Tamerlan Tsarnaev: beyond the Obvious? ((Looking for Root Causes)

A question being asked these days, following the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings, is this: what happened to lead these two young men, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who had called America home for a decade, to turn so violently against her and her citizens? The obvious assumption would be, of course, conversion to a radical Islamist ideology. But behind that conversion, more specifically, at what point is an opening found through which to recruit a young man or woman into such an agenda? Why is it that he or she becomes susceptible to such a thing? And what could be done now to possibly short-circuit such an event in a future incident? These are not questions that have not already been considered; watching a special presentation of CBS’ “48 Hours”, aired the Saturday night after this horrible, horrible event shattered so many lives, I glimpsed a possible clue or two, I think.

  The father had very high expectations for his son.”

(Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s aunt, Maret Tsarnaev)

Anzor Tsarnaev was tough, a championship boxer back home, and he wanted his oldest boy to be tough too.  (link)

The Tsarnaev family gained political asylum in the U.S. just over a decade ago, escaping from the war-torn areas of Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan. They had managed to move to Chechnya from that turbulent area years before, but were eventually forced back.

They arrived in Boston in April, 2002.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers, began boxing shortly after their arrival in America. Tamerlan “registered with USA Boxing, the governing body for Olympic-style boxing and consistently rose through the ranks.” (link)  He represented New England in the Golden Gloves competition in 2009 and 2010.  In fact,  he won awards for his prowess in the sport.  According to reports (1)  http://www.bu.edu/com/comment/library/downloads/2010_comment.pdf, (2), Tamerlan had wanted to represent the United States in the Olympics boxing events, hoping to gain citizenship by being selected for the U.S. Olympic team. Despite being “In that weight division…probably one of the best out of New England,” according to gym owner Kendrick Ball, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was disqualified from entering the Olympics in 2010 because of complaints that non-U.S. citizens should not be allowed to compete.


Anzor Tsarnaev, Tamerlan’s father, seems to have been instrumental in developing Tamerlan’s drive to engage in boxing activities. He “would ride his bicycle as his son Tamerlan jogged to a Boston-area boxing gym, pushing him to run faster, to punch harder.” and “…make him run for miles.”  (link)


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has stated that the brothers grew up in America, therefore the roots to this tragedy should be sought in America.


In some of the articles I’ve read, the term ‘disenfranchised’ has appeared as part of the description of young recruits to radical Islamic organizations.  This term denotes being dispossessed of certain privileges or rights pertaining to citizenship. Something a person should have, they don’t. Learning about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, I wonder if a variation on that meaning could be applied to him.
The media has painted a picture of a Chechen family living in sometimes brutal conditions amidst wars and conflicts, and finally becoming political refuges here in the United States. We may not know exactly how much of their pre-American life was unsettled and in turmoil, but we do know that they came to America to escape it. It has to be assumed that they hoped for something better. The dream of America beckoned.

Tamerlan was fifteen when the Tsarnaevs arrived in the United States. He would have had more exposure to difficult living conditions than his younger brother Dzhokhar, who was eight. He also, being older, was closer to an age where one begins to think & perhaps learn about or train for a career. His desire for stability, for acceptance and an established life was probably greater than Dzhohkar’s, and would probably have determined Tamerlan’s choices & course in life.

Accounts indicate that his father Anzor had his own dreams for Tamerlan (as quoted above).


I wonder how much of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s boxing ambitions were truly his own. I wonder if he absorbed that drive into himself as a means of pleasing his father & gaining his approval. Perhaps that, to a young Tamerlan, would’ve been the ultimate success?
 I wonder if, as the years passed and he continued to train and develop his boxing skills, on some level Tamerlan became aware of a dissatisfaction gnawing within. On some level, perhaps he had begun to suspect a conditional acceptance by his father. As long as he succeeded, as long as he excelled at his boxing…but what if he wanted to ease up? Anticipating possible conflict with & rejection by his father may have produced a resentment that proved an eventual fertile breeding ground for other resentments, other grievances. “He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. … He was not a nice man” was how Zaur Tsarnaev, a cousin, described Tamerlan.  And an uncle cited “Being losers — hatred to those who were able to settle themselves” as a motivation behind the carnage at Boston.

