Painful Questions

Unknown-1How do we talk about the Boston marathon murders in a way that acknowledges the suffering and the evil, yet also places them within the broader perspective of suffering and evil that the human race has experienced, and is currently experiencing, on a far too frequent basis? I think this is an essential task that will take a lot of sensitivity and careful reflection.

Unfortunately, all too often it feels like there’s a zone of silence erected around these terrorist acts against Americans, and you push through this psychological barrier at your own peril. The silence hurts us all. There are so many legitimate questions we need to ask, publicly, without fear of censure or damaging accusations of anti-Americanism.

Let me be clear: I’m as horrified as everyone else by the killings and maimings; my heart aches for the victims and their loved ones; and I understand the symbolic significance of this kind of attack. I also agree with the consensus that this was an attack on the nation itself. I recognize that such attacks tear at the fabric of our cultural and historic values.

 We all want to know why and how the Tsarnaev brothers did the terrible things they are accused of doing. We need this information to prevent future attacks and to punish the perpetrators. Yes. Yes. But… or perhaps I should say “And” – I have other questions that need answers, too, and I want to be able to pose them without hurting the victims and their families or being accused of being anti-American merely for asking them.

For example,

  • I want to know how we’ve reached a place in our political discourse where a group of respected, long-serving senators can propose prosecuting a U.S. citizen, whose crimes (still alleged, I feel obliged to note) were committed on U.S. soil, as an enemy combatant?
  • I want to know what, in broad terms, is the imminent threat that prevents us from reading Dzokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. I want to know if Jared Loughner and John Holmes were read their Miranda rights and, if they were, what level of proof was needed to be satisfied in their cases that they were acting alone and hadn’t planned additional, imminent attacks that would have merited waiving Miranda rights?
  • It’s being said that the Tsarnaev brothers were culturally and legally “from” both America and Chechnya. In fact, the majority of post-9/11 attacks (such as the London bombings in 2005) were similarly ‘semi-homegrown’ episodes carried out by people who were raised in, or citizens of, the pluralistic countries they attacked and not explicitly connected to larger, international terror networks. I want to know how in the future we will we decide who is and isn’t “one of us”? And how will that determination affect how we respond to acts of mass violence?  How will it influence how we prosecute a crime, the penalty we seek, and the surrounding cultural and political issues we choose to emphasize?
  • What kind of conditions are necessary to try a federal death penalty case in a non-death penalty state? Since this case will be prosecuted at the federal, not state, level; and since Massachusetts does not allow the death penalty, I want to know who will make the decision to seek the death penalty, as is widely assumed will be done, and how. Usually (but not always) the feds will defer to the states if the latter prohibit executions.
  • The Boston marathon bombings have been repeatedly described this week as the “worst attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.” This may come as news to the victims and citizens of Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; and Newtown, CT. I want to know when – if ever –  we will have an honest discussion about the kinds of mass homicide we and our elected officials are/are not willing to tolerate as the price of democracy. What kinds of mass homicide merit infringements on civil liberties? Which ones do not? Is there a scenario where we would shut down a city to find the perpetrator of a different kind of mass homicide, such as the Newtown attack on an American elementary school, arguably an equally potent symbol of our values?

I hope we can all keep asking questions with sensitivity, of course, but without fear or shame. One of the American values I cherish most deeply is the right and obligation to question.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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10 Responses to Painful Questions

