In medieval times, boys from the Caucasus were brought to Cairo as slaves. They received a rigorous education in Islam and equestrian arts for about 12 years, at the end of which they became acculturated to their new home. They were then freed and appointed to the army. From their ranks rose the greatest sultans who defeated both crusaders and Mongols. They are remembered today as heroes not in the Caucasus, where they were born, but in Egypt.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came to this country around the same age as those medieval boys and from the same region. He went to school in Cambridge. He, like American boys of his generation, was interested in sports, music, and social media. He tweeted extensively and used rap lyrics to convey his feelings. He was enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, when he and his brother became suspects in a heinous, yet still unexplained, terrorist act.
So, please commentators, don’t call Tsarnaev a foreign terrorist suspect. He is American. He lived here for 11 formative years. His acculturation is total. His radicalization, if that is what led to the crimes of which he is accused, was acquired in America. Heck, it could have been influenced by the glorification of violence incessantly beamed at his generation.
As a culture, we ought to stop and think: How does a boy in America today turn into a nihilistic terrorist? Then we should begin to address these possible causes instead of blaming foreigners.
The writer is a professor at MIT, where he is director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.