© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: The Brothers Tsarnaev: tragic farce

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 9, 2013 - In 1880, Fyodor Dostoyevsky published his final novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The work is generally considered to be a classic of Russian literature and the crowning achievement of the author’s distinguished career.

It was originally intended to be the opening volume of an even grander epic entitled, The Life of a Great Sinner, but the author died less than four months after its publication. Nonetheless, the story of the Karamazov family endures as a critically acclaimed masterpiece that delves into virtually every question worth discussing in western philosophy.

I first encountered the book in high school, where it was required reading. Tackling the weighty tome elicited the predictable groans and laments from the television generation, of which my classmates and I were members. 

In truth, the text itself was quite readable but the Russian names were another matter. Along with the notoriously polysyllabic Karamazovs, one met Pavel Fydorovich Smerdyakov, Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova and Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtseva. For people like me who “hear” what they read, this nomenclature made for some tough sledding.

It now appears that a weak sequel to Dostoyevsky’s original may be taking shape in the unfolding investigation into the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Evolving revelations there seem to validate the observation of Karl Marx that history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Before examining the strange tale of the Brothers Tsarnaev in detail, a few qualifications are in order. The first of these concerns legalities.

None of the individuals mentioned in the remainder of this column has been convicted of anything relative to the attacks at the marathon. All actions attributed to them are taken from news reports and are thus “alleged.” The reader is free to insert that adjective wherever he or she may deem appropriate.

Then again, reporters still refer to the older brother, Tamerlan, as a “bombing suspect.” As he is presently resting somewhere in the basement of a funeral home in Massachusetts, the odds of his eventual conviction are not good.

While the “suspect” designation is technically correct, it is conceptually misleading. By this school of thought, I suppose we should refer to John Wilkes Booth as the “alleged assassin” of Abraham Lincoln.

Secondly, I have colloquialized names of the characters involved to make them easier on American ears.

Finally, while the actions of the bombers are at times comically inept, rest assured the author finds nothing funny about the carnage they have wrought upon innocent fellow citizens. I think of these two as moral zombies. Like all zombies, they are at once malicious, stupid and dangerous.


The immediate family of the malevolent dimwits who committed the bombings came to this country as ethnic refugees from southern Russia. Obviously, nobody at State thought to investigate the details of their persecution because they now seem to be able to safely travel home when the spirit moves them.

Instead of asking awkward questions, authorities welcomed them with open arms and prompted added the family to the welfare rolls. After Ma Tsarnaev was nabbed for shoplifting, she fled to Russia rather than face a felony theft rap over here. Apparently, the family matron didn’t get the memo about traditional Islam’s dim view of thieves.

Pa is likewise now back across the pond. He and Ma, however, are clearly members of a distinct minority group because they think their sons are innocent.

The couple left their children behind to forge their destinies in the New World — with, of course, public assistance. The two daughters have remained essentially anonymous throughout the proceedings and may be guilty of nothing more than flawed consanguinity. It was the sons—bombers #1 and #2 — that propelled the family’s checkered history to national prominence.

These two are believed to be “self-radicalized” jihadists. Though no one has yet offered a formal definition of “self-radicalization,” the process appears to be the ideological equivalent of an internet porn addiction.

Bomber #1 was an aspiring amateur boxer whose path to citizenship had been blocked by a domestic assault arrest. As a non-citizen, he was ruled ineligible for the Olympic trials, after which he drifted into Islamic extremism as an alternative method of venting his hostilities.

The devout Muslim met his future wife in a bar. She was an American citizen and herself a convicted shoplifter who converted to Islam. As of this writing, the operative alibi of the Widow Tsarnaev seems to be that she was too busy working to support her deadbeat husband and child to notice the head of the household had converted their small apartment into a bomb-making factory.

#1 had recently returned from a six-month trip to his homeland — the very place the family had fled to avoid harassment. There, it’s suspected that he augmented his on-line education in extremism with hands-on experience. 

Russian Intelligence had previously alerted the FBI — and later, the CIA — that this subject had terrorist inclinations and the CIA had placed him on a watch-list. Yet despite these obvious red flags, he was allowed back into the USA, without difficulty.

After the bombers’ photos were made public, they panicked. First, they murdered an MIT campus police officer to steal his sidearm. That plot failed when the brothers couldn’t figure out how to remove the dead officer’s gun from its retention holster.

Still short one gun, they car-jacked a SUV, abducted its owner and subsequently visited three ATMs to loot the victim’s bank account. At the first, they screwed up the password. At the second, they managed to withdraw $800. At the third, they received a notice that they had exceeded the account’s one-day withdrawal limit.

The victim managed to escape when his hapless captors stopped for gas. He notified the police, which led in short order to a shootout wherein Bomber #1 was wounded.  Bomber #2 — whose jihad skills appear to need some work — ran over #1 in the hot SUV while fleeing the scene, thereby insuring his brother’s death.

Bomber #2, also wounded, was found hiding in a dry-docked boat in a nearby backyard the following day. He had been attending college on a city-sponsored scholarship after graduating from a prestigious public high school. Three of his former classmates were charged with obstruction of justice and/or lying to the FBI in connection with the case. Two of these people were in the country illegally on expired student visas.

At the moment, an uncle — who had termed his nephews “losers” — is trying to find a burial plot for the elder brother. Local Muslims want nothing to do with him.

Twelve years into the War on Terror, with untold billions spent to enhance homeland security, the city of Boston was laid low by jihad’s version of the Katzenjammer Kids. And that is a genuinely tragic farce…

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.