, Salem, MA


May 2, 2013

Watson: The terrorist mind

Looked at from a certain angle, the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon has a sticky surrealism to it, a quality of indigestible and gnawing unease that comes from two factors: one, our experience of the cognitive dissonance that the seemingly incompatible juxtapositions in the life stories of the two bombing suspects produce within us.

And two, our immediate — even as we are learning the facts of the story and processing the event — and instinctive awareness that violence and its perpetrators will always be among us.

As we read the tale, and gape at just about everything in it, we struggle to make sense of it, to understand it, for that is what humans do. We create stories — often called narratives — which we use to interpret and understand the parts of the world that we experience. Because a big part of that process involves projecting ourselves and our attitudes and our likely actions into the stories we hear, or the events we experience, we are most challenged — sometimes to the point of major disorientation — when we can’t identify with major parts of a story.

Look at the Tsarnaev brothers — Dzhokhar, 19, and Tamerlan, 26 — and there are terrible, disturbing juxtapositions. They are terrible and disturbing because they threaten our values, our notions of what to expect from people, and our understandings of what we can take to be true.

Tamerlan was a highly accomplished amateur boxer. In 2010, he was the New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champion. In 2009, he had participated in the national Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City. Those are high-profile, highly respected, highly sought-after achievements. It takes courage, discipline, character, respect and intelligence to attain the skills and fitness and mental strength necessary to win repeatedly at those championship levels. Tamerlan had trained seriously for more than 10 years.

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