Now he’s in trouble. It is one thing for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be seen on security camera videos placing one of the bombs that killed three people at last week’s Boston Marathon. But now he’s really crossed a line.
Tsarnaev is telling investigators he and his brother were motivated by religion to plot their carnage, media reports citing anonymous federal sources say.
Radical Islam. It’s a label banned by the Obama administration. National Islamic groups say it doesn’t belong in conversations about terrorism.
Tsarnaev didn’t get the memo.
Recovering from multiple gunshot wounds, Dzhokhar told investigators from his hospital bed that he and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev were driven by religious fervor and took their instructions from al-Qaida’s Inspire magazine, NBC News reports. Anger at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fueled their rage, the Washington Post reports.
That motivation echoes justifications offered by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan for the Fort Hood shooting spree that killed 13 people and Faisal Shahzad’s sentencing rant about his attempt to bomb Times Square in 2010.
“The crusading U.S. and NATO forces who have occupied the Muslim lands under the pretext of democracy and freedom for the last nine years and are saying with their mouths that they are fighting terrorism, I say to them, we don’t accept your democracy nor your freedom, because we already have Sharia law and freedom,” Shahzad told the court. “Furthermore, brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun. Consider me only a first droplet of the flood that will follow me.”
Despite this candor from terrorists, the Obama administration and Islamic groups have argued that referring to terrorists’ religious motivations somehow grants them religious legitimacy.
“Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against jihadists,” CIA Director John Brennan said in 2009 when he was White House terrorism adviser. “Describing terrorists in this way, using the legitimate term ‘jihad,’ which means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.”
Similarly, Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul Stockton squirmed and obfuscated when asked about the role radical Islam played in past terror plots.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) tried to stem the tide about radical Islam that Tsarnaev unleashed by issuing a news release Tuesday. It decried the focus on a radical Islamic motive for the Boston Marathon bombings as inherently bigoted. The “wave of inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric” is solely due to the Tsarnaev’s Muslim faith, the statement said.
CAIR co-founder and Executive Director Nihad Awad “said the recent spike in hate rhetoric comes in the wake of a coordinated long-term effort by Islamophobic activists and groups to demonize Islam and marginalize American Muslims.”
One imagines they’ll give Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a good talking-to for demonizing Islam in his statements to investigators.
The Tsarnaev case threatens the Islamic narrative that radical Islamist ideology in terror attacks should be ignored or minimized.
As former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani writes in Tuesday’s Washington Post, the Tsarnaevs’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, offered an example for Muslims to follow. In an impromptu exchange with reporters outside his home, Tsarni expressed profound grief for the victims of the bombing, acknowledged “somebody radicalized” his nephews, and said they were “losers” who brought shame to the family.”
This, Nomani writes, “accomplished something that 11 years of post-9/11 press releases, news conferences and soundbites by too many American Muslim leaders has failed to do on the issue of radicalization and terrorism: with raw, unfettered emotion, he owned up to the problem within.”
Contrary to the expectations of a backlash against Muslims described by Islamic groups, Tsarni was not met with rank bigotry. He was hailed for his heartfelt response and became an Internet sensation.
“And the collectivist-minded Muslim community needs to learn an important lesson from Tsarni,” Nomani writes. “It’s time to acknowledge the dishonor of terrorism within our communities, not to deny it because of shame. As we negotiate critical issues of ethnicity, religious ideology and identity as potential motivators for conflict, we have to establish basic facts.”
Nomani is an individual Muslim, and someone outside the national advocacy groups which claim to speak for Muslim Americans. There is little indication those national organizations are ready to meet the challenge. Hassan Shibly, director of the Tampa office for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), rules out religion as a factor in an interview with On Islam.
Asked whether Islam, a “wicked understanding” of it or American policy influenced the Tsarnaevs, Shibly answered, “None of the above” and cast the brothers as mentally ill. “No mentally healthy individual can accept the intentional attack against innocent civilians, especially not in the name of any divine faith.”
But reports of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalization grow more numerous by the hour. He frequented jihadi websites, officials told the Associated Press Tuesday. He posted jihadi videos to his Youtube account.
Examining the Tsarnaevs’ radical Islamic beliefs is not a statement about any other Muslims, but an acknowledgement of the reality that led them to murder innocent people at a marathon race. Motivation is relevant in a crime. There is no outcry when motive is discussed in radical supremacist or anti-government violence. There should be no chilling of discussion about radical Islam when it clearly is present.
But liberal academics and media figures continue to try to quash such talk. On HBO’s “Real Time,” host Bill Maher – himself a liberal – dismissed California State San Bernandino’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism Director Brian Levin’s accusation of Islamophobia as “liberal bulls**t.”
His students, and even his children’s dentist, are Muslims, Levin said, and are “fine, upstanding” people. By focusing on radical Islam, Maher is “promoting Islamic hatred.”
Maher shot that down, saying there’s a problem when religiously motivated violence emanates more from one faith than all others.
One thing Levin got right is that there is vast heterogeneity among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims. That’s why national Islamic groups which claim to speak for Muslim Americans can’t be considered reliable even though reporters and many government officials treat them as though they are. CAIR is lashing out, trying to cast the focus on radical Islam as a bigoted conspiracy to marginalize all Muslim Americans.
You won’t see CAIR or other Islamic groups standing by Nomani, Zuhdi Jasser, or Sacramento Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad. Politically, there’s probably very little on which these three agree, reflecting that diversity Levin referenced. But they all believe Muslims need to be bolder in confronting the radical segments within their own faith community.
“There is a deep soulful battle of identity raging within the Muslim consciousness domestically and abroad between Westernism and liberalism,” Jasser said this week. “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.'”
In a 2011 column, Ahmad called it “a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all suspicion or criticism of Islam and Muslims as simply the result of islamophobia. To do so, only serves to perpetuate the view that many Americans have of Muslims as irrational people, who cannot be trusted. This makes our fight against islamophobia using our current tactics, a winless and counterproductive campaign.
“The obsessive American Muslim campaign against islamophobia and the questionable tactics we are employing to that end, says a lot about who we are as a people of faith. It implies that we reject our own religious axioms of being able to withstand criticism, hatred, and accepting that not everyone will share our point of view. It also says that we have very little spiritual fortitude.”
Jasser, Imam Ahmad, and Nomani display confidence in their faith. They aren’t afraid of the debate. If only national Islamic groups could be so bold.