The worst appears over for the city of Boston as police arrested their final second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. He is 19 year-old Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a U.S. citizen of Chechen heritage. He’d taken refuge in a covered boat in a Watertown backyard. After another shootout, he was arrested and taken to a hospital for treatment. He’d been wounded in the earlier shootout that had killed his older brother, Tamerlan, yesterday.
Police did not read him his Miranda rights under what’s called a “public safety exception.” This allows authorities to delay offering suspects legal representation and delay warning them that they may incriminate themselves if they talk to police without a lawyer. The legal claim is that when there is an imminent threat of further injury to the public they may continue questioning a suspect in order to elicit information that may eliminate such a threat.
However, the question becomes–when do constitutionally-guaranteed rights kick in? Will they ever read him his rights? And will they attempt to use information he may offer them before being Mirandized in court to prosecute him? They surely will try. Now, the question becomes–are we so anesthetized that the courts will be prepared essentially to suspend civil rights to terror suspects, even if they’re citizens and commit their crimes on U.S. soil.
If so, this becomes a further expansion of the war on terror, bringing it all back home, so to speak. We’ve already “established” Obama may kill U.S. citizens in foreign countries without trial. We’ve established that he may arrest foreign citizens and hold them indefinitely without trial in Guantanamo. But we’ve yet to extend this to our own citizens on our home ground. That would truly be an “innovation.”
The younger brother, Dzhokhar, attended Boston’s most élite public high school, Boston Latin. There he was a star wrestler who had a broad social network of friends. He was quite popular and accepted.
As opposed to his older brother, who never acclimated to this country. Tamerlan’s one concession to normality seemed to be to marry and have a child. A Rhode Island woman, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam for him and had a child, Zahara, who is now three. My heart goes out to both of them. Especially this child, who will someday have to try to understand what her father did and why.
One has to ask the question: how does a father of a little baby commit such an act and in the process take the life of an 8 year-old boy? Doing so is literally insane. This moving tweet brought it home to me.
The impetus for the crime appears to have come from a trip that Tamerlan took with his father to Russia and the Caucuses in 2012. The boys were born in Kazakstan, though their family were refugees from war-torn Chechnya. They’d come to the U.S. as refugees a decade ago with the help of the father’s sister, who’d settled in Toronto.
Scott Shane has an instructive article in today’s Times about the precarious existece of Muslim immigrants who have their feet in both worlds–Old and New. The confusion, resentment and guilt adds special fuel to a life lived in the interstices between two cultures, fully comfortable in neither.
Russian intelligence seems to have done a far better job of vetting Tamerlan than our own FBI. When they discovered the boy intended to return to Russia, they asked the FBI to investigate him. The latter even went so far as to interview him personally in 2011. It claims it could find nothing incriminating in his background or activity. Thus, a golden opportunity to intervene and disrupt the blossoming of a future terrorist was lost.
Further, Tamerlan was convicted of assaulting his then-girl-friend in 2009 (she too had converted to Islam for his sake). He could have been deported at that time by U.S. authorities, which was the second opportunity to disrupt his budding terrorist future. This conviction seems also to have destroyed his hopes of pursuing a boxing career, which was the one constructive thing at which he excelled.
Tamerlan spent six months in Russia last year. His father claims his son spent most of his time with him in Dagestan and that they also visited relatives in Chechnya. Mr. Tsarnaev also claims his son did not consort with Islamists while there. Though that seems false. It’s doubtful Russian intelligence would’ve been concerned enough to report him to the FBI as a potential Islamist terrorist; and that Tamerlan would’ve gone on to commit this bombing–without having been “inspired” to do so by groups or individuals he met there.
