I worked the graveyard shift this morning, and tried to find some way to tie the Boston bombings to the war-torn Chechnyan region in which the Tsarnaev brothers had their ethnic roots, but it seems the back stories of the brothers is murkier.
One thing that strikes me about the Tsarnaev brothers is that they had ambitions, the classic immigrant dreams about the United States, but that their hopes became curdled as they failed to achieve their goals. Tamerlan was a promising amateur boxer who dreamed that his fast hands would bring him Olympic glory, but his fast hands got him into trouble when he was arrested for a domestic violence incident, and the arrest doomed his chances to obtain citizenship. It would seem that the one time he lost control, and lashed out at a girlfriend, set him spiraling entirely out of control. Tsarnaev then, like many other violent men who see women as chattel, turned to violent religious fundamentalism as his prospects evaporated.
Personally, I am struck by his photograph with Massachusetts boxing legend Mickey Ward. Ward's lasting claim to fame rests on a punishing "trilogy" of fights against the late Arturo Gatti... each fight was a brutal slugfest, resulting in the hospitalization of both fighters, but Ward and Gatti maintained a healthy respect for each other. Outside the ring, Ward came across as a humble, self-effacing guy, the sort of guy who kept his day job as truck driver for a road-paving crew and was recognized for his integrity. Looking at the photo of a clean-cut, promising teenager looming over the humble boxing legend, who could have guessed the horrific turn the kid's life would take?
As far as the younger brother is concerned, his actions this week hint at a profoundly disturbed young man. Perhaps he was cowed into performing his horrific acts by a more forceful older brother. Perhaps he also saw his prospects dwindling, like his brother's did before him, as his grades started to tank.
While it's tempting to connect the Tsarnaevs' acts of terror to a broader geopolitical context, their descent into madness and terror could have been a result of personal failings. When their grandiose, but almost attainable, dreams imploded, it seems that they took solace in the poisoned whispers of fanatics. Tragically, they achieved a fame that neither their athletic nor their academic ambitions could have given them.