I like athletics although I don’t run or jog these days. My younger son is a good short distance runner and has won several regional awards in hurdles and relay races. Although he is a freshman in a university now, his school records in 110m hurdles and other such sprints still remain unbroken and may remain so for a while.
Anytime there is a world class athletic competition shown in the TV, I am glued to it. I am a great fan of Usayn Bolt of Jamaica, probably the fastest man ever in world history.
However, the 26 plus mile long marathon race has not been my favorite athletic item to watch. But I still remember the year 1988 vividly when for the first time in Boston’s history a Kenyan Muslim by the name of Ibrahim Hussein won the race in April. No African had won the coveted race before in Boston. He ended that drought by beating fellow African – Tanzanian Jumo Ikangaa by one second in the closest marathon race ever. Soon thereafter the Africans, esp. the Kenyans, would go on to dominate the race except in 1990 and 2001 when an Italian and a South Korean won, respectively.
In April 15, 1991, Monday, Ibrahim Hussein came again to run in the 95th Boston Marathon, and he won. It was the third victory in the past four years for an African. He was 32 years old then. This time, he won very easily outdistancing Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, the 1989 champion, by more than 50 yards. It took him 2 hours, 11 minutes and 6 seconds to claim the championship in this much watched and internationally prestigious race. With the participation of fellow Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri who had won the silver medal in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, there was much excitement about the race. But Douglas was no match for Ibrahim. The next year, Ibrahim Hussein came again to participate in the 96th Boston Marathon and easily won with a record finish of 2 hours, 8 minutes and 14 seconds – his personal best in an international event.
The Boston Marathon race is an annual event in Boston that is held on the Patriot’s day – the third Monday of April. It began in 1897, and is the world’s oldest annual marathon, and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. An average of 20,000 amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in this event, braving the hilly terrain of New England and varying weather to take part in this race.
This year was no different. Boston Marathon was held on the Patriot’s Day, which fell on April 15, 2013. As usual, runners came from all over the world. But something unusual happened this time. At 2:50 pm, approximately two hours after the 23-year old Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia had won the race and other winners had crossed the finish line, two bombs exploded near Copley Square, some 225 yards from the course, killing three and injuring another 175 people.
Within hours, the FBI believed that two Tsarnaev brothers were responsible for planting the bombs. Their pictures in the panic-ridden crowd were telecast on the TV. The older brother Tamerlan (27) was admitted to a Boston hospital with multiple gunshot wounds where he died in the early morning hours of Friday, and the younger Dzhokhar (19), a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, was captured later in the evening at Watertown, MA after an unprecedented house-to-house manhunt, which locked down the entire greater Boston area for hours. He is now lying grievously wounded in a hospital.
The air is thick with all the speculations whether or not the Tsarnaev brothers, esp. the older brother, were motivated by Jihad and had any connection with the extremists in the restive Caucasus region of Russia where he allegedly visited last year.
Interestingly, the older brother was on the FBI watch list and perhaps monitored for the last 3 years. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the father about the F.B.I.’s close questioning, “two or three times,” of his elder son. He recalled that the agents told his son, “We know what you read, what you drink, what you eat, where you go.” He said they had told his son, that the questioning “is prophylactic, so that no one sets off bombs on the streets of Boston, so that our children could peacefully go to school.” Those comments, he said, disturbed him. “This conversation took place a year and a half ago,” he said. “But there is a question: Why would they talk about it then?”
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, their mother, when contacted by reporters, expressed confidence in her sons’ innocence. “I am 100 percent sure this is a setup,” she told an interviewer on Russia Today. When they were growing up, she said, “nobody talked about terrorism.” Could they be framed by someone, as claimed by their mother?
“I do not believe that my sons could have planned and organized the terrorist act, because they knew U.S. national security services were keeping an eye on them,” Anzor Tsarnaev told Russia’s Channel One television. The FBI said in a statement on Friday that in 2011 it interviewed Tamerlan at the request of a foreign government, which it did not identify. It said the matter was closed because interviews with Tamerlan and family members “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign”. Could this foreign government be Putin’s Russian government? After all, shortly after the bomb blast, he said that he could help identify the terrorists? Was he guessing or did his spies inside the USA know better than their counterparts within the FBI? Why did president Obama thank him after the capture of Dzhokhar?
