"Western commentators sometimes blame harsh economic conditions, dysfunctional family circumstances, confused identity, the generic alienation of young males, a failure to integrate into the larger society, and so on. None of this is convincing, as the Tsarnaev case shows.
Born in the former Soviet Union to a Chechen father who had sought asylum in the United States in 2002, both Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan had received the gifts of free education, free housing, and free medical care from various US governmental agencies.
Their paths to becoming US citizens could scarcely have been smoother. So why did the brothers feel compelled to build two explosive devices and detonate them in a crowd of spectators?
Growing up, the Tsarnaevs were typical examples of what I call “Mecca Muslims,” meaning that they were not raised to be zealots. The parents — at least in their early years in the United States — do not seem to have been very devout. The brothers rarely observed Islamic strictures: one had dreams of becoming a boxing champion and spent most of his days training while the other had a busy social life, dated girls, and smoked pot.
Yet when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a bloodstained note in the final hours before his capture, the first words he used were: “I believe there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” That is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, and it is the most important of the five pillars of Islam. Today it is also the banner of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.
What he wrote next made it clear that he was no naive dupe but a fully-fledged “Medina Muslim” — that is to say, a committed believer in the literal application of the teachings and practice of the Prophet Mohammed after his move to Medina and adoption of jihad — holy war — as a method.
“I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus [the highest level of Paradise] (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive ... I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) [a martyr] inshallah to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!” He also offered this explicit account of his and his brother’s motivations: “the ummah is beginning to rise/ [unintelligible] has awoken the mujahideen, know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that[?]”
When people commit violence in the name of religion, we must consider the possibility that they mean what they say."