Additionally, Tamerlan himself is reported to have stated that he had no, or very few American friends, and had commented that people “smile at you all the time and forget about you the next moment.”  Perhaps he believed that achieving ‘star’ status as a boxer might alleviate a sense of isolation?  So when, in 2010, he was refused entrance to the Olympics boxing events because of his non-citizen status…all his efforts to succeed, all those years and all that work, hopes for acceptance and status and his self-esteem…crashed and burned.

I wonder if these circumstances in his life conspired to bring Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a place of readiness to hear and finally receive an extremist ideology.


In no way are the thoughts expressed here, should they be valid, meant to be an excuse of any kind for this man’s actions, nor those of his brother or any other co-conspirators in this inexcusable crime.

Nor am I implying that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s father is responsible for his eldest son’s decisions to kill and destroy. I am speculating on the possibility of his son’s harboring a suspicion of conditional acceptance. That may not have actually been the reality. It may, however,  have been Tamerlan’s reality.

And I am definitely not pointing a finger at an American policy of not allowing non-citizens to represent her  in the Olympics.

I am looking for root causes, period.


In this world, any of us can be deceived.  And there is plenty of disillusionment to go around.

Who does not want to be accepted and valued? I think there are very few who don’t care and are not affected if their lot in life doesn’t provide these things.  But what do you do if you are one of those people who, for whatever reason, find yourselves propping yourself up, self-esteem wise, with no or very little encouragement from the sidelines?  And you are hard-pressed to find solace, or cause change?

Any goal for which we strive can elude us.  Or, once we’ve attained to it, could yet be lost…or worse, not provide the satisfaction we thought it would.  Much falls into that that category, I think…and so I wonder, what events or interventions could have altered Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s path in life?  What might have yielded a kind of peace and self-acceptance that could have changed everything?

I only know one thing, that God alone loves unconditionally. Even our parents, our spouses and our close friends may or will let us down, as we will them, and withdraw support if the chips are down far enough. It happens.  Our human needs and our human identities can be very, very much intertwined with acceptance by others, and it can be painful, maybe too painful to stand alone. But at that point, should it come, there is a God whose Everlasting Arms are underneath to catch you, and in whose Son, the only begotten of the Father, you are accepted.



al-Qaeda on the Run? Really??

“If al-Qaeda is on the run, why do they seem on the attack?”

This was a question posed on the Chris Matthews Show this past Sunday. None of the explanations offered were very comforting. I almost wished I hadn’t heard them, but it is a time in the life of America that we need to hear them, we need to know what’s going on. And overall, I think it is better that more rather than less Americans are informed, if only in a general way, as to terrorist activism, especially as it is directed towards this country. We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, the transcript for Sunday’s show isn’t ready yet, so I’ll have to wing it on the notes I scribbled, for now. This discussion grabbed my attention, and kept it. I left with a renewed sense of ‘high alert’. My initial inner response to the near-tragedy in Detroit, on Christmas Day, was more than confirmed; words like ‘harrowing’, ‘appalling’ re-surface in my mind. We need to trust God, but we also need to be aware & take, if we can, necessary actions.

It is possible to view the Northwest Delta Flight 253 incident from a different & even encouraging perspective, however, and that is one of a ‘wake-up call’. It was too close. We now realize how deadly and determined our enemy still is, though it may have appeared otherwise. Additionally, prior to this incident, I’m getting the impression that US intelligence/awareness regarding the growing threat of Yemen, as a terrorist-producing camp/training ground, was rather low-key? Now, it’s ratcheted up…way up. So I have to thank God for giving us the heads-up, in time to do something about it. While on the one hand, laxness in our intel/communications/follow-up etc., etc has been revealed, on the other hand – because of ‘systemic failure’, critical valuable information has also been revealed. Hah. “Praise be to God for His mercy on our great land.” He was tapping America on the shoulder, saying, ‘Pay attention here…’

It is of considerable concern that the expected face of al-Qaeda is changing. Whereas after 9/11, we were wary of obviously Muslim-type characteristics & garb in/on persons who might be acting suspiciously (or not), and geared-up to be on the lookout for such – now, that suicide bomber may instead wear the face of, say, a Nigerian student named Abdulmutallab, or a military man based in Ft. Hood, Texas…or a trusted CIA informant who, as it turns out, is now being called a triple agent. David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post , tells us “…there are at least 30 German converts to Islam who are believed to have moved to the tribal areas of Pakistan and may be undergoing training now who will come at us looking nothing like what we expect.” Geographically, we can no longer pinpoint, say, a certain area of Afghanistan as being the breeding ground for our enemies, because the ideology has spread so far around the world, and reached so many places, that it is accurately being labeled as ‘de-centralized’. We can’t simply go to the belly of the beast anymore…it’s all over the place…wearing many & evolving disguises. Mr. Ignatius points out as well that “There was a hope among our terrorism analysts…that the second and third generation of al-Qaeda would not be as formidable an adversary as the first generation was.” but it now appears that they “…are really going to cause us more problems than we thought.”

