David Remnick, writing at The New Yorker has a very interesting article about “The Brothers Tsarnaev” (and yes, we all appreciated the little Dostoyevsky reference there). It’s interesting at two levels. At the first level, the beginning is an elegant piece of journalism that looks at the region and at Chechens, and acknowledges the region is distinctly Islamic and prone to blowing people up (although the word “Beslan” never appears). Remnick also writes about the boys themselves, noting the mixture of shallowness and venom that characterizes them. I was quite impressed. By George, I thought, I think he’s getting it. Maybe this liberal is having a reality moment.
But sadly, it was not to be. He just couldn’t hang on to enlightenment by the time he got past the first half. There was the reflexive drift towards “banality,” which James Taranto eviscerated so effectively. By the third paragraph from the end, Remnick was blaming social media for the brothers’ killing spree. I’ll agree that social media probably facilitates evil’s spread, but the evil is the particular brand of Islam the boys followed, and that seems to have been a gift to them from Chechen connections and their local radicalized mosque. Facebook was a tool, not a cause.
The second paragraph from the end spoke about their loving families, and how we should feel sympathy for them. The aunts and uncles who disavow the evil and speak of America . . . yes, I guess. The Mom who screams about conspiracies — well, she could be in denial, which is a mom thing; she could be as evil as her sons; or she could be right. As for the Dad, Remnick couldn’t resist a little selective editing. Feel pity for Daddy he writes, because Daddy loved his boys: “The father described Dzhokhar as an ‘angel.’” Somehow Remnick forgot the rest of Daddy’s quote, where he said that, if Dzhokhar died, “all hell would break loose.”
And then, in the final paragraph, Remnick finally gets to his point — it’s the fault of both America and the internet:
The Tsarnaev family had been battered by history before—by empire and the strife of displacement, by exile and emigration. Asylum in a bright new land proved little comfort. When Anzor fell sick, a few years ago, he resolved to return to the Caucasus; he could not imagine dying in America. He had travelled halfway around the world from the harrowed land of his ancestors, but something had drawn him back. The American dream wasn’t for everyone. What they could not anticipate was the abysmal fate of their sons, lives destroyed in a terror of their own making. The digital era allows no asylum from extremism, let alone from the toxic combination of high-minded zealotry and the curdled disappointments of young men. A decade in America already, I want out.
Funnily enough, in all those paragraphs, even though Remnick could acknowledge that the boys were Muslims, he could not make himself acknowledge that Islam is the core problem. Everything else is window-dressing.