None of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends could believe the “sweet” young man would try to murder a city. (This angered John Podhoretz, who was VERY MAD that people would say nice things about an “alleged” hahajustkiddinghetotallydidit terrorist, as if there is no value in understanding that a once-sweet man could do this kind of thing too.) But for his older brother, Tamerlan, even his own family seemed to loathe him. Dzhokhar’s family called him an “angel.” The kindest thing — by far — that anyone said about Tamerlan was that he was an ALL-CAPS LOSER. The brothers even wore white caps and black caps, respectively, as if to unwittingly fulfill old-timey Spaghetti Western stereotypes. Of course we still do not know a goddamn thing, but the popular impression is that younger, “sweet” Dzhokhar was coerced or brainwashed by his malevolent, radicalized older brother. So fuck it, we will work on that assumption. Is there anything we learned in grad school that might help explain this? As a matter of fact, for once, there is!
Data shows that immigrants who arrive here as teens have worse assimilation outcomes than immigrants who arrive as young children. (We will skip the discussion of whether assimilation itself is a “racist” goal, because jesus christ fuck you grad school.) It is one of the many data points for Segmented Assimilation, which is a thing you could read about if you love jargon and tables and arguing and citations of Portes and Zhou.
Without giving $19 to JSTOR or finding our own mimeographs from Immigration Class (yes, we took a whole class on it, with this guy, and if you buy one book today, buy his because on the real it is fucking beautiful, and not fucking grad-schooly at all), we will leave the data aside and just start talking hypotheses. Our own.
Dzhokhar came as an eight-year-old. He was by every account a “normal” kid who got along well, had tons of friends, had good educational outcomes (graduation, college attendance), and was all-around swell. Tamerlan, his older brother, came as 15-year-old (or so). He said he didn’t have a single American friend. He said he “didn’t understand them.”
By taking a young man who was already at the prime age for alienation and then literally making him an alien in a strange land, his parents (or society, or what have you) set him on a trajectory that would statistically have been a downward one. Combine that with an alienated boy’s restive search for belonging and family, and that’s a young man who’s prime material for radicalization. If he were Salvadorean, he could have joined MS-13. Instead he seems to have joined Assholes for Allah.
FBI, if you would like to hear some more stuff from grad school, you can find me right here. Happy to help.