  1. Dear Erika,

    I will only tackle the question about how pain and suffering impacted these boys themselves and how America may have been a place that further gave them pain and suffering on some psychic or social level. I don’t know anything about the suppression of Miranda rights nor do I want to delve into that. One of the problems in America is that we don’t get all the news from abroad. So, Americans are left with bits and pieces of what certain media want to report and other bits they suppress, perhaps, to shut down discourse from happening, to suppress all the facts in order to quell unwanted social anger or to try and prevent a panic or backlash, perhaps a copycat crime. I don’t know. But, what I have noticed living in America is that when someone is angry or upset another person tries to get them out of the anger immediately instead of trying to get to the bottom of the anger. This happens on a smaller level when a child is upset and they get a cookie or happy meal. It’s like “Just shut the kid up will you? I can’t stand the crying” and I think on a larger social level this is what we do to each other. When someone is angry it is uncomfortable. Anger is uncomfortable and people are afraid of it so they quell it as soon as they can, especially in discourse. So, we need to stop doing that. We need to start accepting that anger will be uncomfortable from someone’s mouth and stop trying to give them the proverbial “happy meal” as if the clause in the U.S. Constitution “the right to pursuit of happiness” is all we are about. Which is shallow. And I find quite a deep rooted problem in America. As if you are supposed to be happy 24-7. Another illusion. Like Cinderella, Disney, being a Princess, and a bunch of fantasies we have been fed and continue to perpetuate. These young Chechen boys, Tamerian and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were raised in violence most of their lives. The part of Russia they lived in has been plagued with war. So, this has been their upbringing. They have only lived in the United States for about 10 years. Which means all their formative years were immersed in terror themselves. Constant war and fighting and violence. This had to have affected them. So, they get to America and what do they do? The try to fit in. One of the boys said, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t get these people” and why would he when most of his classmates were raised in a happy go lucky life with happy meals while he was raised in violence? So, coming from Chechniya, which is war torn, and has an element of Jihadists, and has training camps, and we know, the elder went back for 6 months recently, probably radicalized, I believe, they “acted out” in frustration, their pent up rage and their own culture. Another thing we have to be honest about in America is the fact that SOME of these Muslims are acting out jihad, are being radicalized here, in America, in mosques, because the preaching is in Arabic, and most Americans are not paying attention, Imam Choudray of the big mosque in London was a huge factor in 9/11, you can see his rants on You Tube and we know, that in prison, young African American men are turning to a type of Islam which is radicalizing them, in American prisons, and we don’t know what they will look like on the outside when they supposedly return to “Normal” in society as if they can once out of prison. So, we don’t talk about that either for fear of cries of “racism” and other factors. So, there is silence. Because no one wants to be called a religious bigot or racist in America and if you even bring up such things as Islam you are shouted down. Hence, no discourse. As for the law, an American citizen who lives in America is under it. A student on a visa. A person with a green card. Is under American law. If I was in Saudi Arabia I would be subject to the law of the land. So, there are people here with no respect for American law and they don’t care. yet, they benefit from American society, schools, social clubs, health care and so forth. Yet disdain America for its foreign policy or past wrongs. And plan attacks. Or just act out. This causes suffering and evil. These boys grew up in suffering and evil. Then perpetrated more. What could have been done in the 10 years they were here playing sports and attending school? I don’t know. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t “feel” American. They didn’t have one single friend. They already felt alienated. Perhaps we should look at how SHALLOW American society is on the FRIENDSHIP scale? I am not the only person who has felt or believes that the American social fiber is extremely lacking in depth and that friendship can be extremely utilitarian in America. Whereas in other countries people take it more seriously. These are just some of my thoughts on the subject. Have a good day. Love, Liz+

  2. An Uncomfortable Article: “Bush Attorney General: It was Jihad”

    The Boston Marathon bombings were unmistakably a jihadist act, says former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. But the Obama administration has disbanded the CIA interrogation group charged with investigating these plots, leaving America more vulnerable than ever to future threats.

    Those who feel the only threat from brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been eliminated now that one is dead and the other is in custody for the rest of his life can rest easy, Mukasey writes in an op-ed piece published in The Wall Street Journal Sunday.

    “But if your concern is over the larger threat that inheres in who the Tsarnaev brothers were and are, what they did, and what they represent, then worry — a lot.”

    One big worry, Mukasey notes, is how the High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) will even do its job.

    The group was formed by the FBI after the so-called “underwear bomber” was Mirandized in 2009. President Barack Obama had disbanded the CIA interrogation program that might have run the interrogation of the bomber. The two programs aren’t even remotely similar in their tactics and goals, suggests Mukasey, who served in the Bush administration from 2007 to 2009.

    The FBI has “bowdlerized” its training materials at the request of such Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations (the very controversial CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America, writes Mukasey. They no longer even mention references to militant Islamism.

