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The fall of the house of Tsarnaev
December 17, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe


 
I read this yesterday and was a bit torn about what story the author was trying to tell. The overwhelming tone seemed to me to be, "Well, what do you expect from trashy immigrants like these?" Maybe I'm being over sensitive, but I thought the author didn't sound particularly compassionate in characterizing the family as pretty much a bunch of fuck-ups. I found it xenophobic and classist, instead of thoughtful.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm being over sensitive, but I thought the author didn't sound particularly compassionate in characterizing the family as pretty much a bunch of fuck-ups.

Not to be lacking compassion, but wouldn't that be pretty accurate?
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on December 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


Medical treatment wasn’t the answer for her son, Zubeidat evidently decided; religion was.

And everyone lived happily ever after!
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:07 PM on December 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


I really want to read this, because I think it's an interesting story, but I simply cannot make my way through that responsive page design. A skinny, eight-mile-long column of widely-spaced lines of text, broken up with monstrous pics. My eyes.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I really want to read this, because I think it's an interesting story, but I simply cannot make my way through that responsive page design. A skinny, eight-mile-long column of widely-spaced lines of text, broken up with monstrous pics. My eyes.

Copy/paste into Notepad (so you lose the pictures) and then copy/paste into Word.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:12 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Readability cleans it up pretty nicely.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why do they have to try and make every mundane detail sound ominous? "The decibel level rose in the Tsarnayev household as Tamerlan pounded out his hip-hop beats... He was on the Internet from the moment he came to America."
posted by Behemoth at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, what do you expect from trashy immigrants like these?

I read it more like well, what do you expect from mentally ill people? Which I agree with, actually.

Why do they have to try and make every mundane detail sound ominous?

Um, trying to draw the reader in? That's what writing does.
posted by Melismata at 3:36 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I live in their neighborhood, I will be sure to holler at that butcher on prospect who dissed Tamerlan on Thanksgiving.

There's a middle eastern specialty store / headshop down the street from it now, across from the mosque, those guys would have loved it if they weren't shot to death / facing death penalty.
posted by Teakettle at 3:45 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


layout issues aside, it reads like a fascinating article to me (I've only made it through the introduction so far) -- one that touches on what has long been one of the uglier aspects of immigration. Which is that it's often a desperate thing -- to leave one's home country, family, neighbors, network, EVERYTHING. And it often doesn't work. A combination of bringing your demons with you and not getting many breaks when you arrive.

Add America's inherent violence to the mix (and oh yeah, jihadist bullshit) and this kind of thing starts to look inevitable.
posted by philip-random at 3:49 PM on December 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Yeah, philip random, you articulated something I couldn't quite put my finger on-- a lot of this story is about the inherent brokenness of the family and everyone in it, long before they came here. There isn't as much about the harshness that America holds for immigrants who don't have prvileged connections already here. The relative here called them losers, and that story has sort of become canonized in this article.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:56 PM on December 17, 2013


What was harsh about their life here? The parents had jobs, the children were welcomed in the Cambridge public schools.
posted by Melismata at 4:27 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Feelings on the street in the Boston area seemed mostly that the article and photo was badly timed for the season.
posted by sammyo at 4:33 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe this one is a little brighter: Boston marathon victim engaged to rehab nurse
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:35 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Around the corner from my house, a man was arrested last week for distributing "terrorist" literature. I do not know if this person was a migrant or the child of a family that has been here for generations. Whoever it was, I am sure that I have crossed paths with him/her at either of the two halal butcher shops on the other corner. If it was tied to the English Defence League, there would be more of an outcry here. The challenge is social mobility works all ways. I see a young person who became so demoralized with government and gender that he sought a third way.

My feeling is that the police waited for the person around my corner to print out whatever he had downloaded. There were no further arrests reported. I think the American government has accepted that terrorism is acceptable as long as strike back will be in a locale of their choice. There is something of poetic justice that we as a liberal democracy can't stop people from becoming radicalized for a strictly theocratic approach to governance.

