Friday, April 19, 2013

Yes, the Marathon Bombers ARE "One of Us"

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Today, I am in lockdown in my apartment in Cambridge, just a few blocks from where the suspects lived. There are helicopters circling overhead, and a constant stream of sirens in the streets. My Facebook feed is open and awash with news. They found the two who did it, allegedly. One is dead, and one is on the run.

I spent most of this week nauseous and emotionally exhausted thinking about the Marathon bombing. Everyone I know wanted to know who did it and why, as though putting a face, a name, and some sort of manifesto to the act would make this tragedy make any more sense.

I hoped they would be Americans. They were not. They were a pair of Islamic Chechen brothers who'd gone to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a local high school. One was twenty-six. One was only nineteen.

I'm listening to interviews with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends, family, classmates, coaches, and teachers. Of course, they are all shocked. They were such normal boys, they say. One was "a sweetheart," according to a former teacher. Their uncle, in heartbreakingly broken English, says he can't believe his nephews could be involved in "such terrible thing." This is to be expected. When someone you know turns out to be a murderer, the usual response is, "But they were so normal."

When a murderer is someone you don't know, on the other hand, the usual response is to point out how different they are from you. One of my Facebook friends posted a link to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's (probably fake--but it doesn't matter) twitter feed, laughing about how suddenly silent it was, with hashtags that were something like #freak #seewhereyourfilthymoralsleadyou. Another one posted a long status about how the "terrorists"** were "NOT one of us. They are NOT our neighbors. They are NOT our friends. They do NOT share our memories, our celebrations of Life, our cohesiveness in the face of unspeakable tragedy, nor any other of our ups or downs. They are NOT you, they are NOT me."

The thing is, they are. The reason this is so unsettling is because we know that really, these men were not so different from us. Any one of us could have made a bomb (there are instructions online, for godsake), carried it to the finish line in a backpack, and set it off. Any one of us could chose to channel our negative emotions into violence. We have all been hurt. We have all felt lonely and scared and desperate. Many of us have probably fantasized about hurting others, emotionally or physically. I know I have. When I was in middle school a couple years before Columbine, I wrote a long poem about coming back to my class reunion and shooting everyone. It was satirical, sure, but satire is just an exaggeration of what's really there.

Almost everyone I know has joked, at one point or another, about bombing the building of a job that fired them, shooting a person who cheated them or disagrees with their ideology, or setting fire to an old school. Yes, these are jokes, but they are funny because we all have a part inside of us that wants to react to our own hurt by hurting others.

The bombers made a terrible choice. It was a choice that killed innocent people, hurt many more, and caused fear and sadness in the lives of countless others. However, just as the bombers had the choice in how to channel their own pain and suffering, we now have the choice in how we will react.

I could have done this. You could have done this. The only thing that makes us "different" from the bombers is that we have chosen not to react to our anger with violence. I make that choice every second of every day, and so do you.

Now our choices are how we're going to move forward. Are we going to let this incident increase racism and fear in our country, or are we going rise above it? We get to choose, starting now.

**I wish we could not use the word "terrorism" around the bombing, especially until we know more. No matter what the dictionary definition says, because of how it's been used for the past twelve years, the word suggests that the bombers were acting in accordance with a larger group, and, since the suspects happen to be Islamic, it encourages the othering of all Muslims, and the idea of an evil, global, Islamic conspiracy. Please, chose your words carefully.


Simon Hawkin said...

I will choose my words carefully: you are one confused person.

You will grow, I am sure, because you have the mindset of a person who works on herself and strives to evolve. But, I have to say, the need to grow is striking.

Jade Sylvan said...

I seek to grow constantly.

Slow and Low said...

Simon: what a dick thing to say. To me this article is stressing how we choose to act and react to bad situations. Exercising empathy and compassion as opposed to fear and racism seems like a worthwhile thing to write about in times like these. I'm not really sure what you're trying to say here, but it's insulting to say the least.

Stephanie said...

Hear hear, Jade! Until we recognize the painful emotions that we are all subject to, and understand how they affect every person, and learn to be compassionate with the parts of ourselves that experience the same things as are experienced by people who actually perform acts of cruelty and revenge, we will never be able to accept all members of our shared human condition and be able to provide them the help and resources that allow them to move beyond acts of hate into acts of love and compassion.

The work of Brene Brown, "The Gifts of Imperfection," and Pema Chodron, "The Wisdom of No Escape," are two very good examples of understanding this concept.

marstheinfomage said...

While it is well-written, I don't necessarily agree with all the stated points. There is a very big gulf between being able to joke about blowing up a school and actually doing it (hell, just try to graphically visualizing it!) And this was clearly not a spur-of-the-moment decision, where you can blame extraneous factors - it required considerable preparation, and was clearly planned.

So yes, they are your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. But no, they are not "like us". Not because they are Muslim*, or any number of other things, but because they did what most *normal* people would find literally inconceivable.

*Also, I can't find hard facts to back this up, but it *does* look like Muslims intentionally blow up civilians with considerably more frequency than anyone else - but this is just as likely to be selection bias by the media, so I will leave that part out of the argument for the moment.

VKB said...

Jade, thanks for writing this.

I've been bracing myself for rhetoric of the "those evil people, they're not like us, let's destroy them" variety. I've been deeply relieved that most of what I'm hearing is not that.

I, too, find it important to note that people who do horrible things are still "one of us", still part of humanity, and not because I'm trying to be "nice" or "good" by expressing empathy, but rather because I have found it to be way more practical and productive way as a way to grow, heal, move forward.

Alex B. said...

*sorry if this posts twice, tried to post earlier but it didn't work*

@marstheinfomage: This comment demonstrates just how powerful media bias is, which in turn is one reason why blog posts like this one are so important. In fact, FBI data in 2011 showed that in the 10 years after 9/11, domestic terror plots involving non-Muslims outnumbered those by Muslims nearly 2-to-1:

To make matters worse, Republican senators and right-wing media outlets responded so vehemently to the idea that there could even BE right-wing (non-Muslim) domestic terrorism that DHS gutted its office investigating domestic terrorism:

It's no wonder so many of us are uninformed about the state of domestic terror in the US when this is how the media "serve" the citizens. It's also small wonder that we are sometimes so unprepared for attacks that do come.

om. said...

Jade! I have to confess that I wrote a blog post in part in response to your blog post, though I'm not citing you as a source of the position I'm more or less arguing against (they're "one of us") because that's not what I think is most important (and wonderful and unique) in your post.

Basically, it seems clear that the boys didn't consider themselves "one of us," and this is significant.

Cheers from Los Angeles!

DK said...

Some of the assumptions you appear to be" making appear to be incorrect if we look deeper.

JJ Goldberg is one of my favorite leftist intellectuals...he noted,

"The fact that the brothers are ethnic Chechens is critical. It’s probably important, too, that they spent most of their lives growing up outside the boundaries of Chechnya. It seems pretty clear that the brothers were raised to value their Chechen identity as central to their sense of self. And yet they were strangers to Chechnya. Even before they came to America in 2003, they lived mostly in nearby Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan, both of them Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics, where the Tsarnaevs were part of an outsider ethnic-Chechen minority. So while the brothers reportedly felt like outsiders in America—claimed they didn’t have American friends, didn’t “understand Americans,” even after living here a full decade—they were also outsiders to Chechnya. They belonged to both, and yet neither.

Read more:"