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America’s Enemy Within

NEW YORK – Barring any unexpected new revelations, there is not much to be learned from the Tsarnaev brothers, better known as “the Boston bombers.” We can dig into their family histories in strife-torn Dagestan, or examine, once again, the lethal appeal of Islamist radicalism. But I doubt that this would be enlightening.

The elder brother, Tamerlan, who died in a gun battle with the police, appears to fit perfectly the profile of what the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger calls “the radical loser.” And his younger brother, Dzhokhar, recovering from gunshot wounds in a Boston hospital while waiting to be put on trial for his life, seems to have been a pathetic follower who acted less out of deep conviction than out of fraternal love.

The radical loser is the kind of young man who feels victimized by an unfeeling, uncaring world. That sour sense of rejection, felt by many confused youths, turns for some into a fierce desire for vengeance. Like Samson in the temple of Gaza, he wishes to destroy himself in a public act of violence, taking as many people as possible with him.

Anything can trigger this final act: a lover’s rejection, a job application denied. In the case of Tamerlan, a talented boxer, he was denied the chance to become a champion because he was not yet a United States citizen. Radical Islamism offered him a ready-made cause to die for.