Substituting Identity for Motivation

Let's be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don't really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they're literally Caucasian, but they're also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.

But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity. The sentiment coming from a lot of people on the right today runs to, "See! See! Mooslems!!!" Some of them are using the suspects' identity as a reason why we shouldn't pass immigration reform, and the increasingly unhinged Glenn Beck is insisting even today that the government is protecting a Saudi man who was involved in the bombing, I guess because the Obama administration is in league with Al Qaeda or something. Whether this has anything to do with the receiver the CIA implanted in Beck's brain to exert its mind control over him through satellite transmissions could not be confirmed.

We should note that there are people on the right being restrained and responsible; not everyone is like the repellent Pamela Geller, already referring to the "Boston Jihad Bomber" (and no, I'm not going to link to her oozing pustule of a web site). But here is an editorial from the upcoming issue of the Weekly Standard titled "Civilization and Barbarism," in which William Kristol labors to remind his readers that in the world there is us, the civilized folk, and our enemies, the barbarians. He casts a wide net (barbarism can be apparently be found not only in terrorist attacks but also in Roe v. Wade), but it's a plea to simplify your thinking, to make sure that in matters of foreign or domestic policy the only question is who is Us and who is Them. Once you've established that and you know that Them aren't human at all but just barbarians, all the solutions become clear. The foreign barbarians must simply be crushed, in the most violent way possible (though it will not be Bill Kristol or his children with their lives at risk; they have people for that). As for the domestic barbarians who reside in the opposite party, well, we don't want to kill them, but you certainly wouldn't compromise with a barbarian, would you?

To this way of thinking, when you're dealing with barbarians, understanding their motivations just muddies your thinking and saps your will. Identity is all that matters. Maybe that's because it can be so hard to understand other people's motivations. For instance, I get how someone could become enraged over the death and suffering that have been the collateral consequences of all America's various foreign adventures. But I can't understand how a person could decide that blowing up a bunch of innocent people could possibly be a morally defensible or even practically effective response. Does the attacker in these kinds of cases say to themselves, "This is really going to make a difference"? It's hard to get inside their head in a way that makes any sense.

So it's easier to say, "They did it because that's just how those people are." It's an answer that means you don't have to ask any more questions.


I'm going to assume that you meant "Identity" in the headline, not identify.

Human minds seem to thrive on taking mental shortcuts. Stereotypes fit so easily into that model.

Don't take this wrong, but what a Washington insider bunch of cack. And what an astounding illustration of irony and hypocrisy.

Why don't you "be honest and admit" the reality: a small number of partisans on both sides are the only ones "wishing for" this event's perpetrators to have any particular identity.

My guess is 90% of Americans don't wish this to be either a left wing nut, a right wing nut or a Islamacist nut. Get out of your bubble. I am guessing 90% of Americans want this over, intelligently understood, and intelligently prevented in future.

I cannot think of a better illustration what is wrong in Washington than the author's views. And I am not talking about Congress and the administration, but our polarized and unbearably partisan political pundits, who out do them both Congress and Administrations by an order of magnitude in divisiveness and polarization.

Journalists like irony. I hope they still teach in JO school. Did you miss that part and not realize it YOU who are engaging in biased and prejudiced ascribing of small-minded "identity motivation" by this VERY article!

I agree with Cas87. This was just another version of "both sides do it", and it's not true of everybody, whatever their leanings might be.

Okay, I decried "both sides do it" talk, and I need to clarify that. I'm agreeing with Cas87 even though he/she said "a small number of partisans on both sides do it" because that is an accurate narrow statement, rather than the broad "we all do it".

Anti-white racism is on display in this article. Consistent with the effort to demonize white men in general, since they are the biggest threat to the illegitimate power structure that Waldman is paid to defend.

"As of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing." Umm, yes. We do. These guys were radical Islamists. That's a fact. It's not unusual for a radical Islamist to act out his religious beliefs by killing people. That happens quite a bit. And if these were Tea Party activists would anyone on the Left actually be saying "well, we yeah, they were right wing extremists, but we really shouldn't jump to conclusions here." Heck, you people jumped to the "Evil Righties Did it" conclusion within minutes of the bombs going off. So give it a rest Waldman. You're just embarrassing yourself now.

"they're literally Caucasian"

Being from the Caucasian region does not simply make you Caucasian. This is not the stone age, Mr. Waldman, human populations have migrated and mixed for thousands and thousands of years. The Caucasus Mountains was deemed a reference point in the ebb and flow of racial populations by anthropologists, not an indicator of your race.

Besides which, Caucasian classification INCLUDES Arabic peoples.

The motivations of the Boston bombers are a complete non-sequitur to the question of whether radical Islam, ultra-right militant groups, neo-nazism, or vegetarianism are problems worth talking about. There is enough data on all of these items that makes fixating on one individual event as a basis for opinion an exercise in stupidity. However, if it turns out that the bomber did in fact believe he was participating in jihad, than we would certainly include this as an example of the consequences of religious specific beliefs.

The attitude of this post suggests that it doesn't matter what someone specifically believes when it comes to terrorism, "identity is all that matters"... whatever that means. It's incredibly naive to doubt that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's belief in the metaphysics of martyrdom had anything to do with 9/11.

*specific religious beliefs

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