We've addressed this subject in other ways such as Scientology and the Phelps family. These kinds of conservative religious movements subject their followers to a belief system that aligns in a such a way as to feel benign except to those who suffer in its presence. There is this interesting wavelength among conservatives to believe a holocaust has occurred in their movement. Some kind of cataclysm has driven their number from the Earth and it is their job to bring the world back into the fold. I can understand the apocalyptic wavelength of Scientology, a new religion that was forged out of the experience of a person who was born in the shrunken middle class after the first world war, and then experienced the depletion of his own generation in world war two. Phelps is a classic family tent camp business that has managed to thrive on the curiosity of intercultural tourists.

It's easy to get sucked into American culture and then look out the other side of it and say "wow, that's fucked up!" I don't think we have a collective answer to the already radical. Talking them down from the top will take a village.
posted by parmanparman at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the article trying to understand why Jahar and Tamerlane did what they did and came away unsatisfied. It sounds like Tamerlane had serious mental problems, but he never got a professional diagnosis, so we have to go by the statements of a family friend and a guy he attended the mosque with that he heard voices. So maybe that led to the bombings, but I really can't see anything in Jahar's background to piss him off enough to join his brother. It sounded like the high school wrestling team was his social outlet and I'm sure it was tough to go to college and lose that, but lots of people have to make transitions in life and they don't react with violence, or at least the way Jahar did.

So I don't feel like the article gave me any insight into the brothers' thinking, but that said, it was a really interesting read. I didn't realize that Stalin had deported the Chechen people to central Asia and it makes me wonder if we here in Cambridge are dealing with problems that, in part, began many years ago on another continent. Not that we shouldn't have to deal with problems that start elsewhere, I'm just saying I'm fascinated by history and how one (important) event can have many far-reaching and unforeseen consequences.

Also, Zubeidat's hometown looks pretty awesome.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:16 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I disagree with thoughts that this is article intends to somehow generalize about the Tsarnaevs' experience. I actually found it to be a fairly neutral depiction of the path of this particular family, helping us to understand how these specific individuals got to this point, through a careful consideration of the individual, family, cultural, religious, social, and economic issues that impacted them. Though it was a bit long-winded and at times unnecessarily detailed, I think it speaks to many of the important issues surrounding the decisions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar without generalizing to all immigrants/Muslims/low SES etc.
posted by ribbit ribbit at 5:16 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Teakettle, the lighting in that new Middle Eastern shop is AMAZING. It's like Lisa Frank consulted.
posted by maryr at 5:24 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Operation Lentil (Soviet deportation of Chechens)
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:49 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really want to read this, because I think it's an interesting story, but I simply cannot make my way through that responsive page design. A skinny, eight-mile-long column of widely-spaced lines of text, broken up with monstrous pics. My eyes.

Copy/paste into Notepad (so you lose the pictures) and then copy/paste into Word.


I can't get glue to work on my ipood and I want all of the words at once please help me nerd squad thanks.
posted by nowhere man at 5:58 PM on December 17, 2013


I read the article trying to understand why Jahar and Tamerlane did what they did and came away unsatisfied. It sounds like Tamerlane had serious mental problems, but he never got a professional diagnosis, so we have to go by the statements of a family friend and a guy he attended the mosque with that he heard voices. So maybe that led to the bombings, but I really can't see anything in Jahar's background to piss him off enough to join his brother.

Because one doesn't need to be pissed off. One can just be immature, gullible, deracinated and alienated from mainstream American culture. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should absolutely be held accountable for his actions, but I imagine he was persuaded to join his brother the same way white kids from unstable homes get involved in violent, racist organizations.
posted by peripathetic at 6:09 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Tragic on all fronts. Ignorant, largely uneducated, challenged family leaves homeland to find a better life. No means available to cope; ignorance points them in the direction of extremist religious solutions - compounding their problems.

There is further, continuing denial of serious mental health issues, and a deepening of fervor that leads to a "God" solution. There is the obviously ill father trying to live vicariously through his oldest son. etc. etc. etc.

