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Boston bombings and a Muslim identity crisis

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In 2009, Tamerlan – the elder brother and an accomplished amateur boxer – hoped to compete for the US Olympic team. Last week, he was killed in a shootout with Boston police. In 2012, Dzhokhar – the younger brother and a college student – became a naturalized US citizen. Last Friday night, he was a captured traitor being transported to a hospital as jubilant residents of Watertown, Mass., chanted “USA, USA.”

Officials say Dzhokhar has indicated the brothers acted from hard-line Islamic beliefs and anger over the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  A tweet from Dzhokhar hinted at his feelings of alienation among even his fellow Muslims: “Brothers at the mosque either think I’m a convert or that I’m from Algeria or Syria, just the other day a guy asked me how I came to Islam.” Most Chechens are Muslims.

A plethora of online clerics – who typically want someone’s else’s son to earn paradise by setting off explosives – live to recruit young, disillusioned Muslim men.

By juxtaposing the gruesome images of the “collateral damage” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine with out-of-context verses from the Quran, they infuse such religious fervor that gradually a disillusioned man who didn’t have a single American friend – as Tamerlan once said – musters enough courage to make 300 million American enemies. He falls for the illusion of a cause, a community, and an identity. 

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