The Folly of Perpetual Victimhood

The week following the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 was a very sad week for me. Boston is one of my most favorite cities in the world. It is the first U.S. city that I ever visited. I spent many months there when I was a student in the 1990s. Boston eased me into American culture by cushioning the culture shock that Europeans experience when they first visit the U.S., mostly because it reminded me a lot of my home town Munich, famously known as the "Weltstadt mit Herz" ("city of the world with a heart)."

Like Munich, Boston is wonderfully suited for long city walks. The Bostonians were extremely hospitable and friendly. I remember seeing beautiful sunsets in Boston, spending hours in the wonderful bookstores in Cambridge and Boston and being thrilled by the plethora of universities and their libraries in the Boston area, which seemed like an endless treasure trove of knowledge. I was thus devastated when I saw the tragedy of the bombings unfold -- more or less live on the Internet and on Twitter revealing painful descriptions of victims who had lost their limbs at a marathon. I was haunted by the image of the young boy Martin Richard holding up a sign which said "No more hurting people" in 2012 -- only to be murdered in the subsequent year at the Boston Marathon bombings. The idea of this beautiful city, normally bustling with activity and creativity, being forced into a lockdown because of some psychopathic killers was heartbreaking.

On Friday morning, I heard the news that the perpetrators had been identified; two Muslim immigrants with Chechen origins. They were brothers, the older one -- 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- had been killed in a shoot-out. The younger one -- 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- had not yet been captured and an ongoing manhunt was still paralyzing the city of Boston. There were vague reports of "Islamist connections" of the older brother based on his alleged Youtube video playlists. The younger brother was a college student at the University of Massachusetts and had a Twitter account with the handle @J_tsar, from which he had sent his last tweet on April 17, two days after the Boston Marathon bombing. His last tweet was a re-tweet of the conservative Muslim cleric, Mufti Ismail Menk: "Attitude can take away your beauty no matter how good looking you are or it could enhance your beauty, making you adorable." Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's last self-authored tweet was "I'm a stress free kind of guy", one day after the bombing -- both tweets seem rather cynical in the context of someone who had helped inflict so much suffering. His Twitter feed of the past months was a combination of mindless blather, evoking the traditional cliché of the banality of evil, but it also contained a number of tweets which indicated that he saw himself as a Muslim, even quipping about how Muslims at his mosque thought he was a convert to Islam instead of being born a Muslim.

The specific motives of the two brothers were not yet known when the news broke. Did they murder and maim their fellow citizens because they felt it was consistent with or even mandated by their view of Islam? Was it a political statement regarding the war in Chechnya and they just happened to choose innocent civilian targets in Boston because it was easier than planting bombs in Chechnya or Russia? Were they psychopaths seeking notoriety and infamy without any specific religious or political goals? Were they aided by a terrorist organization or acting as individuals?

Multiple Muslim organizations and prominent Muslims strongly condemned the Boston Marathon bombings, expressed their condolences for the victims and made it very clear that such acts of terror were inconsistent with Islam. Muslim organizations routinely issue such statements when Muslims commit acts of terror, but the question remains whether such statements are enough.

Since I possess overactive German guilt neurons, I feel that as members of the Muslim community in the U.S., we have a deeper responsibility to undertake an introspective analysis and explore why U.S. Muslims engage in forms of violence. Some might argue that there is no need for such introspection, since we do not yet whether the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers were in any way linked to Islam. Even apart from the Tsarnaev brothers' motives, U.S. Muslims need to understand that there is an unfortunately high level of tolerating suicide bombings or violence against civilians. A Pew survey conducted in 2011 revealed that 13 percent of US Muslims thought suicide bombings or violence against civilian targets could be justified to defend Islam (rarely justified: 5 percent; sometimes justified: 7 percent; often justified: 1 percent). The Pew survey compared the results to those obtained from surveying Muslims in Pakistan, of whom only 7 percent felt that such violence could be justified in the name of Islam. Sadly, this degree of acceptance of suicide bombings or violence against civilians among U.S. Muslims has not budged since 2007. This suggests that there is a disconnect between U.S. Muslim organizations (which categorically condemn all attacks against civilians) and the U.S. Muslim community.

The complete article can be read here on the 3Quarksdaily Blog.