Louis Palme / Apr 28, 2013


In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing which resulted in five deaths and 264  people injured, the conclusion of many in the government and the media was that the perpetrators, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,  had self-radicalized themselves by information on the Internet.  Americans were told this was a much more onerous root cause than if the terrorists had belonged to some sort of Al Qaeda cell or if they had been sponsored by a foreign government.  If terrorists were working in cells or had foreign contacts, their interactions with others could often be tracked by cell phone or internet activity. A typical article can be seen at:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/boston-bombing-suspect-cites-us-wars-as-motivation-officials-say/2013/04/23/324b9cea-ac29-11e2-b6fd-ba6f5f26d70e_story.html

So how could the two Tsarnaev brothers, who are demonstrably intelligent and who have had opportunities that would be the envy of most of the world, wander down the rat-hole of terrorism rather than pursue one of the more noble avenues offered on the Internet?  Psychologists tell us that radical tendencies are usually the outcome of some sort of traumatic event that pushes one from “normal” behavior.  The direction of the “radical” shift could be left-leaning toward escaping the normal constraints of society, or right-leaning toward holding more tightly to rules and traditions that might give stability and direction to one’s life.  (See:  http://www.ehow.com/about_5048201_can-cause-sudden-personality-changes.html )   In the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, their widely-publicized reason for setting off the horrific bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon was, according to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But those two wars have been under way since the older brother was 14 and the younger brother was 7.  The wars were part of the background of their growing up in America.  Furthermore, if they had issues over those wars, they would have most likely traveled to the war zones as others have done or targeted military sites instead of planting bombs designed to kill and maim primarily women and children spectators at the Boston Marathon. Consequently, it is unlikely that those wars were the traumatic events that caused the Tsarnaev brothers somewhat suddenly to become terrorist bombers.  We must look elsewhere.

Self-realization is a mental recognition of who one really is, in terms of his spiritual beliefs and his personal obligations.  There are numerous religious encounter groups and meditation organizations devoted to self-realization.  Self-realization is in many ways the exact opposite of self-radicalization.  The word “radical” means a change or way of doing something that is new and very different from the usual way.   Self-realization zeros in on the essential who and what of a person, whereas the self-radicalization diverges away from core values and behavior.

Ideological Contradictions in the Quran

The dilemma one faces when looking for core values and behavior with regard to Islam is that the Quran is filled with seemingly contradictory commands.  Those contradictions allow defenders of Islam to pick and choose verses that make Islam appear peaceful and tolerant of other faiths.  But they can do this only by ignoring the stark contradictions in the Quran.  Here are just a few examples:

1. Is Islam a religion of peace?

·       2:224 “Do not make Allah .  . a means to prevent you from  . . making peace among men.”

·       9:123  “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you.  Deal firmly with them.”


2. Is there freedom of belief?


·       2:256 “There is no compulsion in religion.”

·       3:83 “Are they seeking a religion other than Allah’s, when every soul in the heavens and earth has submitted to Him, willingly or by compulsion?”


3.  How should Muslims treat Jews and Christians?


·       2:109 “Forgive and be indulgent (toward Jews and Christians) until Allah gives command.”

·       9:29 “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scriptures as believe not in Allah.”


4. Have some verses in the Quran been abrogated (abolished, done away with, or annulled)?


·       10:64 “The Word of Allah shall never change.”

·       2:106 “If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar.”


Core Islamic Beliefs, based on the Quran

These and many other contradictions in the Quran open the door to a wide range of views about what Muslims should believe and do.   However, Islamic scholars concur that the later verses, revealed in Medina, are the final and most central elements of Islamic ideology.  Surah 9, “The Repentance,” is the undisputed statement of the final will and testament of the Quran. It was revealed in Medina in 631, around the time Muhammad launched an unprovoked military expedition to the Christian outpost of Tabuk some 330 miles from Medina and just before his death.  Words with root jihad are used ten times in Surah 9. These, then, are the core Islamic beliefs based on Surah 9:


1.       Muslims are ordered to slay non-Muslims wherever they may be. (9:5)

2.       All treaties and agreements with non-Muslims have been cancelled. (9:12)

3.       Muslims who left their homes (root: hijrah) and fought for the cause of Allah (root: jihad) with their wealth and their persons are held in greater regard by Allah than those who stayed home. (9:20)