    “Does this delicacy infect the FBI’s interrogation group as well?” he asks in the op-ed, entitled “Make No Mistake, It Was Jihad.”

    “Will we see another performance like the Army’s after-action report following Maj. Nidal Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood in November 2009, preceded by his shout ‘allahu akhbar’ — a report that spoke nothing of militant Islam but referred to the incident as ‘workplace violence’?

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  3. Violence Begets Violence

    Apr 20, 12:26 AM EDT


    During a long night of violence Thursday and into Friday, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded another lawman and hurled explosives at police in a desperate getaway attempt, authorities said.

    The two men were identified by authorities and relatives as ethnic Chechens from southern Russia who had been in the U.S. for about a decade and were believed to be living in Cambridge, just outside Boston. But investigators gave no details on the motive for the attack.

    Chechnya has been the scene of two wars between Russian forces and separatists since 1994, in which tens of thousands were killed in heavy Russian bombing. That spawned an Islamic insurgency that has carried out deadly bombings in Russia and the region, although not in the West.

    The older brother had strong political views about the United States, said Albrecht Ammon, 18, a downstairs-apartment neighbor in Cambridge. Ammon quoted Tsarnaev as saying that the U.S. uses the Bible as “an excuse for invading other countries.”

    Also, the FBI interviewed the older brother at the request of a foreign government in 2011, and nothing derogatory was found, according to a federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Exactly how the long night of crime began was unclear. But police said the brothers carjacked a man in a Mercedes-Benz in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, then released him unharmed at a gas station.

    They also shot to death a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, 26-year-old Sean Collier, while he was responding to a report of a disturbance, investigators said.

    The search for the Mercedes led to a chase that ended in Watertown, where authorities said the suspects threw explosive devices from the car and exchanged gunfire with police. A transit police officer, 33-year-old Richard Donohue, was shot and critically wounded, authorities said.The brothers had built an arsenal of pipe bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices and used some of the weapons in trying to make their getaway, said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev had studied accounting as a part-time student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston for three semesters from 2006 to 2008, the school said.

    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was registered as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Students said he was on campus this week after the Boston Marathon bombing. The campus closed down Friday along with colleges around the Boston area.

    The men’s father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said in a telephone interview with AP from the Russian city of Makhachkala that his younger son, Dzhokhar, is “a true angel.” He said his son was studying medicine.


  4. Hi Liz,
    Thanks very much for your comment. This brings me back to the “Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide” column I wrote last summer at that made people so furious. We have a very dangerous silence around trying to understand why people (young men, especially) do these heinous acts and we need to dig more deeply and figure out the root causes. I agree that they were raised in a culture and geography of extreme violence and radicalism, and I’m not sure Americans really understand that. The only aspect of your comment that I would tweak is that the younger suspect, Dzokhar, really DID appear to have American friends and to be connected. (Because we live in Cambridge and have two sons the same age, we know a lot of people who knew and liked him. I suspect to three Harvard students last night he said he was a fun, great guy.) But I suspect — and this is pure conjecture but based on some firsthand reports – that Dzohar, was, indeed, a “nicer” personality (and he was of course seven years younger and so more assimilated to American culture) than the older guy who sounded not only radicalized but just in some more basic way much more of an a-hole, personality-wise.

    However, I think this is a critical issue we have to try to unpack: I can imagine that there was truly unbearable stress and confusion in being, by all reports, a ‘nice’ normal American kid and ALSO having to fit into a family and culture of increasing radicalization, hatred, and lack of reason (his mother apparently insisted that 9/11 was a U.S. government plot to make Americans hate Muslims). I’m not saying all or even most teenagers trying to balance these two extremes would become violent murderers. But we’d be foolish to discount this factor, especially since, increasingly, so many of these terrorist acts have been committed by people who were living in the U.S. or Europe and spanning two cultural identities. Notwithstanding the recent insane (and dangerous) attempt to designate the Tsarnaev brothers “enemy combatants,” the worst terrorist acts and foiled plots of late have been hatched by “locals” and I see no reason to think this won’t continue to be the case. What a world we live in. But let’s not forget our society has seen dramatic decreases in violent crime over the last four decades, even though it does’t appear that way. We have the lowest national murder rate since the 1960s. (I have to latch on to something positive this week!)

