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The Boston Marathon Bombing and the Dangers of a Bored Society

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The American public now knows the identity of the Boston marathon bombing suspects. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was a former boxer and Chechnyan immigrant, radicalized in the United States by an Islamist mentor. He turned against the West in liberal Cambridge, Mass. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was a pot-loving college student at the University of Massachusetts.


Last Friday, Tamerlan was killed during a shootout with police after his brother reportedly ran him over with a car. Dzhokhar was captured hours later hiding in a boat. Few who knew Tamerlan seemed surprised at the news that he had masterminded the bombings of the Boston Marathon. "Of course I was shocked and surprised that he was Suspect No. 1," said Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of Tamerlan's sister, Ailina. "But after a few hours of thinking about it, I thought it could be possible that he did it."

The story was different with Dzhokhar. "He was so chill ... It's just the last person I expected," said Zach Jamous, a junior at the college. "Completely shocked." Elton Jhon Da Graca, another University of Massachusetts student, said that Dzhokhar was "The calmest kid ever ... Never in a million years would I suspect."

The media immediately leapt to the explanation that Dzhokhar was brainwashed by the more charismatic and fiery Tamerlan. ABC News reported that Dzhokhar's "teen brain" may have led to the bombing -- he was suspectible to his brother, unable to resist him in some way. David Remnick, New Yorker editor, wrote, "Tamerlan maybe felt like he didn't belong, and he might have brainwashed Dzhokhar into some radical view that twisted things in the Koran."


Assume that is correct. Who is more dangerous: Tamerlan or Dzhokhar?

The easy answer is Tamerlan. After all, it was Tamerlan who supposedly planned the event, led the Islamist charge and convinced his brother to participate.

But it's not that easy.

Tamerlan was evil; he believed in an utterly evil ideology. But he believed in something. What did Dzhokhar believe in? So far, there are fewer clues than with Tamerlan. He undoubtedly sympathized with his big brother's Islamism. But at the same time, he was generally described as a good buddy, a directionless loser with slipping grades, a successful high school athlete who had peaked.

In other words, it looks like Dzhokhar was bored, rudderless and without a moral compass. He fell in with his brother. He bought into his evil. And he murdered Americans.

This is a far more disturbing story than Tamerlan's. Angry young men like Tamerlan can be radicalized relatively easily -- it happens throughout the world, particularly in Muslim countries, where young men often find pride and identity in radicalism.

But for Americans, the problem of boredom looms larger. Boredom combined with amorality can lead to murder.

How many teenagers like Dzhokhar become gang members out of sheer nihilism? How many commit crimes because they lose touch with a sense of morality? How many losers are just waiting for their Tamerlan -- somebody to infuse them with a sense of purpose, no matter how evil the purpose?


Human beings want something in which to believe. They will fill that void however they must. But in a civilization where Western values have been derided for generations as xenophobic and intolerant, it becomes impossible to fill that void. When navel-gazing faces down passion -- even evil and misguided passion -- passion wins. Pride -- even pride in evil -- defeats multicultural angst.

No matter how difficult it is to accept, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not created by xenophobia or hate. He was created by a culture unwilling to defend itself, and he was seduced by an aggressively evil philosophy. Unless America finds the strength to defend her values, there may be many more Dzhokhars in our future.

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