Terrorism, like urban crime, is one of those things that you're not supposed to think about too much. It's fine to talk about your emotions after a bombing or a mugging. You can even share stories and eventually learn to laugh about it. What you cannot do is talk about where it comes from except in the vaguest terms of social conditions. Like pollution from industry or corruption from government, it's one of those toxic spinoffs of our modern society. It's just there and we don't much talk about it.
Islamic terrorism is considered a social problem in Europe. Ask an expert and they'll talk your ear off about unemployment, racism, overcrowded housing and the same long list of reasons used to explain urban crime. The United States is slowly coming around to that same point of view.
Forget the great debate between whether people kill people or guns kill people. The conclusion reached by most governments before your grandfather was born is that social conditions kill people.
The Tsarneav brothers are being talked about in the same way that most serial killers are. "They were so nice. What made them do it?" It's the empty repetition of a question to which no one really wants to hear the answer. "What could have made them do it?" isn't a genuine question, it's a ceremonial washing of the hands. A ritualistic statement that we couldn't have known anything was wrong. How could we? They were so nice.
Tamerlan Tsarneav slapped around one girlfriend, dragged another into a barefoot, pregnant and veiled arrangement, and went around telling everyone they were infidels. Sure he might have settled down at some point, picked up his membership card in the requisite front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood and limited his terrorist activities to donating to Islamic charities that just happen to do business in the middle of war zones. He could have stuck to beating his wife in the privacy of his home and told his neighbors that America would one day be destroyed knowing they would only nod and walk away humming, "But he's so nice".
The United States is full of moderate Muslims just like that. They are the people politicians point to as proof that not all Muslims are terrorists, just the ones who actually blow up things.
Tamerlan Tsarneav was indeed a social problem, but not the one most liberals think he is. He wasn't unemployment, racism or lack of parking spaces. He was the social problem we don't talk about because it's off limits. The empty space in the narrative. The one that terrorism comes from.
The Europeans would talk about integration. But what was there for Tamerlan to integrate to? A coterie of white academics looking to get jobs on climate change commissions? A rainbow coalition of minorities taking pride in victimization while demanding their piece of the pie? And who was he? American? What does being American mean? Chechen? Who are they? They're Muslims. They're killers. When being American got too hard, Tamerlan rolled the dice and they came up Chechen. They came up Muslim. And we all know the rest of the story.
Eurocrats worry endlessly about how many Tamerlans in London, Paris and Oslo roll those dice only to see them come up Pakistani, Algerian and Somali. But they can't talk about what's wrong with that.
Back in the Tsarneav homeland, clans fight each other to the death, wiping out entire families to the last child. Here is a brief description of one man's vendetta. "He wanted to kill off all the men in the other family, and he devoted his life to that goal. He would hide someplace where he thought one of his enemies might pass by, staying there for weeks at a time if necessary. In the end, he killed about 20 people."
That should sound familiar to anyone who sat in front of the television watching the aftermath of the Boston bombings. And here's another. "The oral tradition abounds in tales of feuds sparked by the theft of a chicken culminating in the death of an entire Teip." What is a Teip you might ask. A Teip is a Chechen clan. Everyone has one in Chechnya including foreigners. To have a place in the society, you must have a Teip of your own. Otherwise. "This man has neither a Teip nor a Tukkhum."
Where was Tamerlan's Teip in America? Americans don't talk about their Teips. Instead Tamerlan found the same Teip that so many other Pakistanis, Egyptians, Somalis and other Muslim immigrants find when they live in a non-Muslim country. Tamerlan's Teip, like Nidal Hasan's Teip, was Islam.
Tamerlan took possession of his Teip. And then he began to kill on behalf of his Teip. You can call it the Clash of Civilizations or a clash of clans. At the Boston Marathon, the Tsarneav brothers began killing the members of the Boston Teip or the American Teip in defense of the honor of the Islamic Teip. We can call this sort of thing terrorism, and it is, but it's also something much more primitive and much less calculated.
The Afghan soldiers murdering American soldiers often do it unprompted and sometimes even without any prior planning. They do it because in tribal cultures honor is complicated and murder is casual. Life is cheap, especially the lives of men without teips.
Americans were under the impression that Tamerlan was a member of Teip America. He wasn't. Teip America is fine for some some natives, but it was much too big for him. It had no shape or purpose. Nothing for him to claim possession of and defend. Teip America gave him everything for free and wouldn't even let him fight to take it. Teip America gave him the good life, but took away his honor.
But what does all this Teip talk have to do with the modern world? It is an article of faith that any number of people can come to this country and bring their diverse Teips with them, and aside from some picturesque native foods and unique post-colonial grievances, they all become part of the tapestry of Teip America.
Chechnya is a modern place now. Sure it has warlords, kidnappings and Sharia punishments, but who are we to judge them? And Tamerlan Tsarneav grew up in the United States. What could the crazy backward mores of his society, which we mustn't judge, have anything to with his killing spree? There are more relevant things that we could talk about, like race, class and the availability of parking spaces in Boston.
Even now the politicians begin trooping down to the local mosque to press the flesh with the "moderates" who are the last best hope for preventing another marathon massacre. But what is an American mosque really? Some are still mono-cultural, dominated by Lebanese, Turkish or Bangladeshi immigrants. Many however are more expansive. They are artificial Teips based on religion, rather than nationality or race. Their existence is innately Islamist.
The American mosque is an outpost of tribal Islamism. It's an artificial community that primes members of tribal cultures to identify with and defend a religious Teip. That is the system that the Saudis have invested a good deal of money into building because it provides them with an endless flow of cannon fodder.
We are not a melting pot or a beautiful tapestry of diversity. What we are is often something more prosaic. Clans. The clans may be broadly defined, but they are still there and if you doubt it, then go try an urban neighborhood that you are not meant to walk. The clan structure is weak and the leaders are often absent. Some clans are full of single mothers and itinerant male warriors. Others are traditionally patriarchal. Some clans form alliances based on language, geography or religion.
That is multiculturalism. It is a clumsy alliance of Teips pretending to represent all the Teips.
Multiculturalism, like most forms of liberal consensus, shut out any contradictory realities. But there are Teips here other than the coalition of community groups united to demand more money for social services centers. There are older Teips in America that come from the desert and the mountains. Teips that care nothing for building more LGBT youth centers and a great deal about honor and territory.
Tamerlan found his Teip in Islam. So have many Islamic terrorists and political Islamists. Their Teip is not one that we talk about. It is the Teip that is at war with all the other Teips. It is at war with the basic idea of Multiteipism that the entire broken system it is trying to topple over is based on. And the story is the same in Europe. It is the same in Canada. It is the same in Australia.
It is the same everywhere.
We can't talk about this of course because we are modern people and we know that's not how things work. We know that we are lucky to be living in a society with such rich diversity. Our diversity is our strength. The more divided we become, the stronger we will be. And if occasionally bombs go off or heads fly or planes crash into skyscrapers, we will walk away muttering, "But he was so nice."