What the Mystery of the Ibrahim Todashev Killing Can Teach Us
Like many of us, I’ve spent a great deal of time following the numerous story lines of the Boston marathon bombing. The well-circulated Boston Globe report reveals significant new insights into the lives of the two Tsarnaev brothers with a central focus on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s mental health, raising questions of whether or not the rationale behind the attacks was motivated by radical sentiment, or mental illness, or both. Finding out what happened is critical for both healing wounds, but also understanding how to prevent future ones. In similar regard, the events surrounding the death of Tamerlan’s acquaintance, Ibrahim Todashev, at the hands of federal agents raises more questions than have been answered. Many are waiting in anticipation for a report due out soon that is meant to detail the shooting of Todashev in the early hours of May 22nd 2013.
There is a palpable silence from the Muslim community following the death of Todashev, and perhaps understandably so. He was publicly associated with a widely recognized terrorist suspect in the aftermath of a very high profile bombing in Boston (though the extent to which we don’t know yet or may never know). But this reaction, or lack therefore, from American Muslims is not without precedent. Over the past decade and a half, the Muslim community has tended to err on the side of, what they believe to be expressions of, patriotism when it comes to issues of civil rights, due process and other kinds of justice when suspected Muslim terrorists are involved. It is as if we hope that people like Ibrahim Todashev disappear from our conscious. (Or, as a general populace we leave the work to civil rights groups, many of which have already spoken out against the killing and lack of transparency surrounding facts of the shooting).
In this regard, Todashev’s case with the little facts that we know of it, is an instructive one. The only connection Todashev had to the marathon bombing was through his oft-cited but not clearly understood connection with Tamerlan Tsarnaev through a local gym in Boston. If it ultimately was the case that the elder Tsarnaev brother was less influenced by a radical worldview, and more a product of mental illness, Todashev’s connection to the event is seemingly more tenuous. Given this reality and the fact that the authorities have given multiple conflicting reports with respect to the events that led to his death, one would expect greater curiosity on the part of the public and greater scrutiny on the part of officials. Neither has happened.
I am most concerned with the lack of public outcry given that Todashev’s seeming guilt-by-association leaves practically all Muslims living in America possible targets of investigation. This is a threat not only to the Muslim community, but to the erosion of civil rights in America in general. As the community under siege, Muslims may be inclined to wave the flag and avoid dealing with kinds of potential transgressions by the government we see with Todashev, but that inclination with neither serve the interests of the Muslim community, nor will result in the kind of country with the kinds of ideals towards which we should all aspire.
Our magazine had a chance to interview Reni Todashev, the wife of Ibrahim, who remains fearful, confused and scared as to what happened to her husband. While Reni has now moved back to Russia, she remains in the dark about what actually happened and her concern should be one for all of us. True, it may be that by asking questions, there is no doubt a cost. The reason the government can operate largely in secrecy with little or no transparency, even in the case of a civilian death, is the result of a vast infrastructure of anti-terrorism messaging that has led the majority of Americans to sacrifice knowledge for perceived safety. This means that those who question narratives, challenge assumptions and lay out an alternative to the anti-terrorist mindset will be vilified and scrutinized. As a journalist and editor of a magazine focusing on Islam and Muslim issues, I fully recognize and appreciate that reality. At the same time, Muslims must be the bulwark against this kind of mindset where when the association of terrorism is applied, the need to know the details of what the government has done or plans to do is less critical. If Edward Snowden’s massive leak of NSA programs has informed us of anything, it is that the government is not nearly as constrained by questions of constitutionality, due process and rule of law as many of us would have thought, or hoped for.
Ibrahim Todashev’s death represents an example where more questions, more concern, greater public outcry and more focused light could help make America a better country. And for American Muslims in particular, it is a lesson in gaining confidence to both work with officials but also ask the tough questions without the fear of being perceived as anti-American.
A Love Story Gone Wrong…FBI Wrong: The Story of Ibrahim’s Wife, Reni
This personal narrative involves one of the biggest news stories of 2013, related to the Boston Marathon bombing. The wife of Ibrahim Todashev, the man fatally and mysteriously shot and killed by the FBI, shares her own life story in coming to America, meeting and marrying Ibrahim and all events after the bombing.
Reni comes to America : 00:59
Reni meets Ibrahim for the first time : 03:27
Reni’s first questioning with the FBI : 08:16
Hearing of Ibrahim’s shooting : 12:58
Seeing the body at the medical examiner : 16:34
Taking the body home to Chechnya : 18:19
Read it instead.