After a riveting manhunt, Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody. The hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown was one of the most intensive coordinated operations ever seen, conducted methodically by masses of disciplined law enforcement personnel.
In the aftermath of the crime, Americans acted like themselves all over TV and Facebook, and like a marching band at half-time, formed the great Rorschach blot that is the world. But in spite of all of us, and in spite of danger, the authorities did a workmanlike job without hurting anybody and got their man alive. This requires a single-minded focus on the real world.
Before and after the suspects were identified — and there's no doubt these two were the bombers — the usual suspects were thrown out to the crowd. Before the two were identified and caught, news bleaters guessed they were white and right, Tea Partiers, NRA members (MSNBC, Michael Moore, CNN, Salon). Afterward, when there was no doubt who did it, behind the brothers would be the FBI (according to their mother), police (according to their father), unknowns who wanted to frame them (according to their lawyer aunt), and our government (according to Glen Beck). Their friends said they were nice guys, regular guys. Their uncle called them losers.
The press on the ground were diligent in covering as much as they could of the manhunt, and did not throw themselves under or climb into the law enforcement vehicles, try to interview the police and guardsmen while they were working, or make the story all about themselves. A few did succumb to asking interviewees how they felt, including the sister of the bombers, unseen while she answered questions through the crack of her apartment door. Of course she felt terrible, she explained. One reporter asked if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been Mirandized as they got him out of the boat and into a police ambulance. (Smells like the ACLU.)
On Facebook, libertarians complained about police in their houses. Presumably they thought that they, regular citizens (well, not they themselves, really; let somebody else do it) ought to find the bombers and administer vigilante justice, like real Americans. But they didn't. Others moaned a bit about mobs of vigilante Americans with torches and baseball bats attacking innocent Muslims in retaliation. These people probably don't acknowledge that guilty Muslims can exist; or jihadists; or guilt. They, like the media bleaters, wish the perpetrators had been anybody but who they really were. So far, the mobs of Americans were actually people celebrating in the streets of Boston after suspect number two was captured. The baseball bats were put aside as the Boston Red Sox postponed their Friday game for the duration of the manhunt.
Some can't bear to see the photos of bodies mutilated by bombs, and in our long conspiracy theory tradition choose to believe it was all Photoshopped — including the protruding bones of the man whose legs got blown off (warning: these photos are not for the squeamish). Those people probably feel our long war with jihad here and abroad, and the whole world, is Photoshopped. How can understanding impinge on people who won't see physical reality?
These varieties of confusion usually play out in peaceful ways.
But the brothers were jihadists, living out the natural youthful masculine desire for heroic action. Except that they hadn't learned the difference between good and evil. The older brother, Tamerlan, said he never made an American friend. He didn't understand them. He was not able to see the humanity of someone whose thoughts and customs were different from his. Not even the humanity of an eight-year-old American boy when he set down his bomb next to him, though Tamerlan was a boy like that at one time.
The Tsarnaev brothers were blind to the reality of the four young people they killed — Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Lingzi Lu, and MIT police officer Sean Collier. Whatever radical ideas they had absorbed worked to distort out reality as they knew it.
The relativist position, that all beliefs — all mental realities — are equally valid, has never been more clearly refuted than in the Boston Marathon bombing. Some realities cannot coexist.