Troubling questions from Boston bombing remain

The events of last week’s bombing at the Boston marathon catapults the whole perplexing issue of why individuals becoming radicalized

The horrific events of last week’s bombing at the Boston marathon and the dramatic manhunt catapults the whole perplexing issue of why individuals becoming radicalized back onto the radar screen.

From the moment of triumph as runners crossed the finish line to the fatal explosions that killed three, severely injured over 170, and devastated families, the week unfolded in nightmarish reality as the massive manhunt culminated in capturing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in a backyard boat. But his injuries may seriously delay him being interrogated and providing answers to the burning question: Why?

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan, who died in a shootout with police Friday, immigrated to the U.S. as ethnic Chechnyians a decade ago. By all accounts, they were well adjusted, well liked, polite, talented at sports, and smart. They raised no suspicions yet somewhere, somehow a shadowy world drew them down a one-way path toward pressure-cooker bombs, weapons, and death.

How did these young men become radicalized? How did they get the weapons and the means to do what they did? Was someone else behind their actions?  Who are those murky recruiters who ensnare young people in a violent, extremist world?

In 2011 CSIS issued a report, A Study of Radicalization: The Making of Islamist Extremists in Canada Today. The results of the study showed troubling facts indicating that the search for patterns and trends on how individuals become radicalized remains elusive. But what is known is that influences include family, foreign travel, spiritual charismatic leaders, group influence, and Internet influence.  No surprise there.

They are young (18-35 years of age), well integrated into society (i.e., none of those individual case studies in the report had been marginalized within Canadian society), many have some level of post-secondary education (“often within the scientific, computer and engineering fields”), and they are the product of the computer-savvy Internet age. The low incidence of refugee claimants suggested that immigration trauma was not a driver in picking up the radical cause either.

According to the report, 24 individuals in Canada have been arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act and 13 have been convicted. Eleven of them were from the Toronto 18 group plus two Canadians in Ottawa and Montreal for promoting terrorist conspiracies abroad.

Since 9/11, the Muslim faith has taken a beating. But conversion to Islam is hardly a done-deal, go-to path to extremism. According to a 2009 RCMP Report entitled Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed, “An estimated 25 per cent of American Muslims are converts and anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people convert to Islam each year in the United Kingdom. Most converts to Islam are simply that – average people who have found that Islam speaks to them as a faith.”

But “ordinariness” is exactly what works for radicalized youth. It is the hallmark of their cover-up. “There is no reason that Canadian born terrorists would not like Tim Horton’s doughnuts,” the report stated.

But that duality of an extremely violent yet nondescript individual is what gives law enforcers such headaches. After the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended classes and dorm parties at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Go figure.

Somewhere in the process of understanding their faith these young people push back the boundaries of former beliefs, buying into the ideologue of the “single narrative” that Islam is under attack. And in that darkening world is where the recruiters and trainers move in, crippling free, cohesive thinking.

Yesterday the House of Commons debated Bill S-7 to amend the Criminal Code, the Evidence Act, and the Security of Information Act. Perhaps a timely move.

How many other brothers, twosomes, or angry individuals are out there on deck waiting to strike?

No one knows.