The surviving Boston bombing suspect says that he and his brother were motivated in their terrorist attack by a remarkably vague-sounding desire to protect Islam and protest the wars in Iraq (already ended) and Afghanistan (winding down). Say what?
What distinguishes terrorism from simple criminality, or sheer madness, is the presence of some political, ideological, and/or religious purpose. How attacking a bunch of running enthusiasts protects Islam is, to say the least, quite mysterious. The strangeness of this is compounded by the fact that the terrorists didn't bother to make their purpose at all clear.
They made no claim of responsibility, pushed no cause, no matter how delusional, made no insistence that behavior must be stopped, or adopted. Which is merely the point of terrorism, to attempt to intimidate a society into changing policy.
I first encountered jihadist violence decades ago, in the Philippines. (Our little-known history of fighting jihadists in the Philippines, incidentally, goes back to the end of the 19th century, something for another time.) In the last few decades, jihadist violence has become much more familiar to the wide world.
But whether the violence was relatively overt, in the form of guerrilla warfare, or strictly covert, in the form of terrorism, one constant has been that the overall purpose has been made plain.
Which does not mean that this is not terrorism, though it's possible that these characters seized on "protecting Islam" as a ludicrous self-justifying rationale for their monstrous action. There is still far more to learn about all this, much as the hyena element in society yip-yapping their fear and hatred of Muslims imagines otherwise.
If this is terrorism, as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev implicitly claims, it looks like an especially boneheaded form of terrorism.
Let's call it idiocratic terrorism. That's an adaptation of the title of the cult 2006 film Idiocracy, a satire about a dystopic future in which pretty much everyone, not to put too fine a point on it, is an idiot.
These may be, a possibility I noted here last week, just a couple of young, relatively dumb guys wreaking havoc, grabbing on to some politico-religious rationale to justify their actions, a rationale which they bizarrely never got around to mentioning till one was killed and the other caught.
Along with saying, very much after the fact, that they were out to protect Islam by blowing up the Boston Marathon, the surviving Tsarnaev brother also says that they had no connection with jihadist organizations.
We don't know yet if that's true or not, as the investigation will take time. This isn't an episode of NCIS. (Though even that would be too slow for the rush-to-judgment crowd.) But there's no indication yet of any coordination or larger conspiracy beyond the two young brothers, certainly no sign of a sophisticated plot. They weren't very well-armed and the brothers' explosives were off-the-Net/do-it-yourself quality stuff.
Which in a sense is reassuring. But in another sense, is even more alarming.
Because if this idiocratic terrorism -- low-brow, do-it-yourself jihadism carried out by a couple of young knuckleheads -- what it actually demonstrates is how much damage can be done by some very unimpressive people.
Last week ended on a note of great celebration and greater relief when the younger Tsarnaev was taken, fortunately for purposes of investigation, alive. But it took nearly 24 hours to run this kid to ground. Despite the lock-down of Greater Boston and the use of thousands of trained security personnel.
While there is much still to be learned about him and his brother, and they were, or at least had been, well-conditioned young athletes, there is nothing to suggest yet that they had any training to speak of, much less were skilled operators.
If two young guys, who clearly had no exit plan -- their undoing was set in motion after they killed a campus cop and robbed a convenience store, not exactly big-time moves -- can wreak such havoc and avoid capture as well as they did, just imagine what a team of experts could do.
Actually, we don't have to imagine. We saw that scenario unfold over Thanksgiving 2008, in Mumbai. In case you've forgotten about that, here's a link to what I wrote at the time, and to what Wikipedia has. We're fortunate that Boston wasn't a repeat.
One thing that is very much at question today is the impact of this terrorist attack on new immigration reform legislation.
Will the program devised by a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators stir up an anti-immigrant reaction after this terrorist attack carried out by two young immigrants? Or will it be seen as providing additional safeguards?
Both Tsarnaevs came to this country in completely legal contexts. And the younger one gained his American citizenship. On, as fate would have it, September 11th of last year.
The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, not incidentally, hosts an immigration forum next week. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado, two of the main co-authors of the emerging bipartisan bill, will join former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and others at the event. They'll certainly have a lot to talk about.
There aren't a lot of easy answers in this crisis.
But two things are clear.
First, we need to gather and carefully sift through information. Did the FBI, CIA, and other elements of the Obama Administration screw up by not heeding still unclear warnings from the kind-hearted souls of Russia's FSB? Or is that essentially a sideshow, since the trip to Russia and contacts there may well have been utterly unnecessary.
Last week produced a festival of bad reporting, mob mentalities, and not a little sheer insanity. Much of it was driven by a vast ignorance, pooled on the Internet. Among many other things, the Czech ambassador had to put out a statement explaining that his country is, well, a country in Central Europe while Chechnya is part of Russia.
The second thing we need to do is remember that the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia can be a very short one indeed.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.