The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.

It Usually Takes Courage To Be a Murderous Terrorist

fbi

By Philologos

Published April 28, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“A heinous and cowardly act,” President Obama called the Boston Marathon bombing soon after its occurrence. Heinous, it certainly was. But why cowardly? To do what the two Tsarnaev brothers did —construct and transport homemade bombs that could have gone off in their hands at any moment, fling them out the windows of a speeding vehicle in a Hollywood-style car chase, engage in a furious shootout with police by whom they were outgunned and outnumbered —one would have to be, it seems to me, quite brave. Heinously brave.

We are by now so used to calling terrorist acts “cowardly” that we never stop to think what an absurd adjective this generally is for them.

“The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts,” President George W. Bush declared immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

No one I know of bothered to comment that no coward could possibly have hijacked an airplane, flown it cross-country and unerringly crashed it into one of the Twin Towers knowing he was about to die. Whatever else that takes, it takes courage.

The automatic association of terror with cowardice has been around for a while. When Hezbollah suicide bombers killed 63 people at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 by smashing through a roadblock and the door of a building in a van loaded with explosives, President Reagan labeled the deed “a cowardly act.” When Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Senator Edward Kennedy proclaimed that “this cowardly violence will not deter the peace process.” Deter the peace process it did, but the senator might have tried putting himself in Amir’s place. How much of a coward can you be to stalk your country’s best-protected individual, whip out a pistol in the presence of his armed bodyguard, calmly aim it with a steady hand and pull the trigger?

And so it goes. When Hamas fired rockets from Gaza at Israel last November, White House press secretary Jay Carney called on it to “stop these cowardly acts,” even though the “cowards” in question could at any second have been blown up by an Israeli drone monitoring them from above.

A “criminal and cowardly act,” Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif labeled last September’s daring jihadist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi.

And just two days before the bombing in Boston, Al Qaeda gunmen stormed the Supreme Court building in Mogadishu and engaged in a prolonged firefight with government forces, three of them blowing themselves up with explosives strapped to their bodies. How describe them? They were, according to the United Nations envoy in Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, “cowardly terrorists.”

“Evil terrorists” would have been more like it — but we seem to have great psychological difficulty in ascribing courage to evil. It’s so much more comforting to think of evil as cowardly, which also makes it seem much easier to defeat.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.