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Tsarnaev: My Generation

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from Chechnya. | Photo: Associated Press | Boston, Bomber, Terrorist, Tamerlan, Dzhokhar, Tsarnaev, Chechnya,

Harvard Study Says We're Becoming 'Generation X-treme'

When I first heard about the college kid behind the bombings in Boston, I was initially surprised and curious about where he went to school. Like Dzhokar Tsarnaev, I'm a college student from liberal Massachusetts.

Of course, we were all talking about it at American University, where I'm about to graduate with a major in global security issues.

But none of my friends or classmates connected to Dzhokhar as a fellow college student. We did relate to him as somebody our age.

The fact is, Dzhokhar and his friends, now under arrest for helping cover-up his crimes, are uncomfortably characteristic of my generation.

And what's that? We've seen it all, especially when it comes to terrorism. It's been around us all our short lives.

Born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of us were still in Pampers when terrorists hit the World Trade Center for the first time. We were in middle school when al-Qaeda hijackers took flight on 9/11.

We grew up with HD, WiFi and smartphones that streamed headlines and video clips 24/7. Terrorist attacks have been our background noise.

And how do people react when faced with such horror? Some block it out. Some want to engage, by enlisting or, like me, turning a curiosity about homeland security into a college major.

And some make jokes. It's entirely reasonable that foreign-born American Muslims, especially, would turn hostility towards them into humor. Take Azamat Tazhayakov, the college pal of Dzhokhar, who bought a vanity plate for his BMW that read "Terrorista #1."

He's probably thinking, hey, if you're gonna stare at me like I'm a terrorist anyway, I might as well play the role.

Talk about sardonic. Turns out the joke was on us.

Azamat came from Kazakhstan, a Central Asian kleptocracy on the vortex of regional wars, to an America where his Generation Y cohorts were weaned on games where every kid got a trophy.

It's been said we expect constant praise.

"Psychologically, this has characteristics of Columbine as much as characteristics of al-Qaeda,"?Philip Mudd, the former CIA Deputy Director, said on Charlie Rose.

I thought he was on to something. I think we're going to find more answers in the social and family experiences of the Tsarnaev brothers than in any terrorist matrix. Tamerlan, 26, who evidently never found peace in America, had a typical older sibling's influence on a younger brother.

We're narcissistic, but how does that mean we're necessarily susceptible to extremism?? A new study from Harvard's Institute of Politics found that Generation Y'ers (aka millennials) are increasingly divided on issues ranging from immigration to government spending to morality and President Obama.

"Polarization may have legs," wrote Ron Fournier, a former Institute fellow reporting on the study for the National Journal, where he is editorial director.
"The so-called millennials could become 'Generation X-treme.'

"No generation has had an easier time consuming information that hardens their views, and finding people who share their opinions," Fournier wrote.

But it's unfair to the kids in the back of the class and all us millennials to connect our supposed narcissism, or sense of entitlement, or even extreme views to an alleged proclivity for carrying out a terrorist act.

That may have propelled the Tsarnaev brothers.

But it's not us.

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Updated Apr 22, 2017 7:33 AM EDT | More details

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