At this moment the dominant theme of “Boston Bomber” headlines is motive. The secular mainstream media, having failed to get their wish for redneck extremist Christians protesting tax increases or celebrating Hitler’s birthday, are casting about for any alternative narrative (from “bored punks who acted alone” to “products of America’s violent video-game culture” to “we’ll simply never know”) to replace the obvious and emerging one: that the Tsarnaev brothers were spearheads of an organized effort to bring Muslim jihad terror to America.
One hopes that the facts about motive will come to light sufficiently to overcome all but the most willful attempts to ignore them. Meanwhile I wanted to look at another aspect of this horrendous story: a victim whose suffering may not be getting its due: Katherine Russell, the widow of dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Many years ago I worked in the chancery at a Midwestern diocese. At one of our weekly staff meetings a colleague brought up a prayer intention for a friend of her daughter’s, who the previous year had met a Saudi man in college. She had fallen hard for his charm, refinement, and attentiveness. He was so different from the farm boys she’d grown up around! After a whirlwind courtship she had married him, and in short order bore a child. After the birth they’d gone back to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly for a family visit.
But she never returned. She was a Muslim wife now, a prisoner, property. Her formerly devoted-seeming husband became, at the flip of a switch, cold and abusive. Now her parents were pressing every legal and political means they could to bring their daughter and grandchild home.
I never found out what became of this poor girl. But as Katherine Russell shows us, her story was no isolated exception. In fact, in some parts of the world it has become common enough to get its own name: love jihad.
Islam forbids women to marry non-Muslims, but men are permitted, even encouraged to do it. The woman converts—either out of love or compulsion—and the children are raised Muslim. In Islamic countries they become trophies, while in non-Islamic countries they serve the long-term strategy of increasing the Muslim population to create conditions more favorable to Sharia law.
In Western countries the love jihad phenomenon has so far remained on the level of anecdote, albeit disconcertingly common anecdote (though it did inspire a movie starring Sally Field), but in India, which has a Muslim percentage more than fifteen times that of the United States, love jihad is happening often enough to provoke an official response from rights groups and even the Catholic bishops. The stories have a common thread: Christian, Sikh, and Hindu girls wooed by Muslim men, married and impregnated at a young age, then physically and mentally coerced into becoming submissive Muslim wives.
Friends accordingly describe Russell’s transformation from privileged doctor’s daughter to 20-year-old hijab-wearing bride as “brainwashing.” She dropped out of college; she disappeared from her old life. When, shortly after they were married, Tsarnaev was arrested for beating her (right on schedule, you might say), she was unwilling or unable to extricate herself, and simply assured police that her husband was a “very nice man.”
Even without all this, of course, Katherine Russell deserves our sympathy. Her dead husband is arguably the most hated man in America; her innocent child is fatherless and marked for life. But I think we may also view her as a martyr to the prevailing ignorance about Islam. Like so many Westerners, Catholics included, she did not know that misogyny is baked into Muslim doctrine. The dignity and equality that Western women are accustomed to being accorded—which, even if they don’t know it (or even if they think the opposite), are products of Christianity—are alien to the pure practice of Islam. And no amount of multicultural or interreligious wishful thinking will make it otherwise.