You all know me as ‘tamerlane’, but my real name is Matt Cavanaugh.
When I first began commenting and blogging online in the Spring of 2008, I followed the common practice of adopting a screen name. I like to engage in serious discussions on politics and religion, two subjects with a power to enrage people like no others. I do so in a venue — the internet — that, like road rage, provides an anonymity that too often encourages people to act like boors or even monsters. With practices like “doxxing” and online stalking, not to mention whatever real-life acts that might result from chance interactions with political or religious fanatics, discretion dictated adopting a pseudonym.
I’m a small businessman dependent on the continued good will of a close-knit community. I doubt that many of my clients, vendors, colleagues or neighbors share my political or religious views. I’m an atheist in a predominantly religious culture that seems to rate our morals as just slightly less depraved than those of child molesters. I wanted to avoid any possibility of my views causing friction in this sphere.
Finally, noms de plume are a long & respected tradition. Having one of my own allowed me to segregate my iconoclastic views & often acerbic style from my overall everyday personality, which is far more mainstream and mellow. Interestingly, my friends and I often discuss my online persona in the third person, as in ‘what did tamerlane write this time?’ or, ‘was that as you or as tamerlane?’
When I first selected a name, I was tempted to use something like “S. Adams” or “Publius”, the pseudonym of the Federalist Papers’ authors. I rejected these as overly pretentious. Instead, I settled on the slightly self-deprecating choice of a 14th century Mongol conqueror. My decision-making process was, I must admit, a fairly hasty one. The primary reason I chose ‘tamerlane’ was simply that, like me, “Timur the Lame” was an horseman with a bum leg.
At first, I was occasionally chided for taking the name of “a brutal conqueror and despot.” (Would you like me better if I’d chosen a gentle conqueror and despot?) Over time, ‘tamerlane’ the commenter and writer became a recognized entity in his own right. When friends who first met me online now call or write, they as often as not address me as ‘Tamer’ or ‘T’. Maybe I should’ve put more thought into the name, but it did the job, and it stuck.
During the past few hours, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the name I write under. Many of you know that I’m originally from Boston. I’m proud of my hometown and protective of its witty, warm people and its reputation as a great place to visit and to live. I’ve been closely following the news of this week’s bombings. I now live in a rural setting on the other side of the country, and no one I know was injured or killed. Yet I find the attack has upset me on a very personal level. That was my town; those were my people. Don’t you ever fuck with my people.
The news of the hunt for the two bombing suspects has unfolded at a rapid pace over the past night and into this morning. The suspects murdered one policeman and put another in the hospital. While fleeing, they threw bombs out the car window. I didn’t need a map to trace their route; I’ve driven or strolled there many times myself. One bomber is dead, the other is still on the lam. They’re brothers, named Dzhokhar and Tamerlan.
A Legacy of … Nothing
Tamerlane is a popular name in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, where these brother bombers were born (Chechnya) & raised (Kyrgyzstan) before showing up in my hometown. The people there, stifled for centuries by — and now willingly falling back in thrall to — the mind-deadening bullshit of islam, have little to be proud of. No great authors to speak of, no inventors, no magnificent works of art or edifices of grandeur. Even the ugly, little capitals of their ugly, little dictatorships were built by the Soviets. About all they have to instill pride is the faded, misunderstood memory of a 14th century Mongol conqueror named Tamerlane. So they erect equestrian statues in Tamerlane Squares and steer their sputtering Ladas around the potholes of Tamerlane Boulevards. They name their kids ‘Tamerlan’ and dream hazily of the day when they, too, will march under the crescent banner to sack the cities of the infidels.
At least the original Tamerlane had an appreciation for the knowledge and culture he was appropriating. A brilliant strategist, he was
… steadfast in mind … he did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him….
Tamerlane taught himself to speak several languages, had histories and the ancient classics read to him while he dined, and even invented a version of chess. Contemporaries described him as
highly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argument about what he knows and also about what he does not know.
Although nominally a moslem, Tamerlane blended sufism with Mongol shamanism. Religion to him seemed more an useful tool for justifying his actions than guiding them. He established his capital at Samarkand, embellished it with the riches and art he’d plundered, and assembled scholars and craftsman there to transform his barbarian empire into a civilized race. That dream died with him.
Envy and Resentment
Tamerlan the bomber didn’t want to embrace Western civilization, he wanted to smash it. Unlike Boston, international students don’t flock to the great learning institutions of the Caucasus. Unlike Boston, modern Samarkand could never host a sporting event attracting participants from a hundred nations, because no one in their right mind would ever willingly travel to that shithole.
The bomber brothers were welcomed by Boston and its people. They were given a good education there, even a college scholarship. They could have become real Bostonians had they wanted — sang ‘Dirty Water’ with us at Fenway, transposed the ‘r’s at the end of words, watched the fireworks from the Esplanade, even worn green with us on Saint Paddy’s or grabbed a sausage on Saint Anthony’s. They could have partaken of everything our town, built by successive waves of immigrants, had to offer them: the museums, the culture, the music, the history, the learning, the cuisine, and yes, the public traditions and sporting events. They rejected and despised everything Boston had to offer, because they had nothing to offer back.
I’ve got Paul Revere, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Leonard Nimoy and Arthur Fiedler to be proud of. I’ve got Samuel Morse, Donna Summer, Robert Gould Shaw and Yaz. Louisa May Alcott, Winslow Homer, Charles Bulfinch and Helen Keller. The bomber brothers had nothing of value to inspire them, no one worthy to emulate. Not even Timur the Lame. All they had was envy and resentment.
Like “Adolf”, the name “Tamerlan(e)” can never again be seen without negative connotations. Miscreant bombers don’t deserve its historic legacy, but I want in no way for my words and thoughts to be misconstrued with their ignorance and their hate. So it’s time to let ‘tamerlane’ go. I might consider adopting a new pseudonym later, but for now, at least, I’m just me.
(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.