Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died shortly after being captured, was an American immigrant, born in Soviet Russia, pursuing his dream of becoming a professional boxer, and a US citizen.
His dreams were shot down just before Tamerlan’s life took a darker course, ending days after he and his brother Dzhokhar allegedly tried to set off four homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon, injuring 264 and killing 3.
This story isn’t about making excuses for terrorists. It’s about noting a simple, and interesting, fact – that Tamerlan Tsarnaev (allegedly) veered towards terrorism after his American boxing-dream was shattered by the simple fact that he’s an immigrant, and not an US citizen.
Tamerlan’s goal was to make the US Olympic boxing team, which he believed would open the door to his becoming a naturalized US citizen. It didn’t happen.
I’ve searched through a large number of stories about this, and they’re all somewhat incomplete, include the NYT’s. What we know is that Tamerlan wanted to become a professional boxer and an American citizen, and in his mind one would help lead to the other.
His plan: To qualify for the US Olympic Team, which he felt would help him become a naturalized citizen (though it’s not entirely clearly how, or why, he thought qualifying for the team would aid his naturalization).
But things never got that far. While winning two regional boxing championships in New England, Tamerlan’s first try at the national Golden Gloves title (which doesn’t assure qualifying for the Olympics, but certainly helps a lot) failed when he lost in the first round, unfairly many thought.
Tamerlan’s plan was to come back the next year, after winning New England again. But an angry competitor complained to the boxing authority about his taunting of a competitor, and at the same time the Golden Gloves changed its eligibility rules, banning legal permanent residents from competing – Tamerlan was out, and his boxing dream over.
This happened in 2010.
In 2011, Tamerlan reportedly became a radical.
In 2013, he allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon.
As you can imagine, the far-right Republican base is already up-in-arms over the Times story. How dare the NYT’s report the facts! Especially facts that might, in the eyes of the far right, detract from their preferred “the Koran made him do it” narrative.
Nothing in this new potential narrative detracts from the old. Lots of people lose sports tournaments, and lots don’t make the Olympic team. And most of them don’t turn into terrorists. For whatever reason, Tamerlan appeared to turn more religiously radical, and shortly thereafter, the theory goes, he became a terrorist.
Whether or not anti-immigrant policies helped radicalize Tamerlan, we’ll never know. But it’s certainly fair, and just as necessary, to find out why the Boston Marathon bombing happened, and what would radicalize someone to the point of wanting to kill innocent people.
We do ourselves no favors by refusing to explore every reasonable possibility, even if it means the truth might not end up buttressing our preferred narrative.