I won’t call him a victim, because you don’t deserve to be called a victim when you murder and maim people. I will go so far as to say I’m glad I’m not Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Through a series of unfathomably bad decisions made at a relatively young age, he’s created about as much a wreck of his life as it’s possible to make. And worse is likely to come. Likely to come is the full realization of what he did to other human beings.
I have no idea what his full set of motivations were, but it certainly looks like being in thrall to an older brother was part of it. And every step he took following him was an unmitigated disaster. His uncle memorably called these two ‘losers’ and I guess the results of everything they touched would tend to back that up. But calling them losers misses as much as calling them jihadists. Both names are a result of the overpowering need to categorize. To simplify.
To me this tragedy just reconfirms the impossibility of tidy categories. We’ve been trying since 9/11 to force-fit everything that has happened since into a small, rectangular box. If you can get it all into one box, then your responses can all come out of one box. If only. Contemporary terrorism is as complicated and elusive as the workings of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s disordered mind. The only simple part of it is ensuring he will suffer sufficiently. He has already guaranteed that all by himself.