Sunday, April 21, 2013

What a family therapist notices in the stories about the Tsarnaevs

Even though I often call myself a "recovering therapist," when I hear stories like the ones that are being told about the Tsarnaev family, I tend to revert back to my old ways. So allow me to round up some things I've seen/heard that seemed significant to me.

My first clue about something amiss in this family came when I heard the suspect's two uncles talking on camera while law enforcement was still searching for the second suspect. They both said that they had broken ties with their brother's family (the suspect's father) several years ago. None of the reporters questioning the uncles caught the significance of that statement or attempted to pursue what had triggered it.

In describing how/why the family came to the US, I've heard variations on this theme:
She [Zubeidat: suspect's mother] told me that she and her husband had been lawyers and political activists in Russia. They had fled the country after “something that her husband did.” Her daughter had recently been divorced at this time, and her daughter’s ex-husband had taken their child to Russia, refusing to return him. Finally the child was returned. When my mom asked Zubeidat how they had gotten the child back, she told her that “my [Zubeidat’s] husband is crazy” and everyone knew it.
It seems as though the family had recently come apart at the seams. Notice the link in timing.
Tamerlan’s turn to Islam came as the family seemed to be disintegrating, according to neighbors and court records.

A next-door neighbor on Norfolk Street, who declined to provide his name, said he would constantly hear yelling and police would often show up at the family’s apartment. Another neighbor also described “screaming and arguments.”

The parents divorced, and spent extended periods of time back in Russia.
We know that Tamerlan had been abusive with his wife. But this story raises a whole host of questions as well.
Gym owner Allan said that Tamerlan had once introduced him to an American, Brendan Mess, whom Tamerlan described as his best friend.

Two years ago, Mess and two other men were brutally killed in a Waltham apartment where they were found by police with their throats slit and their bodies covered with marijuana. The murders remain unsolved.
These stories don't provide us with enough information to draw conclusions. But it sure seems to me that this was a family with members who had been involved in some dark business...things that seem much more important to me than what religion they practiced.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right to put religious motivations at the late middle of a chain of events rather than at the beginning. My feeling is that it is definitely true that people gravitate toward ideology (including religions, both orthodox ones and deformations of religion) for personal reasons. Then, that ideology can have a causal or stimulative effect, amplifying the personal history into a worldview of sorts. This happens with everyone, and for everyone it has not only positive but negative effects, with differing balances between the two.

    I will admit that I didn't read it through the family angle, though obviously when you point it out that's central, if not primary. What came to my mind was that these were two people whose formative experiences were in a war zone, as their uncle pointed out in that interview. War damages children, we know. There's deep, formative trauma, not only for those directly hurt (themselves, immediate family) but for those who witness what war does to their community and society.

    So, I sort of thought, well, you carry that in you, it probably doesn't get the kind of attention that trauma needs (who will pay for the therapy, and how qualified will the therapist be, for a Chechen in the US?) and then what must have happened is that things went a direction in their life where they returned to that trauma and felt it was OK to kill people.

    The other dynamic is that they seemed to have adopted, as members of a truly oppressed group, the identity that their oppressors would give them. Vulgarly (and by no means universally) the stereotype in Russia is that all Chechens are terrorists, or at least potential ones. The process of constructing their identities as Chechens (in the US) led, clearly, to the brothers adopting an identity that was precisely the worst Russian stereotype of who they were. This kind of thing happens, unfortunately.

    I can't imagine that the brothers had any operational links to any Chechen terrorist groups, because Chechen terrorists have no interest in antagonizing the US, the rival of their enemy. 9/11 was a disaster for Chechen terrorists, because for Bush to engage in Cheney's wars he had to give Russia a diplomatic carte blanche to do with Chechnya as they saw fit. Tamerlan may well have gone to Chechnya and returned a "radical" because of what he heard, but I strongly suspect that there was no operative link formed. Likely, these were two young people who, in some sort of crisis, reached out for some explanatory ideology, found a toxic one, and ran with it more or less on their own, or at least not as part of any Chechen terrorist group as we know them to be.