What is so amazing is that both the brothers appeared to be normal American kind-of-guys who had embraced American lifestyle and were admired for many good things within the community that they lived in. Two years ago the city of Cambridge, MA had awarded a $2,500 scholarship to Dzhokhar, who was listed as a senior at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, a highly regarded public school. He was also a star wrestler in the school team and had won many awards. His older brother Tamerlan was a Golden Gloves boxer and was married with a 3-year old child; he was an Olympic hopeful in boxing. The two were loving and kind-hearted young men who were thought to be “angels” who couldn’t harm anyone. And yet, if the allegations against them are true, they were monsters in disguise!
How could people’s perceptions be so wrong? Did they truly commit this horrendous crime or were they framed? If they did, what went wrong? Could their Chechen heritage have anything to do with their alleged crime in Boston, something now highlighted by some observers? After all, Chechens have been rebelling against Russian imperialism for nearly two centuries, and their territories have been ravaged by genocidal wars under both presidents Yeltsin and Putin in the last two decades, killing nearly a quarter million of their people. But the kids grew up in Kyrgyzstan and then settled in the USA more than a decade ago with a short detour in Kazakhstan via Dagestan. They are as much a product of the USA as most immigrants are who went to schools in this country. If they were angry with what happened to Chechnya, their anger could have been directed at Russia, not the USA. Like many others, I am, thus, baffled to understand why they would take their anger on the Bostonians who loved and adored them!
God willing, we will know more over the next few days, but it is arguable that the roots of the brothers’ radicalization (assuming that the allegations against them are right), if any, are to be found more on the streets of Boston and the Internet than in the war-scorched alleys of Grozny or the valleys of rural Chechnya, something that has been also mentioned by the Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov: “The roots of this evil are to be found in America.”
Were they angry, frustrated or friendless? Or, is it the gun culture virus that America breeds which gravitated them to commit this insane madness?
After all, last year in April, One L. Goh, a 43-year-old former student of Oikos University, a small Christian university in California opened fire at the school, killing at least 7 people and setting off an intense, chaotic manhunt that ended with his capture at a nearby shopping center. Last July, James Eagen Holmes – an American white graduate student of University of Colorado – who was upset with his professor and had his access to the university campus revoked, killed 12 and injured 58 others at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.
And there are plenty of such examples in American workplaces, school and college campuses from Columbine to Virginia Tech and beyond. What motivated each of them to commit such heinous crimes against others? Were any of these crimes less terroristic than what has happened in Boston? Where is the labeling for each of these crimes? Who decides? By what metrics?
What makes such crimes ‘psychological’ and not terrorism? After all we don’t hear the use of the term ‘terrorism’ in the context of those mass murders; but as soon a Muslim American, immigrant or not, does a similar horrific crime – the anti-Muslim, Islamophobe pundits are all agog to connect the dots to Islamic extremism or Jihad? Why such a biased categorization?
And here again, with this Boston tragedy, so far what we heard about the Tsarnaev brothers is all one-sided stories suggesting that they had planted those bombs. We did not hear the suspects’ side of the story yet. But we need to.
President Obama, when he addressed the nation on Friday night after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, seemed to be searching for answers. He asked, “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”
We all want to know – why? But before get to that ‘why’, we need to establish that the two brothers were involved. However, for that knowledge to come un-coerced, the young surviving suspect needs to be tried in an open court just like any other American with same rights, and not as an ‘enemy combatant’ – as demanded by the hawkish and arrogant Senator Lindsey Graham. In the meantime, the rabid anti-Muslim Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has called for increased spying on all Muslims in the USA. We are not surprised!
Will the Obama Administration guarantee an open trial in a civilian court that would help us get to the truth and nothing but the truth?
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book – Devotional Stories – is now available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.