4.       Muslims are forbidden to befriend family members who are not Muslim. (9:23)

5.       Non-Muslims are unclean (root: najis). (9:28)

6.       Jews and Christians must be fought until they become Muslim or pay tribute in utter submission. (9:29)

7.       Muslims may fight non-Muslims at any time during the year. (9:36)

8.       Those Muslims who do not fight will be punished by Allah and will be replaced by others. (9:39)

9.       Muslims who slay others and are slain will be rewarded with the Garden (Paradise). (9:111)

10.  Allah rewards those who provoke the unbelievers and inflict any loss on the enemy.  (9:121)

11.  Only a few should engage in warfare at the same time.  The rest are to instruct themselves and others in the Islamic religion. (9:122)


Sayyid Qutb, in his exhaustive tafsir (commentary) on the Quran, “In the Shade of the Quran,” wrote the following regarding Surah 9:

Revealed in Medina, this surah is one of the last, if not actually the last Quranic revelation. Hence, it contains final rulings on relations between the Muslim community and other people. . . If Muslims today, in their present situation, cannot implement these final rulings, then they are not, now and for the time being, required to do so. . .  They may resort to the provisional rulings, approaching them gradually, until such a time when they are able to implement these final rulings.  But they may not twist the final texts in order to show them consistent with the [more peaceful,] provisional  ones. They may not impose their own weakness on the divine faith, which remains firm and strong. Let them fear Allah and not attempt to weaken Allah’s faith under the pretext of showing it to be a religion of peace.  . . Those defeatists twist the texts in order to save themselves from their imagined embarrassment in trying to explain why Islam moves beyond its original borders to save mankind from submission to anyone other than Allah.  (Vol. VIII, pages 1 and 28)


The Self-Realization Process

In 2007, the New York Police Department published a study of five homegrown Islamic terror cases and published their findings in a report titled, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat.” (http://www.nypdshield.org/public/SiteFiles/documents/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf)

What they discovered was that in all of the cases, the perpetrators made dramatic shifts in their associations and their activities before initiating their terror plots.  The NYPD called this phase in the process of becoming a terrorist the “Self-Identification Phase.”   Here is what the NYPD found:

Self-Identification is the phase where individuals, influenced by both internal and external factors, begin to explore Salafi Islam, gradually gravitate away from their old identity and begin to associate themselves with like-minded individuals and adopt this ideology as their own. The catalyst for this religious seeking is a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one’s certitude in previously held beliefs and opens an individual to be receptive to new worldviews.

There can be many types of triggers that can serve as the catalyst including:


o   Economic (losing a job, blocked mobility)

o   Social (alienation, discrimination, racism – real or perceived)

o   Political (international conflicts involving Muslims)

o   Personal (death in the close family)

With regard to the Boston bombers, the elder brother Tamerlan, at some time definitely entered the self-realization process.  However, there do not seem to be any of the typical triggers identified by the NYPD. He had a beautiful wife and daughter, he had won the New England Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing championship in 2010, he was granted U.S. citizenship in September, 2012, and he was enrolled in college. Still, his uncle Ruslan Tsarni noticed a sharp change in Tamerlan around 2009: “. . every other word he starts sticking in the words of Allah.  I questioned what he’s doing for work, (and) he claimed he would just put everything in the will of Allah.”  He also began praying five times a day.  Muslim prayers are not about love and peace, but rather about differentiation and alienation.  (See:  http://www.annaqed.com/en/content/show.aspx?pod=1&aid=16452 )   In 2012, he opened his own YouTube channel which he named, “the esteemed sword of Allah.”  It featured jihad videos and sermons by militant Muslim preachers.  After the Boston bombing and on the day that Tamerlan died, he called his uncle for the first time in two years.  He greeted him with “Salam Aleikum,” and urged his uncle to keep up his prayers.


How difficult can it be for a Muslim reading the Quran in a language he understands to come to the conclusion that being a Muslim obligates him to carry out the specific commands contained in that sacred book?   Further, how difficult can it be for that Muslim to realize that the commands in Surah 9 represent the final and most critical ones in the entire Quran?  Has a Muslim ever renounced, by chapter and verse, the commands in Surah 9:5 to slay the idolaters, to arrest them, to besiege them, to lie in ambush everywhere for them”?  Would any Muslim need outside information or indoctrination to come to the conclusion that being a Muslim requires him to do what is commanded in Surah 9?


What is truly “radical” about terrorism in the U.S.?

