Evil Knows No Creed
By Hasan Zillur Rahim
As the identities of the Boston bombing suspects became known, I found myself remembering a movie called “The Ghost and the Darkness.” It is set in Tsavo, Kenya, during the building of the African Uganda-Mombasa Railway in 1898. A pair of diabolical lions spread terror in the region. Locals have named them The Ghost and The Darkness for the savagery with which they kill the workers. When hunters John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) and Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) enter their den, they find human skulls arranged like trophies. That’s when they realize these are no ordinary lions. These are lions that kill for fun and sport.
The Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, are, of course, no fearless lions. They are crude cowards who converted their cowardice into savagery by working in pairs. It is possible that the 26-year old Tamerlan was a master manipulator and the mastermind of the attacks but even if that is the case, 19-year old Dzhokhar was a willing accomplice. That makes both equally guilty of the terror they created on a glorious spring day when Bostonians were out in droves to celebrate the city’s iconic event.
Much is being made about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s six-month long visit to Russia’s troubled province of Dagestan in March 2012 and the time he spent in the Caspian Sea city of Makhachkala. Was he radicalized during his visit? Was he in contact with terrorists who filled his head with ideas about creating mayhem in America? Was he planted as a cell in Boston, to strike when the city was at its most vulnerable, to maximize death and destruction?
Although we may never know Tamerlan’s motive, it is becoming increasingly clear that the brothers acted alone. They did what they did because these “nobodies” and “losers” (as their uncle called them and he was right on target) wanted to “redeem” themselves through acts of brutality. Shocking details of how the brothers went about their usual activities after the bombing are emerging only now. A mere five hours after exploding bombs at the Monday Marathon, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was posting messages on Twitter while his elder sibling returned to his wife and daughter at Cambridge, relaxed enough to even make a trip to the supermarket! Only people who have completely lost their sense of right and wrong and have flung themselves headlong into pure evil could have acted with such normalcy.
The wounded Dzhokhar has indicated from his hospital bed that he and his brother acted to “defend the honor of Islam” and to avenge the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Please, give us a break! Two alienated and aimless psychopaths wanted to give meaning to their empty lives by committing heinous crimes and then the surviving criminal immediately tries to tie the motivation to a higher cause! This is utter nonsense. The Imam of the Boston Islamic Institute and the executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, for instance, have refused burial services for Tamerlan Tsarnaev. “I don’t care who or what these criminals claim to be, but I can never recognize these criminals as part of my city or my faith community,” said Yusuf Vali of the Cultural Center.
America will no doubt move heaven and earth to find a connection between the brothers and one or more foreign terror groups but I hope people in charge of the investigation will not clutch at straws.
For American Muslims, the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers came as a double blow. First, they killed innocent Americans, and second, they gave Islam a bad name and shamed Muslims. I promised myself after the 9/11 attacks that I will not suffer any guilt if a fanatic commits crimes in the name of my faith. Yet, as soon as the Boston marathon story broke, I prayed, “Please God, don’t let it be a Muslim!”
Within forty-eight hours, my hopes were dashed.
But as I came to grips with the Boston massacre, I also sensed that my resolve not to feel any guilt, though shaken, is slowly strengthening. No one can carry the burden of another. If I were privy to the inner thoughts of the Tsarnaev brothers, I would certainly have contacted the authorities. It would have been both my right and my responsibility. But since I did not know the brothers and what they were planning to do, there is no reason why I should feel guilty for their action, even if they claimed to be Muslims or acting in the name of Islam.
I will, however, protest the insidious suggestion of some commentators that becoming more religious (becoming more observant with respect to, say, prayers or visiting mosques) is akin to becoming radicalized. Sure, if the so-called believer begins to act in a hostile manner and indulges in hate-mongering, authorities must be informed. But “becoming religious” is not synonymous with “becoming radicalized.” Consider this: In the same week of the Marathon massacre, an Imam in Toronto, Canada, reported a congregant to the police after he found him behaving strangely. It foiled an attack apparently organized by Al-Qaida. “But for the Muslim community’s intervention,” said an official of Canada’s counter-terrorism unit, “we may not have had the success.” This also points out an important difference between the law enforcement agencies of Canada and the United States. In spite of what the FBI or the CIA says, the truth is that these organizations have chosen to keep America’s Muslim organizations at arm’s length, often treating them with suspicion. This has to change if we want to remain true to America’s founding ideals and make America safer.
So what should American Muslims do? At the Friday Jumah prayers of the South Bay Islamic Association of San Jose that I attend, Imam Tahir Anwar offered some excellent advice. Don’t apologize to anyone for the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, he said. And make sure you do something good every day for your family, for your neighbors, for your communities, and for the society at large. The horrific headlines will disappear and normal life will soon resume but little acts of kindness done every day can add up and go a long way toward showing Americans how much American Muslims care for America.
American Muslims from all walks of life have voiced their heartfelt sympathy for the Boston victims in spite of the insinuations of people like Peter King and Pamela Geller. As for the Tsarnaev brothers, the only thing we need to know about them is that they made a Faustian bargain. And the bargain they made was with themselves.
SEE ALSO: American Muslims respond to Boston Marathon bombing (with a list of articles) http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/americans-respond-to-boston-marathon-bombings/0019758