This is a sad, tragic scene not only for the family, but also the victims that this family's dysfunction ultimately caused - i.e. the people who were killed and maimed by the bombing.

Add to this family's scenarios the poverty and ignorance that leads to religious extremism in others, worldwide (noting that one can also be wealthy, and ignorant). Even if just a fraction of 1% of the victims of ignorance and poverty and dysfunction act out this way (whether, we are looking at a clusterf*ck for humanity - including the overreaction of "security" personnel, worldwide (e.g. NSA, MS1, etc. etc.). The real crime here is poverty, ignorance, lack of education, and the false hope (often destructive hope) offered by religious extremism.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:31 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


"It is a portrait that makes the plot that yielded the carnage of April 15 seem less complicated, and the horrific outcome less preventable."

This is an odd view of preventability. Even from the overview of the story, it sounds like increased supports for new immigrants, as opposed to being met with wariness or open hostility based on racism and xenophobia, as well as good and freely available mental health services would have gone a long way. Perhaps the author means less preventible in the current political climate in the US? The argument apparently being that we have a better chance of being successful at massive spying operations that would catch some self-radicalized wanna-be domestic terrorists than we do of being successful at providing mental health services and basic immigrant support services? That's a pretty bleak condemnation of the state of US domestic and foreign policy.
posted by eviemath at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really want to read this, because I think it's an interesting story, but I simply cannot make my way through that responsive page design. A skinny, eight-mile-long column of widely-spaced lines of text, broken up with monstrous pics. My eyes.

Copy/paste into Notepad (so you lose the pictures) and then copy/paste into Word.


I've been using Instapaper lately for getting articles like this from weird webpage to clean text for Kindle reading, and it is AWESOME. A++. No more copy/pasting for me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:44 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]




lots of people have to make transitions in life and they don't react with violence

I'm still trying to figure out what drew the younger brother into this specific path; it seemed more likely that he would be drawn to petty crime.
posted by arcticseal at 6:47 PM on December 17, 2013


I read the article trying to understand why Jahar and Tamerlane did what they did and came away unsatisfied. It sounds like Tamerlane had serious mental problems, but he never got a professional diagnosis, so we have to go by the statements of a family friend and a guy he attended the mosque with that he heard voices. So maybe that led to the bombings, but I really can't see anything in Jahar's background to piss him off enough to join his brother.

He was young, and not near as bright as he thought he was, failing out of everything with no future means of support in sight except small time dealing, and it looks like his brother was all that he had left after the rest of his family took off. So he just followed his big brother.
posted by dilettante at 6:48 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hope for the future matters so much for young people, and it is in horribly short supply.
posted by Sequence at 6:52 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, they decided to blow a bunch of people's legs off, so fuck them.
posted by Artw at 7:05 PM on December 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


I came here to post the same piece that retrograde did.

It is striking to me to think about the similarities between these two, and the men who attack their own schools and workplaces. And then between the Boston Marathon bombers, and other young men who have joined radical Islamist movements and engaged in terrorism. A Venn diagram of destruction.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:20 PM on December 17, 2013


what's this new deal where they try to make reading an article like, oh, going to the IMAX theater?
posted by thelonius at 7:21 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


tl;dr: screwed up people did evil things.

I plowed through this tedious article yesterday, it seemed like I was wasting way too much time trying to make sense out of an article that was trying to make sense out of all this dysfunctional family crap, but ultimately couldn't make sense. I concluded that if I spent any more time trying to sort out this lousy piece of journalism, the terrorists have won.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:29 PM on December 17, 2013


Were his voices after boxing? wikipedia:Dementia pugilistica Wikipedia doesn't mention when his voices started.
posted by saber_taylor at 7:57 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I actually know people who knew the brothers as friends (one of them was interviewed about their friendship with them) and I would just like to reiterate a few things I have taken away from both that experience and from the article. This whole story didn't resonate with me at the time, even as someone living right near it.

