Monday, April 22, 2013

Chilling Portrait of a Terrorist

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly are responsible for exploding two bombs near the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon killing three and injuring 183 (some  critically wounded and/or maimed), murdering an MIT police officer, carjacking and kidnapping, and engaging in a violent shootout grievously wounding an MBTA police officer and injuring others.  Tamerlan was mortally wounded in the shootout; Dzhokhar was also wounded and subsequently captured.

The story of these two brothers is gradually coming out.  Tamerlan was an accomplished amateur boxer, was married and had a young daughter.  It is reported that he turned to radical Islam over the past few years – we do not know exactly why.  He apparently was a loner.

In contrast, Dzhokhar was reportedly an outgoing individual.  His friends and classmates from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and neighbors described him as a friendly and successful person.  He did well academically, winning a college scholarship from the City of Cambridge, was a star of the wrestling team, and was quite gregarious and sociable.  He was enrolled as a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.  In short, he appeared to be everything one would admire in young man and the sort of individual one would be pleased to have as a friend to one’s relatives of the same age.

How could an individual who spent his adolescence successfully integrating into a healthy environment in the Unites States resort to violence, mass murder and terrorism?

Reportedly, Dzhokhar was under the influence of his brother Tamerlan, seven years his elder.  Even so, how could an individual wantonly murder and maim innocent individuals in the community around him?

Dzokhar Tzaranaev’s case is so chilling precisely because he appeared so normal and well adapted.

Perhaps we should not be so surprised.

The Milgram experiment (Milgram, Stanley (1963) "Behavioral Study of Obedience." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67: 371–8) conducted more than fifty years ago demonstrated how volunteers when ordered by an authority figure to do so, repeatedly delivered shocks (or so they thought) of ever higher voltages to the subject of the experiment who was hidden behind a screen.  The supposed subject (actually part of the research team) screamed in pain as the supposed shocks were delivered; volunteers continued delivering shocks even past the point when the subject stopped responding.

The citizens of Germany, the heart of European culture, slaughtered millions when Germany was under Nazi rule.

Humanity, decency and empathy are a thin veil that an individual can pierce when an authority figure commands it and/or when an individual subscribes to an ideology.

What can society do to protect itself?

First, we can attempt to teach our children to be empathetic, question authority and choose rational evidence based analysis over ideology.  Secondly, we can attempt rationally to design means to prevent individuals from being able to commit violence and murder.

Unfortunately, the prevailing forces in this country tend to venerate ideology over rationality.  A rational approach to preventing violence and murder would be first to attempt to prevent those individuals who are unstable or inclined to violence from acquiring the means of harming of others.  However, here ideology triumphs over rationality.  The cowardly US Senate last week failed to pass a minimal law that would mandate background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from purchasing firearms.

A rational approach to reducing violence would involve the strict regulation of guns, registration of all firearms, background checks, mandatory safety training, and banning weapons with large magazines and the ability to fire rapidly.  Purchase of explosives would be limited to licensed professionals.  All explosives would contain taggants so that they can be traced.

The evidence shows that the greater the availability of guns the greater the amount of gun violence and that laws controlling the availability of weapons work well.  For example, in 1996  in response to a mass shooting the conservative government of John Howard in Australia enacted comprehensive gun control measures.  Since then there have been no more mass shootings and the annual number of gun deaths, in a prompt and sustained manner, fell by approximately one-half.

In the name of public safety in the US we apply tight controls and record keeping requirements on the purchase of drugs, automobile ownership, and the issuance of driver’s licenses.  In the wake of 9/11 we gave the government unprecedented power to spy on its own citizens.  In the past 30 years, approximately 3,000 Americans have died in terrorist attacks while 900,000 American civilians have died of gunshots.  Rational and effective control on the availability of weapons would likely save the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens over the next 30 years.  The cost - a slight inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners.  The choice is so clear that only an irrational ideologue, or cowardly politician, could disagree.

Unfortunately, the decaying – but still powerful – remnants of the Republican party seem bent on promoting mindless ideology.  These Republicans, along with a few contemptible Democrats,  say no to the most minimal restrictions on gun ownership and access to explosives. These politicians act to enable the murderers and terrorists they claim to hate.

The Boston marathon bombings are chilling not only because some of our fellow citizens and residents chose to murder and maim the innocents around them, but also because many of our politicians appear devoted to ensuring that such murders and maimings will continue.


