anecdote and emotion over reasoned empiricism in the young untrained mind.

The stranger fact is the adult media’s gullible reporting of these impressions as if they were somehow significant, as if superficial impression is the key to understanding an ideology that drives behavior. The following caricature reflects how one of the present therapeutic society might remark on the death of Adolf Hitler. “I don’t quite understand his violent side. He was a man who simply loved children — certainly he fawned upon the Goebbels kids. He inquired about the health and welfare of his chauffer and valet, and no boss was more considerate of his secretaries. Hitler’s dogs were his pride and joy; I never saw a kinder and more gentler master. Eva Braun simply lit up at his presence. His conversations at dinner were witty, lively, and polite. He gave up almost everything for Germany. And while he seemed troubled at times, I always attributed it to the horrors of the trenches. None of us can quite judge him, or even know what it was like for a young man to be subject to what Hitler endured — only to be unemployed, shamed, and ignored upon returning to a defeated Austria and Germany. It just makes no sense that such a seemingly kind person could commit such horrors. I still can’t quite believe it.” [7]

Do we care whether a man who placed a bomb full of ball bearings next to an eight-year-old boy and blew apart dozens of innocents was nice to his peers? Let us at least hope that the killer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not to be known as “unduly influenced by his brother,” “fully American,” “coerced to become violent,” “brain-washed,” and “young and impressionable.”

Incompetence or Political Correctness?

Why give asylum to folk such as the Tsarnaevs if many of these endangered “refugees” eventually return to live in, or to visit, the supposedly hostile place that was the basis for their origin claims on our asylum?

Is being in Russia a death sentence, or sort of dangerous, or now safe, or, in fact, preferable to the country they “saved” them? Ditto other “refugees” from the Minnesota Somalis to the Aunt Zeituni (formerly of illegal status and violator of statutes of public assistance extended to illegal aliens) and Uncle Onyango (violator of asylum status and charged with DUI). Cannot most “refugees” from war-torn Islamic regions who claim that continued residence in their homeland constitutes a danger to their lives, which only residence in the United States can preclude, forfeit residence status should they return to visit their homelands?

How exactly can a resident alien be summarily (as in right away?) deported these days? By shoplifting $1,600 worth of merchandise? By committing domestic violence against a far weaker spouse, as the trained boxer Tamerlan Tsarnaev did? By remaining for years on public assistance?  By earning visit from the FBI?

What does it require for the FBI to take a foreign national down to headquarters for extensive inquiry, investigation, and possible deportation? A warning from a foreign intelligence agency? Proof on social networks and blogs of admiration for jihad against the U.S? A strange six-month visit to Islamic enclaves in the war-torn regions of Russia?

Dick Cheney’s Ghost?

The Obama administration may well suspend Miranda-rights privileges for the surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at least for a day or two. There are some arguments for declaring Tsarnaev an enemy combatant, at least strategically and initially to glean information about whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had help either in Chechnya or the U.S. or both — while perhaps agreeing not to use the subsequent information in a formal federal or state murder trial (the proof of his murdering is unimpeachable and conviction is certain without a word from the defendant).

Here is a question though for proponents of declaring him an enemy combatant: What if young Dzhokhar refuses to cooperate? Does the military, CIA, or Eric Holder use “coercive techniques,” “loud music,” a trip to Guantanamo,the waterboard? Would then we read something like, “President Obama was forced to use, albeit with careful legal oversight, a Bush-Cheney holdover protocol in order to protect women and people of color from Caucasian terrorists, energized by right-wing nationalism and religious fundamentalism”?

Note in this regard that Barack Obama in 2008 made the comprehensive argument that the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols of 2002-2003 were both unnecessary and unlawful. Such critique was easy for a senator or candidate without the responsibility to keep 300 million secure from another 9/11 attack. But Obama’s critique, damaging at the time to the global prestige of the U.S. and detrimental to the reputation of the Bush administration, was partisan and without much principle. I say that carefully and on the following grounds. Under a President Obama, Guantanamo was kept open. Renditions and tribunals continue. Drone operations (to include U.S. citizens) were vastly expanded at ten times the frequency during the Bush presidency. A civilian trial of KSM was abandoned despite two years of large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Promised trials for waterboarders were dropped. The supposedly failed surge soon led to one of the administration’s”greatest achievements.”

What are we left with? One: a lot of public-relations damage to the U.S. by its own self-interested critics, who later dropped civil libertarian worries when one of their own admitted the efficacy and apparent legality of the very protocols he had demagogued.

Two: four years were poorly invested in a failed alternate paradigm — “overseas contingency operations,” “workplace violence,” “man-caused disasters,” worries over losing the Army “diversity program,” and restrictions on the use of “terror,” or “jihadist,” or “Islamic terror,” or “Islamist.”

I don’t think we are going to hear as much that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely a secular organization, that Benghazi was just a spontaneous demonstration, or that jihad is a holy struggle and a legitimate tenet of Islam. Not euphemism, not “George Bush did it,” not the president’s middle name or his Nobel Peace Prize, not “leading from behind” will endear the United States to radical Islam. These were the luxury of a complacency achieved by earlier vigilance. The effect of multicultural euphemism will be either nugatory or counterproductive, in sending the message that a therapeutic society prefers to be liked rather than feared, a prescription for endangering the innocent at the expense of elites’ self-satisfied morality.

Bottom line?

Both we and our enemies have changed strategies since 9/11. I fear that radical Islamists are becoming more insidious and we more complacent and predictable. After this horrid week, I don’t think the residents of Boston worried that we were too illiberal in our asylum policies, that the FBI is over-zealous in tracking suspected Islamists, that Bostonians needed more gun-control laws [8] to keep them safe in their individual homes as killers roamed a city under lockdown, that jihad is simply a legitimate tenet of Islam, that America is too brutalizing of immigrants, or that we need to curb promiscuous use of hurtful words like “terrorism.”


URLs in this post:

[1] a pathetic loser:

[2] by contacts and training:

[3] instead of therapy:

[4] John Brennan’s sermons:

[5] reading commentary:

[6] the brutalizing effects:

[7] I still can’t quite believe it.”:

[8] needed more gun-control laws:

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