Why?

The perpetrators have been subdued, one dead, the other seriously injured. Life in Boston returns to normal with defiant determination not to allow the Boston Marathon bombing to alter life in the city. Two young men, seemingly with everything to live for, chose a path of destruction for themselves and others. Why?

They were part of a family of refugees from Chechnya that came to the USA about a decade ago. The younger was about 8 years old, the older about 15. The older brother seemed to have more difficulty than the younger in adapting to life here. That is not unusual. Any foreigner entering a school system here would have difficulty both adapting and being accepted by classmates. In lower grades it might be easier than in high school; younger children may be more open to newcomers than those of high school age who have formed groups of friends or cliques, which can be unwelcoming to newcomers. This may explain the apparently different perceptions people had of the two brothers.

The younger seemed to integrate well with classmates, as noted in positive views expressed by teachers and classmates. Perceptions of the older brother were mixed; he was known to be uncomfortable with American culture and to claim not to have even one American friend. Although the brothers had relatives in this country, there were no close relationships once their parents returned to Chechnya. One uncle indicated a family rift was responsible. Without a family support system, any difficulties in assimilating in the new culture could be exacerbated. Though not excusing the end result, it may help in understanding their vulnerabilities.

The relationship between brothers might have become more like father-son, with the younger under the influence of the older brother. As the older brother was experiencing disillusionment with American culture without close family or community for comfort and stabilizing influence, he might entertain extremist concepts. He was vulnerable, but what was his impetus to act? There is a major step between entertaining such concepts and executing them.

He chose to sacrifice his life and his brother’s to lash out at a highly visible symbol of American culture. Did he come to believe his own life could serve no greater purpose other than to make such a statement? We may never know the answer. Isolation can lead to radical thoughts. Although few who feel isolated would act on such thoughts, when some do it can be tragic as they lash out at innocent people.

A person needs family and/or community to relate to, people to provide comfort and stability in difficult times. Immigrants in new cultures often achieve this by creating their own ethnic communities in their new country, providing a familiar environment from which to ease into the new culture. For those who have difficulty, it is a comforting haven. It does not seem the brothers had any such refuge. Instead they found refuge on the internet and social media where they found recipes for vengeance, leading to the ultimate tragedy.

2 thoughts on “Why?

  1. Jim

    Alienated young Americans have been responsible for horrifying crimes from Columbine, to Aurora, to Newtown, to Boston, and the criminals have largely been native born. You need to be careful not to suggest that the immigrant experience is uniquely connected to murderous alienation from American society. To the contrary, the immigrant experience in this country has overwhelmingly been one of great contributions in the face of great obstacles, some of which you mention. Just one indicator of those contributions is that immigrants have made up more than a third of all American scientists and engineers in recent years, with even greater representation in the physical science, engineering, and computer fields.

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    1. Delos Post author

      We are a nation of immigrants. Yes, alienation is not confined to recent immigrants. The factors that lead to it are much the same for those whose families have been here for generations. There are individuals who cannot relate to the culture or elements within their environment, and do not find support or understanding within family or community. Not all who feel such alienation resort to violence. Some of the most important contributions in science, engineering, etc., come from immigrants who do not adapt to the culture. They seek a niche for themselves and find it in their work. In extreme cases a few seek this “niche” by lashing out at elements in their communities. They can come from anywhere.

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