  1. Mr Cohen, did you not notice that all weapons the bombers had were illegally obtained? Do you truly feel they would have gone through a voluntary background check that you liberals wanted to jam through the Senate last week? Your statement: "The citizens of Germany, the heart of European culture, slaughtered millions when Germany was under Nazi rule." Don't you believe that this would have been more difficult to accomplish if Jewish families were allowed to posses firearms to defend themselves "from a tyrannical government"? That is the heart of the 2nd amendment, not simply the right to own and bear arms, not strictly an armed militia, TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM A TYRANNICAL GOVERNMENT!! How can you use the death and maiming of Boston citizens to, once again, attempt to prove you are smarter than everyone else. THE TWO ISSUES ARE NOT CONNECTED. They would have acquired the weapons if there was a complete ban on firearms. They did not walk into a store and purchase them. Stop standing in the blood of innocents who are killed by radicals and by mentally challenged individuals the way the Democrats, who you idolize, have been doing. Try and blog an original thought on your own instead of spewing the hate soaked rhetoric of the liberals. You should be ashamed of this ending quote: "many of our politicians appear devoted to ensuring that such murders and maimings will continue." That is foolish and thoughtless garbage, and should be beneath you.

  2. Amen Amen Lou. These blogs reflect the views of an impenetrable biased ideefixe of the far left. They also reflect a colossal failure to self-impose perspective and balance in assessing our great nation, this ingenious, unique people unified and shaped largely by brilliant conceptual legacies of 18th century intellectuals. This blog has scant credibility for two simple reasons: 1. No original thoughts or insights are expressed. The commentary is predictable and extracted from views voiced by the NYT, WP, AJC, NPR, MSNBC, and Soros-supported, J-Street, etc. 2. The title of the blog is disingenuous. Doctrinaire feelings, beliefs, are used to trump not only common sense but also evidence.

  3. Cohen asks and states: “What can society do to protect itself? "First, we can attempt to teach our children to be empathetic, question authority and choose rational evidence based analysis over ideology". "Unfortunately, the prevailing forces in this country tend to venerate ideology over rationality. How to protect the people of our nation? The mass murderers were the antithesis of empathy, reason, and yet we fail to designate them HONESTLY and not with NOT DOUBLE-SPEAK. . Major Hasan and the Tsareav brothers provided ample pre-incident evidence of suspicious activity, and radicalization by foreign influences. Political ideology penetrated the our military thereby failing to derail the actions of Major Hasan even after his fanatical Islamist ideology was known to army colleagues. The Department of Defense and federal agencies classified the Hasan shootings as an act of workplace violence and declined requests from survivors to categorize it as act of terrorism, or motivated by militant Islamic religious convictions, a designation supported by the political left. Liberal “tolerance of cultural diversity” or more sinister reasons enabled these killers to pursue their ideology to a gruesome conclusion.
    A fraction of youth with schizophrenia and capable of violence require adequate diagnosis, vigilance, restrictions, daily clinical care. Intensive care was decimated by left-leaning activists who viewed civil rights of the mentally ill as trumping safety for themselves and others. Mental hospitals were emptied, medications substituted for intense care, scrutiny and seriously ill mental patients were sentenced to marginal lives on the street, or inadequate half-way homes, or prisons for the criminally insane. Cohen’s views on weapons restrictions require scrutiny: the Tsareav brothers used ball bearings, nails, pressure cookers, cell phones, sharp objects and other simple tools to make the two bombs. Should these be banned? Major Hasan used legally purchased guns and ammo to kill his trusting fellow soldiers. Had he been harassed because of his religious views, profiling charges would have been leveled at the army and the gun shop. Cohen echoes the administration and far-left view of last week's Senate vote: "The cowardly US Senate last week failed to pass a minimal law that would mandate background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from purchasing firearms." He fails to mention that Hasan was not mentally ill when he bought his gun (the army paid for his medical and psychiatric training, employed him as a psychiatrist and taught him how to use a weapon), and the Newtown, CT killings were conducted by a man who borrowed a gun from his mentally stable mother. The bill would have given, at best a false sense of security. Guns can be borrowed, stolen, purchased across the border or bought on the black market. That's how many people with criminal intent obtain weapons. Chemical fertilizer is a common constituent of bombs. Should farmers be subjected to background checks? chemists? pharmacists? Tragically, hundreds of thousands of people have died from gunshot wounds. Yet, it is estimated that since Roe v Wade, over 50 million babies have been aborted in the US. Of these, an unknown number would have been viable outside the uterus. We lament the loss of lives from gunshot wounds, yet anti-abortionists are vilified and designated irrational by left wing ideologues. The decision of when a developing child a human being resides in the emotional, ethical quarters of the brain, not in evidence or common sense or science. It is uncharacteristic for this writer to label people when discussing views, but Cohen’s labeling of senators as cowards or republicans as decaying remnants is disconcerting. He promotes himself as driven by evidence. Yet this blog is orchestrated by an indoctrinated man, whose ideological beliefs are indistinguishable from religious zeal, and whose politics trump evidence and common sense.