Oddly enough, while listening to this discussion on Chris Matthews’ program, the parallel of the kingdom of heaven spreading like leaven (Matthew 13:33) occurred to me. I think the idea in the heaven example is that the spread of it is invisible, and eventually reaches the outermost edge. While we most earnestly believe that the spreading of the Kingdom of our God is a good thing!, even if we aren’t aware it is happening – the same cannot be said for jihadist activity. Somehow, we need to be continually aware of its invisible progression, its reach, and somehow, we need to meet it and stop it.

At this point in my reasoning, I myself am stopped by the concept of ideology. Ideology trumps everything else. An idea comes from somewhere, and produces, eventually, action. In my research on Thomas Jefferson, I happened across a book entitled “Ideas Are Weapons” (Max Lerner), and at that point also, the concept stopped me, engaging my thoughts…or ideas! Is this the place where engagement must, finally, occur? I don’t know that such genuine ‘engagement’ falls under the heading of diplomacy – my gut doubts that. And I have not a clue how such seemingly impossible events could ever transpire between America & her allies, and what is termed radical Islam. But I remember, in the minutes and hours following 9/11, these Scriptures crossed my mind: “From whence come wars and fightings among you?…ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:1,2,KJV)
I am not an idiot, nor simpleton; I obviously realize that such opposing ‘ideologies’ are not about to sit down over a nice hot cup of tea & clear the air…not today. Bombs are still being planted, exploding…potential attacks, probably beyond what most of us can truly comprehend, are surely still being planned, and planned with relentless patience & precision. (Time magazine columnist Joe Klein quoted a former intelligence official as saying that the suicide bombing attack at the CIA base in Afghanistan “… was extremely sophisticated. It took years to set up. We didn’t think al-Qaeda had that capability.”) Hostages are still being taken, casualties & fatalities are not ceasing and some of our troops, a year or more after coming home, still can’t sleep because of post-traumatic stress disorder. (God, help us, help us all…) Until, somehow, the point is reached where an ‘asking’ such as perhaps has never before occurred in the history of Islam, or Christianity, can take place…until then, as a friend once told me, ‘you have to do what you have to do until God does what He’s going to do!’ Until then, we defend our homeland. But while we do that, perhaps some of us can carry within an awareness of what author Michael Novak, in The Universal Hunger for Liberty, calls ‘our common cause’, human liberty, which he believes is ‘the tie that can reconcile the Western democratic tradition with its erstwhile Islamic foes.’


Author’s note: Michael Novak’s experience & credentials boggle the mind. See ‘Biography’.

Excerpt – ‘His {Novak’s} masterpiece, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, has been reprinted often in Latin America, and was published underground in Poland in 1984, and recently in Czechoslovakia, Germany, China and Hungary. One reviewer called it “one of those rare books that actually changed the world.” ‘

Concerning US Troop Withdrawal…

(Excerpts: “Iraq Withdrawal Can Only Work with Pressure on Iran and Syria” -Walid Phares, FOX News Contributor

“If the terrorist forces operating against the Coalition and the Iraqi Government are to vanish as soon as the U.S. pulls out, the withdrawal plan (any version of it) will be smooth and successful.”
My comment: In what universe is this going to happen?


“Iran’s leadership will sit down, talk, and sometimes listen — but it will at the same time continue its actions on the ground until it fulfills its own “mission.”….To penetrate, influence and seize 60% of Iraq from Baghdad to Basra as U.S. forces are withdrawing and certainly after the pull out. [Iran will use} special groups, the Mahdi Army, assassinations, infiltration in Government, etc….”
My comment: Extremists lie. Then they do what they want.


“…the success of the Obama plan will hinge on the capacity of his Administration to stop the flow of Jihadism from Syria and Saudi Arabia {into Iraq}.”
The article’s author states the need for quickly filling the ‘void’ left by final US troop withdrawal .
My question: how specifically would this be accomplished? Isn’t it in fact the presence of our troops that keeps a void from even existing in the first place?

Read entire article by FOX News contributor Walid Phares