There will be, and already is a concerted campaign by right-wingers to demonize all Muslims for this act. Islamic facilities have been vandalized in the past 24 hours. Twitter (which, by the way, proved a far more effective tool for learning about developments in this case than any mainstream media source) is brimming with such lunacy. Here’s but a single example:
@abou_charlie Islam has only killed 100 Million ppl in 1440 years. It’s practice today is a crime against humanity & against human biology
— Paul Andres Iniesta(@Paul_Andrez_TO) April 20, 2013
The truth is that Islam no more committed this crime or is culpable for it than Judaism is responsible for murdering Palestinians (or Jesus for that matter). Only very small minds would mistake the misguided, hateful acts of individuals for the beliefs of an entire religion. They’d also have to ignore efforts by the Muslim community to denounce such hate and violence.
Haaretz’s U.S. correspondent provides a further example of cluelessness on this score when he writes in the foolishly titled, Terror Wins and America Loses All Proportion:
If the purpose of terror is to frighten people and instill terror, and to impact governments and have a global impact, there is no doubt the pair of brothers succeeded beyond their rosiest dreams.
This isn’t at all what has happened. Boston is back to normal. Neither it nor America has been brought to its knees. There has been no precedent set that will entice others to try their hand at this. This sentiment is nothing but Israeli wishful thinking and misunderstanding of American society.
But there is an important lesson here that also is difficult for mono-culture westerners like most Americans to understand. That is, Muslims in places like Chechnya have suffered profoundly at the hands of Russia over the past 60 years, beginning with Stalin, who exiled most of them to Kazakstan during World War II, in the belief they’d collaborated with the Nazis.
Speaking of insular and geogrpahically-challenged Americans, we don’t seem to be able to distinguish between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, which forced the Czech ambassador in Washington to offer a quick media tutorial that went something like this: Chechnya=bad, Czech=good.
Yet another example of our cultural insensitivity can be seen in this Ali Abunimah tweet about NPR’s report that the Boston bombing was the first incident of domestic terror since 9/11. This conveniently omits numerous acts of terror committed by white supremacists like the attack on the Wisconsin Sikh temple, the murder of abortion doctor, George Tiller, etc. The moral here is that white Americans can’t be proper terrorists, but dark-skinned foreigners (even if U.S. citizens) can.
Returning to Chechen history, the suffering under Stalin was followed by two more decades of war with Russia in an effort to achieve independence. Putin supported a scorched earth second war that killed hundreds of thousands of Chechen civilians and left the country a ruin. He installed a warlord puppet who assassinates his enemies even in foreign countries with impunity. Both Russia and its puppet Kadyrov are beyond doubt guilty of serious war crimes.
Add to this, our own policies in the Middle East and Muslim lands: drone attacks, secret kill lists, unaccountable targeted killings, hundreds of civilian dead (including children). Though Russia has no more a sense of strategic engagement in Chechnya than we have in the Muslim world, at least it has spent billions to rebuild the country.
Our billions spent in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have had little or no impact on rebuilding those places or redeeming them from the ranks of failed states. In our drone attacks in these countries (along with Yemen and Somalia), we have no accompanying constructive policy. We shower them with missiles and expect that they will understand that we do it for the greater good of humanity. This might conceivably work if we had a complementary policy of constructive engagement in the Muslim world that offered a more positive message. But we don’t.
So while I find the Boston bombings to be repulsive acts of deranged minds, there is no doubt that they demonstrate in some measure the bankruptcy of our own approach in the Middle East. We offer Chechens like the Tsarnaev boys nothing but bullets and bombs. Do we expect them to thank us for it?
A final word on Twitter. I was on vacation when the bombing and its aftermath occurred. I didn’t have ready access to TV. So I happened upon my Twitter feed and discovered that tweeps were glued to the Boston police scanner and reporting every development as it occurred in real-time. Watertown residents were tweeting what they were hearing and seeing in their own backyards. The entire experience the night of the shootings was one of a Twitter community in which everyone was helping each other to understand, absorb and interpret the events.
CNN and other mainstream media outlets, which formerly used to make their livings and reputations off covering such breaking news stories, were out in the cold. They had a bunch of talking heads blathering on and on and saying nothing helpful or useful. It was all happening on Twitter. It reminds me of that song: Video Killed the Radio Star. In this case, social media (specifically Twitter) killed the cable star.