    You have a good day, too!

  5. Hi Erika,

    I don’t think that Americans understand boys like these raised abroad in violence. And, I am not sure they want to understand. Did I say “shallow” enough in my former post? I think that it takes an extraordinary American person to actually sit down with someone like these boys and listen to their hurting hearts and pain. who has the time Erika? We are all going so FAST and personally, I think we are becoming desensitized to each other, callous, cold, unfeeling, harsh, and a whole lot of ugly. I try during my work hours as a clerk to slow down my transactions long enough to make eye contact. To say hello and more than that. But people are moving so fast these days! They throw their money down on the counter and they are out the store! OH my. What is the hurry? Our society is becoming meaner and inhumane on some level I don’t remember as a kid growing up in 1958. Things were slower and I remember sitting around in the living room while adults talked and had coffee and cookies. Do adults still do that? Do they still play music in parlors after dinner? Well, concerning family: the younger brother seems to have had friends but I think he was influenced unduly by the older brother who appears to have been more alienated and more violent but brothers are thick and family loyalty is stronger than anything. Concerning “nicer” personality I have been fooled by that way too many times. The quiet one. The loner. Then they find the bodies under the porch. I wish I was not so cynical but “nice” has not always worked out for me ya know? I remember the other night a woman who was “nice” at the counter and then I could not give her everything she asked for. Not so “nice” after that. Steely eyed. Smiling through clenched jaw. “Nice” is subjective. This goes back to America wanting everything to be “comfortable” and I think people do walk around pretending, suppressing, true feelings and anger and then it always blows like a powder keg. Seen that scenario way too many times in family and relationships. But, the person who is constantly “out there” with their anger is usually avoided as well. What is the balance then? Can we be angry sometimes without being labeled an angry person? If you are always “nice” are you really a “nice” person? I wish “nice” would be stricken from the list of descriptions for humans because it isn’t true. No one can be “nice” and I am deeply suspect of someone who is so. If someone doesn’t at least occasionally burst out in an angry fit I am deeply distrustful of that person. Because it is not emotionally normal to be “nice” all the time. Anger is a normal human emotion. We need to let it come out in safe ways and maybe we should all work on that? Because my experience has shown the “nice” person blows like a geiser at some point and spills crude dirty oil on everyone. Blessings, Liz+

  6. Lizzie Yang says:

    Reblogged this on think blink* sync and commented:
    keep talking about it!

  7. Drop the Victim Mentality Act by Dr. Zhudi Jasser

    Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a conservative author, activist and the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), has a message for Muslim Americans: Step up to the plate and work diligently to combat Islamism and extremism. Jasser spoke with TheBlaze this week about his reaction to the Boston Marathon terror attack and his views on steps that should be taken within Islamic circles to prevent further extremism.

    When asked how he believes Muslims should be reacting to the terror attacks, the faith leader noted that he has been disappointed by the response thus far. He claimed that many Islamic leaders have simply not done enough and that more is required of the community as a whole.

    “Swift condemnations of the act of terrorism are just not enough. I don’t believe that the American public is buying their mantra of denial and victimization,” he told TheBlaze through e-mail. “They deny that the perpetrators were Muslim (basically committing ‘takfir’ as is typical for Islamists) — all the while the list of hundreds of American Muslims either attempting to commit or having committed acts of terrorism continues to pile up.”

    Jasser took particular aim at those Muslim leaders who he believes “focus on their own victimization, patronizingly reminding the rest of America not to be ‘racists’ [or] ‘bigots.’” The conservative Muslim leader said that it is time for faith leaders to confront the issues that so-often lead to radicalization.

    Rather than avoiding the discussion and claiming victimization, Jasser believes that it’s paramount for these leaders to figure out what’s separating some Muslim youths from Americanism and leading them “toward supremacist Islamism” — and he wants to address these phenomena.