The first is that hope does matter, as was pointed out above. I can relate to these guys. It doesn't make me like them, but I completely understand, as a man, how you can be driven to make insane and harmful decisions. I understand what happens to you when you realize that you have feelings which you are not allowed to have - feelings which your culture does not allow you to express. Extreme forms of anger, for example. Boxing only goes so far. In the case of these two, this resulted in violence against others - my instinct would be violence towards myself. Both are insane. I can understand how a man in these circumstances can be too overcome with delusion and emotionality and a lack of purpose to make long term decisions, and only pursue extremism. Extreme nonchalance, in the case of the younger one, clearly gifted but with no motivation, and extreme ideology, in the case of the elder. Reading this article reminds my of my good fortune in how I have come to respect the profound emptiness inside of myself instead of letting it lead me into trouble.

Second, and this has more to do with people that I know who know them, but it is possible to come from a good family and not have a good family. These brothers had two sisters who I only just learned about. From what I gather their parents are basically thousands of miles away and in complete denial about this situation. Our family and the stories we use to make sense of the trajectory of our lives simply do not honor the particular miseries which take possession of us as individuals. We cannot understand why these guys tried to kill so many people, and the more extensive the journalism is, the deeper I feel that there are parts of a person that are impossible to share.

I am glad that this discussion has not turned into one about whether the article humanizes them too much or not enough. I agree that it is tragic on all fronts. It is just spectacular to see how darkness twists and dances down through history from ancient disputes into fathers into sons into mothers into daughters into dead people on the street and brothers in jail. For ever pain you feel acutely there are a billion more that have missed you by an inch, hitting the person next to you.
posted by Teakettle at 8:53 PM on December 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


I read it more like well, what do you expect from mentally ill people? Which I agree with, actually.

So we all are doomed to do mass killings? Got it.
posted by usagizero at 9:20 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, I thought it was a great piece of investigative journalism, going through the complicated and troubled background of the brothers in thoughtful detail.

However, if you read this looking for the One Factor That Made The Tsarnaev Brothers Terrorists you will be disappointed: it doesn't simplify things down to a single cause. If you read this and you're one of those people who already knows The One Factor That Makes People Terrorists you will be both disappointed and bored, as the article spends a lot of time discussing other factors which you know to be irrelevant.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why was the friend, Ibrahim Todashev, who implicated Tamerlan in a gruesome triple murder shot dead by the FBI?
posted by gucci mane at 2:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been reading a lot about attachment theory of late. How we learn to love and interact with the world based on how our parents engage with us. In our youth when we are most dependent on others we form the tools that connect is to the world and drive our relationships later in life. Here are two young men. A younger brother who lived in the shadow is his older brother and even with his academic and athletic success always received the love of his parents through his older brother. Consider the power that gave the see brother.
The older brother meanwhile receives recognition through the boxing ring. Fight after fight, full of adrenalin hearing his father praising him. Those heroic moments of fighting off your sisters suitors. All those moments sharp and adrenalin filled must have been very significant to the emotional life of the older brother.
Children will do almost anything for thier parents' recognition. Then one day the boxing was over. His father withdrew. That is fairly tramatic. The brain has been taught that violence and glory are the path to love. So what does it do? It finds a new violent path. And of course the younger brother came along. He needed the older brother to reconnect to their father. The brother was the gate to his parents and as long as it remained closed, he was alone.
posted by humanfont at 5:12 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read it more like well, what do you expect from mentally ill people? Which I agree with, actually.

The overwhelming majority of "mentally ill people" don't try to blow anybody up.
posted by walrus at 6:45 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


layout issues aside, it reads like a fascinating article to me (I've only made it through the introduction so far) -- one that touches on what has long been one of the uglier aspects of immigration. Which is that it's often a desperate thing -- to leave one's home country, family, neighbors, network, EVERYTHING.