The only “fringe element” that makes Islamic terrorism “radical” in the West is its utter futility.  There are almost 80 would-be Islamic terrorists rotting in U.S. prisons after being charged or convicted for their attempted terror crimes.  The Boston Marathon bombing and the Fort Hood assault remain the only terror attacks since September, 2001, where there were significant casualties.  Not one of these terrorists accomplished anything even remotely related to “establishing Islam” or slowing down the United States’ war on Islamic terrorism.


While there have been very few actual Islamic terror attacks in the U.S. in the past ten years,  the majority of Islamic terror attacks occur in Muslim majority countries (or regions) like Afghanistan (303 in 2012), Iraq (507), Northern Nigeria (276), Pakistan (637), Yemen (108).  In those regions, the terrorists have at least some hope of advancing their particular sect of Islam. 

But the U.S. is a different environment. Public opinion and state and federal laws are mounting up against Islam.  A reliable hadith transmitted by one of Muhammad’s early companions, Huzayfah, relates that  Muhammad once advised, “It is not proper for any Muslim to disgrace himself.” People inquired as to how someone might disgrace himself?  Muhammad replied, “By challenging an evil he is not competent to fight with.” (Musnad, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 4/405)  The implication is that Muslims should never engage in a “jihad” that has no hope of advancing Islam.   In light of this, it is interesting to note that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, lamented, “He put a shame on our family, on the Tsarnaev family. He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity, because everyone now is playing with the word ‘Chechen.’ So they put that shame on the entire ethnicity.”


Muhammad’s policy of refraining from wasting time and energy in a futile conflict gave Muslims time to prepare adequately for future action. That is why Muslims are happy to make short term treaties if they can’t win a conflict. The U.S. Islamic terrorists are actually violating this principle by making attacks that have no prospect of advancing Islam.

The Islamic sanction against suicide bombing is even more straightforward. An incident which illustrates this has been recorded in Sahih Muslim. It took place during the Battle of Khaybar in 629.  A Muslim soldier named Quzmaanuz Zufra fought very bravely and died during the battle. The Muslims said that he was a martyr and would go to Paradise. But Muhammad disagreed, saying he would go to hell. The companions were astonished.  So Muhammad asked them to find out the cause of his death. On inquiry, it was discovered that he had indeed fought very bravely for the Muslims and had fallen down gravely wounded. But then, because the pain of his injury was unbearable, he ended his life with his own sword. (Fathul Bari, Commentary Sahih Bukhari, Kitabul Maghazi, 7/540)  Muhammad’s disapproval of Zufra’s action makes it clear that suicide bombing is not lawful in Islam under any circumstances. According to Islam ideology, the life of a Muslim is so precious that it should never be terminated at will on any pretext.


These two reliable hadith reports are provided merely to show that the American Islamic jihadists are “radical” in the sense that they are violating core Islamic traditions about avoiding situations where jihad and death have no hope of achieving Islamic goals.   In this sense only the Brothers Tsaraev and similar Islamic terrorists are radical.


Repeating the folly of Abraham

The second half of the “no compulsion” verse in the Quran is “True guidance is now distinct from error.” (Surah 2:256) This statement is one that all major faiths might embrace.  Islam, Judaism, and Christian all place their hope in the truth of their particular sacred texts.  The differences between the religions are certainly fault-lines between truth and error.  As these three religions all claim Abraham as an ancestor, a lesson from that patriarch might be useful.


Abraham was promised by God that he would have many descendants and that they would become a great nation. (Genesis 12:2)  The only problem was that he was 75 years old, and his wife Sarah was post-menopausal.  So instead of trusting God, Abraham took matters into his own hands and produced an illegitimate son, Ishmael, by his concubine Hagar.  That was a disaster for reasons recorded in the sacred texts of all three faiths.  In the end, God fulfilled his promise and gave Abraham a legitimate son, Isaac, born of Sarah at age 91. 


Rather than allow truth to win out over error, the Islamic terrorists everywhere in the world are trying to take matters into their own hands to advance Islam by force where error (at least from the Islamic perspective) seems to have the upper hand.   This kind of intervention ultimately might be Islam’s most fatal error.


 Update:  There are new reports circulating that a middle-aged looking, heavy-set, balding man with a red beard named “Misha” mentored Tamerlan in Islamic ideology.  Misha is said to be an Armenian Christian recently converted to Islam.  Tamerlan’s father lamented, “this jerk, this new convert, took [Tamerlan’s] brain away.”    So far, the mysterious mentor has not identified himself, which raises a question:  If the Quran is “a guide, a blessing, and good news,” per  Surah 16:89, why must a Quran instructor go into hiding? 

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