What I Told My Children, 10 and 8, About The Boston Bombing Suspects

They found the second man suspected of planting the bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon today.  He is nineteen years old, just barely old enough to be considered an adult, and his name is Dzhokhar, or in English, Jahar.  People who knew him well are absolutely shocked that Jahar is suspected of helping to create and plant the bombs.  Some of his friends have described him as kind, talented, and thoughtful.  Jahar’s big brother, Tamarlan, was twenty-six; Tamarlan died while police were chasing him and his brother.

If Jahar did what he is suspected of doing, he is responsible, with his brother, for the death of one eight-year old boy and three adults.  It is his fault, and his brother’s fault, that some of the victims of the blasts have lost their legs and will need to learn to walk, and hopefully someday to run, on artificial legs.  It is Jahar’s fault, and his brother’s fault, that other people who were running the Marathon were wounded physically, and that many of the people who ran, and the people who were watching, were wounded mentally.  An act of violence like this does not just hurt the people that die and the people whose bodies are hurt.  It also leaves invisible scars on the people who helped, the people who were there but didn’t get killed or injured, and all of the families and friends of all of those people.  Violence like this spreads out in ripples and hurts everyone that the ripples touch.

We don’t know yet, and we may never know, exactly why Jahar and Tamarlan committed this crime, but there are some very important lessons that I want you to learn from what happened in Boston.

From what we can tell so far, it seems likely that Jahar went along with his big brother’s plan.  Jahar and Tamarlan moved to Boston from Dagestan, which is close to Chechnya, a country that has been torn apart by war and fighting, when they were children.  By the time Jahar had started university in the U.S., Jahar and Tamarlan’s mother and father had moved back to Russia, so they lived very far away from the boys.  Jahar probably looked up to his big brother, and listened to him.  It may be that when his big brother involved him in the plot to kill people at the Marathon, Jahar did not say no.

You run into problems that are a tiny bit like this, but not nearly as dangerous, every week at school; you need to practice saying no.  If you know someone is doing something mean, you need to stand up for what you know is right.  Tell the person who is being unkind what you think of what they are doing.  If that doesn’t get the person to stop, then tell an adult.  If the adult does nothing—and that does happen sometimes—then tell another adult.  Don’t stop telling people until you are sure that someone has heard you.  Be willing to understand that the child that you think is being mean may have another side of the story to tell.  Listen to what that child’s side of the story is, and think about it.  Be willing to consider that you might be part of the problem.  Think about your own involvement, and if you see that maybe you have been partly responsible, apologize to the people that you have hurt.  Do not just go along with what other people are doing.  You have the right to make your own decisions.

Jahar and Tamarlan, in some way, were trying to solve a problem that they had.  They were not happy, and they got the idea somehow that hurting other people would be the answer to their problem.  But hurting other people is never a good answer; it is a very bad solution to any problem.  Jahar and Tamarlan needed to find other solutions, but they did not know how, or maybe they turned to the wrong people.  Sometimes people choose to talk to others that don’t help them, people who offer them bad solutions.  It is possible that Tamarlan, the big brother, may have been talking to people who were angry and hateful.

If you ever begin to feel very unhappy, the best way to solve that problem is to talk to real, live, loving people.  It is not enough to just think about your sadness, or write about it, or talk to people online about it.  Those may be good things to do, but talking to someone that you trust in person is even better.  There are always people who will be willing to listen, and there will be people who will do what they can to show you ways to feel better.  If the people you’ve decided to speak with can’t help you as well as they would like, they may be able to tell you about other people who would be even better at solving your problem and getting you to a happier place.

It seems likely that both brothers, Tamarlan and Jahar, were religious.  Religion can be a good thing: following a religion can bring meaning, hope, comfort, and community to your life.  But sometimes people get carried away by religion and it becomes a bad thing.  Any time belief in a religion inspires feelings of hate towards other people, then the religious belief is not healthy.  This applies also to other beliefs—some people are very against religion, but it is important that these people also recognize that if their opposition becomes hate, it has gone too far.  Hate can only do damage, and it has no place in a caring community, religious or not.  If you choose to follow a religious path, it is very important to continually question whether your religious beliefs are inspiring thoughts of anger and hate or thoughts of tolerance and peace.  Your religious leader— your rabbi, priest, imam, vicar, or other religious leader– should encourage questioning and should accept doubts.  If she or he does not, or if they support unkind thoughts or acts towards any groups of people, you should find another place of worship, or another leader.  Jimmy Carter, who was once President of the United States, left the church he had been a member of for sixty years because he did not like the church’s attitudes towards women.  Jimmy Carter is still religious, and still goes to church, but he belongs to a different church now.  If you choose not to believe in a religion, it is still important that you always look at your beliefs, and if you discover that you feel hateful towards any particular group of people— people with a certain skin colour, a certain body type, a certain political belief—you need to figure out why you are feeling so strongly about those people, and you need to try to remember that those people are humans too, just like you are.

Finally, and this is what I consider most important, I want you to understand that the line between good and bad is very, very thin.  A lot of people were cheering and celebrating when the police caught Jahar.  I am very glad that Jahar was caught before he could hurt anybody else.  But think of Jahar’s friends— they never thought Jahar would plant bombs at the Marathon, and now they are saddened that their friend has done something so awful.  Last week, Jahar was a university student; today, he is a suspect in a horrible act of terrorism.  It is easier than you think for people to make bad choices, and sometimes people make very bad choices, choices that they will regret for the rest of their lives.  Every choice matters.

You are not powerless.  You can learn about different nations and religions so that you will get a better sense of what you have in common with people from everywhere.  Better yet, you can get to know people from many places, who follow different religions, or who don’t follow any.  You can try to help people who may be feeling sad, including yourself.  You can speak up when you see cruelty or unfairness.  You can look at every choice that you make, and ask yourself, “Is this a loving choice?  Is this a good choice?”  Sometimes the loving thing to do in certain situations may hurt someone’s feelings, but a loving, good choice will never, ever hurt someone’s body (unless you are a medical doctor and you need to operate on someone to help them heal).

A lot of people in Boston made brave and loving choices as the bombs exploded and afterwards.  Many people ran to help the victims in any way they could.  Lots of people offered food and shelter to the runners that had come from far away.  The police and other officials worked very hard to keep people safe and to find and arrest the suspects, Jahar and Tamarlan.  I hope I would be like all of the people in Boston that have shown courage in acts small and large, and I hope that you would be like them too, should you ever find yourself in a situation like that (although I pray that will never come to pass).

My thoughts are with the families and friends of the people who were killed and hurt at the Marathon on Monday, and with the police officer who was killed, and the transit officer who was wounded while the police were trying to catch Tamarlan and Jahar.  Martin Richard, the eight year old boy who died because of one of the bombs, once made a poster at school that said, “No more hurting people.  Peace.”  I hope that you will do your part to work towards a world that will honour Martin Richard’s idea.

Note: This post is unlike the other posts in this blog as it is directed at children, and it was written quickly, unlike the last several posts.

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2 Responses to What I Told My Children, 10 and 8, About The Boston Bombing Suspects

  1. scliff46 says:

    You are SO wonderful!!


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