When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts associated with the terror attack he helped to carry out at the 2013 Boston Marathon, we at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) joined the nation in feeling that the verdict opened the door to at least some level of closure for all affected. While the horrors of that day can never be erased, there is healing in bringing one of the monsters responsible to justice.
The verdict has also spurned a debate our country has been having for quite some time: is it right to put a criminal to death? This time, however, the criminal is a terrorist, acting in support of a global ideology which seeks the demise of all who do not submit to its whims; and the debate on whether or not to execute Tsarnaev has raised the question: should the United States not sentence Tsarnaev to death because it might inspire further acts of terror?
While supporters of AIFD and anti-Islamist reform may espouse a range of views regarding capital punishment as a general matter, it is important to address the question of Tsarnaev as “martyr” in the eyes of Islamists and would-be terrorists the world over. It is imperative to refuse, with conviction, and without apology, to make any decision in our American justice system based on how they may or may not react. Islamists will never be defeated by appeasement or negotiation. A strong, sound defeat is the only answer.
If Tsarnaev is sentenced to death, will radicals the world over treat him as a martyr? Absolutely. (By the way, Rolling Stone helped to guarantee this.) Will they use the sentence to rally their base and gain new supporters? Without a doubt. Should this certainty impact the punishment chosen by our courts? Definitely not. Why? Because the simple fact is that he and other radicals are and will always be treated as martyrs and heroes by those who wish us harm. Even those not sentenced to death, like Aafia Siddiqui (“Lady Al-Qaeda”), Tarek Mehanna and others have inspired campaigns from the U.S. to Pakistan, with supporters ranging from well-intentioned but naïve university students to violent Islamists. Individuals like Siddiqui and Mehanna, despite being very much alive, are treated as martyrs and heroes by the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. ISIS even demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui when it proposed a prisoner exchange, claiming that they’d release journalist Steven Sotloff.
Changing how we sentence criminals because it might upset terrorists who already hate us doesn’t just fail to keep us safe. It is part and parcel of the lax behavior that led to ignoring the obviously dangerous intentions of Nidal Hasan and his inspiration, Anwar al-Awlaki. (Awlaki was rightly recognized as an enemy combatant, but well after he had already incited murderous violence.) In this war, our security was better served with Imam al-Awlaki dead than alive, and the same would go for both Hasan and Tsarnaev.
Allowing terrorists to dictate our justice system is an appeasement that is far more dangerous to American security and values than the ephemeral risk taken by carrying out justice against those who have attacked us. As Americans, we must insist that we not change the strength of our sentencing standards in order to appease those who seek our destruction. Instead, we must demand that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – and all who carry out acts of terror – be punished to the very fullest extent of the law. American Muslims should be at the forefront of efforts demanding this. The only antidote to the global ideology of the Tsarnaevs, ISIS, Mehanna, and Siddiqui is the empowerment of liberty-minded American Muslims. It is only through firm conviction and consistent dedication to our values that we will defeat the victim mantra and murderous ideology that was behind the horrific attacks of April 15, 2013.