Except that they frequently went back for visits, some as long as six months. These people were playing the system. Housing assistance, food stamps, AFDC, EBT, free healthcare, free college tuition, etc. The elder son was a Golden Gloves boxer, and that you can't do as a loner-outsider. But somehow we failed them? The younger son is no babe in the woods. He had "friends" at college attempt to destroy evidence. One of his "friends" had a license plate that read #1 Terrorist!
posted by Gungho at 6:45 AM on December 18, 2013


Yeah, there's really no sense in which the US immigration process systematically produces people willing to commit terrorist acts.

The Boston marathon bombing was pretty horrific; that doesn't necessarily mean that there's anything in these guys' experiences that was as horrific.
posted by leopard at 7:33 AM on December 18, 2013



The Boston marathon bombing was pretty horrific; that doesn't necessarily mean that there's anything in these guys' experiences that was as horrific.


True.

But we get nowhere if we don't try to understand how this violence came to manifest. And I believe it starts with the immigrant experience. Which, unless you've had it, I don't think you can begin to grasp it (I certainly can't) -- what it must mean to emigrate. Not just the shock of stepping into what amounts to a new world, but the experiences that must have driven the decision to do so. Because it's not something you just do on a lark. Hell, some people can't even get it together to leave town for college, or a job.

Which doesn't mean that it's all negative, that every immigrant is bound to become some kind of violent time bomb ... but some inevitably will. Often as not, the violence doesn't express itself "politically" but instead presents as more traditional gangsterism, organized crime. Because for all the alleged freedom of our enterprise here in the Americas, it's damned hard to get established if you're an outsider; not just barriers of language and culture but stuff as basic as who-you-know.

Or as I've heard it put. "Why are there no Anglo-Saxon gangsters? Because they did their crimes generations ago. Now they own the banks, and the government for that matter. They get the cops and the courts and the military to do their dirty work."

And so on. Mix this up with the ongoing propaganda of The American Dream (all that Horatio Alger stuff) and a pile of family dysfunction (in the Tsnaraev's case) and I believe you've got a volatile concoction.
posted by philip-random at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2013


Gungho: Except that they frequently went back for visits, some as long as six months. These people were playing the system. Housing assistance, food stamps, AFDC, EBT, free healthcare, free college tuition, etc. The elder son was a Golden Gloves boxer, and that you can't do as a loner-outsider. But somehow we failed them? The younger son is no babe in the woods. He had "friends" at college attempt to destroy evidence. One of his "friends" had a license plate that read #1 Terrorist!

Frequently went back for visits? According to the article the parents moved back permanently and Tamerlan visited once. As for playing the system, that's arguable. The psychological issues involved made it hard for any of the siblings to live semi-normal lives, and it really seems like they were having a terrible time, which in that case the housing assistance, EBT (of which one half is "food stamps"), and TANF (which is the replacement for AFDC) were working exactly as they are suppose to. And contrary to belief, student loans are not free. Likewise, I don't know what "free healthcare" you are talking about. It doesn't explain in the article but I doubt the hospital and ambulance didn't just let the father walk away with a free pass. I also don't understand why you can't be a Golden Gloves boxer if you're a loner/nobody. There are regional Golden Gloves events, even city ones. The national one isn't the only one. Hell, my grandfather was a Golden Gloves boxer, and he was an orphan with no family and no friends. Of course, that was back in the 30's or 40's.
posted by gucci mane at 5:21 PM on December 18, 2013


I also don't understand why you can't be a Golden Gloves boxer if you're a loner/nobody. There are regional Golden Gloves events, even city ones. The national one isn't the only one.

Tamerlan did fight in the national tournament, but I don't think it really matters. For one, yes, you definitely can be a loner at a boxing gym. For some people, the gym can become a home away from home, and a trainer like another parent, but it's definitely not the case for everyone -- especially if there is a language barrier, or, say, everyone hates your overbearing father who is always hanging around. Secondly, the narrative of many reports is that being excluded from the national tournament after it banned non-citizens caused him to give up the sport, and was one of the things that alienated him.
posted by retrograde at 10:48 PM on December 18, 2013


I read it more like well, what do you expect from mentally ill people? Which I agree with, actually.

Speaking as a mentally ill person, could we not do this please?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:27 AM on December 20, 2013


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