    “There is a deep soulful battle of identity raging within the Muslim consciousness domestically and abroad between Westernism and liberalism,” he said. “In essence the Islamists confront every situation in a selfish ‘we are the victims’ mentality and the rest of us non-Islamist Muslims need to instead respond with a louder and more real leadership and say: ‘We will not be victims.’”

    Jasser also noted that those who embrace the Muslim faith should openly acknowledge that the radicalisation problem requires believers to tackle the issue from within — and that Muslims who embrace reform are the most essential to preventing future attacks.

    By all accounts, Jasser practices what he preaches. Through AIFD, he seeks to educate Muslims and non-Muslims, alike, in an effort to prevent extremism.

  8. Tamerian Tsarnaev Considered Likely Suspect in Triple Murder Involving Jewish

    On Sept. 12, 2011, the bodies of three men were found in a Waltham, Mass. apartment with their throats slit in a horrific triple murder. One of those victims was reportedly the late Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s only American friend. Now, police in a Boston suburb are investigating whether Tsarnaev perpetrated the attack.

    It has also come to light that one of the victims was an active member of his Jewish synagogue and another was a graduate of the predominantly Jewish Brandeis University, according to WCVB

    Tsarnaev’s friend, Brendan Mess, was found murdered in his Waltham, Massachusetts apartment the day after the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, alongside Erik Weissman and Raphael Teken. All three of the men’s throats had been slit, their bodies reportedly cut and covered in marijuana.

    While some reports on the slaying noted Mess’s friendship with Tsarnaev, it was not revealed until recently that two of the victims were likely Jewish.

    “We are looking at a possible connection with the suspect in the marathon atrocity and this active and open homicide in Waltham,” Stephanie Guyotte, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex County District Attorney, confirmed to ABC News.

  9. Eyewitness To Watertown Gun Battle with Boston Marathon Bombers

    One of the few eyewitnesses to the pre-dawn police shootout between the Boston bombing suspects and police delivered a chilling and very raw account of the drama in a surprise call Friday morning to SiriusXM’s Opie & Anthony radio show.

    The hosts seemed very skeptical at first (they get more than their fair share of prank callers), but as “Mike from Watertown” continued to relate what he saw — with some very specific details not yet heard or seen on the news — both Opie and Anthony felt that his story was not only legit, it was one of the very few eye-witness accounts.

    Here are some of the incredible comments from the Watertown, Mass. resident:

    ”The sergeant was yelling — “Get down, get down!” “He’s got a bag of grenades! He’s got f**kin’ grenades!” “There’s a live ordnance on the streets!”

    Apparently the police engaged in two different gun battles. “One on my neighbor’s side yard, and one right in front of my house….between obviously each brother and different cops.”

    “Cops were shooting hundreds of rounds.”

    Confirming what many have speculated about, the first bomber suspect was not dead when his brother (bomber suspect #2) ran him over. As the still-excited Mike from Watertown explained:

    “The older brother got shot out front…he went down, the cops ran up to him, hit him in the face with a MagLight because he won’t stop movin.”
    “The told him, ‘don’t move, don’t move…or we’re gonna shoot you in the f**king head.”

    “They were both over him (two of the police officers) and the SUV came speeding down the street, going like 60-80 miles and hour…and the cops jumped right at the nick of time and he f**king ran his brother over.”
    “It was a black SUV, it was like 2 in the morning, it was right in front of my house!”
    “Saw him get run over, dragged him like 30 feet. He was a mangled mess. His pool of blood is right in front of my pickup.”

    Gregg “Opie” Hughes pressed Mike , asking him if he witnessed any grenades actually going off. He continued:

    “Absolutely, absolutely. I saw two small ones and one big one, right in my neighbor’s yard.”
    “My truck probably has bullet holes in it.”
    “The second guy, who got away, was shooting it out with the cops. I guess they didn’t hit him. He yelled something, yelled something at the cop and threw some bigger explosive device. Big f**king orange fireball in the air.
    “And then the Bomb Squad came in and picked up the unexploded ordnances.”

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