Boston bombers were caught between new and old worlds

By Akbar Ahmed for National Geographic

It was the matter-of-fact tone of the Pakistani boy in Brooklyn that disturbed me and brought tears to my research team. Traveling throughout the country in 2008 and 2009 for my book Journey into America, we were in a Shia mosque in an area called Little Pakistan, which has shop signs in Urdu and people walking about in traditional Pakistani dress.

The two young men who wreaked havoc in Boston last week reflected some of the dilemmas of the Brooklyn boy. The older brother admitted he had no American friends and had recently returned to his ancestral land for several months. The younger one resented being questioned by fellow Muslims at the local mosque about being a convert and may have seen this as a social rejection.

Like the Brooklyn boy, the suspected bombers found themselves suspended in that dangerous territory between two worlds—the old not quite faded from their lives and the new still too new to absorb them.

In addition, the young men had a defined tribal background—and it’s in that background that we must look to gain any kind of understanding of their actions.

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