bombershadji muradWhat brings two immigrant men, growing up in the fortunate surroundings of suburban Boston, to the breaking point of terrorism?

Following up on five days of gruesome footage on the Boston Marathon bombings, pundits now are filling cable news hours interviewing acquaintances of the Brothers Tsarnaev, airing the opinions of professors touting flimsy social theories, and of political hacks with axes to grind on one side or another. They would be better off to look where Common Core will never look again (Common Core being the newly re-oriented, Obama-nationalized curriculum) – classical literature, namely Count Leo Tolstoy’s penultimate short novel telling the story of the Chechen anti-hero, Hadji Murad.

Set in mid-19th Century Chechnya, Tolstoy tells the true story of Chechen warlord Hadji Murad as only he can – briefly, with concise detail and tragic judgment. Murad is a Muslim chieftain at odds with the local Imam leader; he has defected to the Russian enemy and his family has been captured by the Imam, yet the Russians refuse to help – they are preoccupied with serving their distant Czar. For this mountain tribe warrior there is no going home; he fights for his definition of justice, bravely and hopelessly, against oppression from all sides. For centuries, the Chechens have been a people who do not know peace – they are incessantly beleaguered by their Russian or Turkish neighbors; they just know how to fight.

This is one version of a romantic narrative that could have found its way into the hearts of the terrible young Chechen men who came to Boston. It’s a compelling story that hasn’t much involved Europeans. But more likely, the brothers are not Chechens at heart, but rather disoriented Islamic adolescents without a coherent history or a future in the 21st Century world that is America – a story intruding harshly and more often into our suburban lives. We can welcome them, but so far we don’t have any of the tools to reach inside them.

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