Chechens and the Boston killings: some links

I don’t know what to make of the Boston Marathon bombing and killings.  Here are some links that provide food for thought.

Prof. Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history, speculated that the accused killers, Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev, were acting out some sort of rebellion against their father, who was connected to the Russian security services.  I put a link to his post in my Interesting Reading menu, then took it down when Cole backtracked on some of his factual assertions.  Click on Fathers and Sons and Chechnya for his post.  The comment thread is as interesting as the post itself.

The two brothers are Chechens, a fierce Muslim warrior people who have been fighting for independence from Russia for about 200 years.   Tsar Nicholas II fought the Chechens and so did Vladimir Putin.  Leo Tolstoy’s first novel, The Cossacks, was based on his military service against the Chechens.  But a spokesman for the Chechen rebels says they have no connection with the Tsarnayev brothers.  Click on Chechen Jihadis Reject Tsarnayevs to read the statement.

Click on Russian politics: Chechnya and the bombs in Boston for background from The Economist.

A native of Ukraine, another part of the former Soviet Union, was arrested with bombs a week prior to the Boston massacre.  Click on Mykyta Panasenko Arrested at New Jersey Train Station With 2 Bombs, 8 Days Before Boston Bombings for a report from Huffington Post.

[4/22/13] Click on  Tamerlan Tsarnev in Dagestan: the Unanswered Questions for a report from The Guardian.  The writer wonders why the Russian government warned the FBI against Tamerlan Tsarnev, then let him travel in a hot spot of the Chechen rebellion.

[Added 4/30/13]  Click on Meet the Chechens for Dimitri Orlov’s view of the Chechen culture.

[Added 5/3/13]

[Added 5/3/13]  Click on FBI Spiked Chechen Jihadi Investigation for reporting by Greg Palast.  He said the FBI failed to keep track of the Tsarnayev brothers because investigation might reveal embarrassing facts about CIA and other U.S. involvement with Muslim jihadists.  It is well-known that the Carter and Reagan administrations supported Muslim jihadists in their fight against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan.  The Clinton administration channeled aid to Bosnian Muslims through Saudi-backed jihadist groups.  The Obama administration, while fighting jihadists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, supported equivalent groups fighting Qaddafi in Libya and Asad in Syria.  None of this, as Palast points out, is evidence of a U.S. connection with the Tsarnayev brothers.  But it shows that U.S. security may be compromised by fear of bringing sensitive information to light.

[5/4/13]  A friend of mine, who was born in Central Asia, educated in Russia and now is an American citizen, speculates that the Tsarnayev brothers may have been manipulated by Russian intelligence operatives.  Their purpose would be to stir up American hatred of Muslims and especially the Muslim rebels in Chechnia, and to keep the United States bogged down in military intervention in the Islamic world.  She said she knew of Imams who were actually KGB agents, and speculated the Tsarnayev brothers may have been under the influence of a supposed religious leader who was an agent of the Russian government.  All this is pure guesswork.

I am very interested to hear what Tamerlan Dzokhar Tsarnayev has to say.   It is hard for me to come to any conclusion without hearing his account of what he did and why.

[5/7/13].  Click on The Bombers’ World for an article about the Tsarayev family and the Chechen community in Boston that is scheduled to appear in the June 6 issue of the New York Review of Books. The writer, Christian Caryl, said the extreme form of Islam embraced by Tamerlan Tsarnayev is at odds with traditional Chechen culture and with the values of his parents. Here’s an excerpt from the article

Tamerlan seems to have gone through a phase in which he adopted the ways of the Salafis, ultraconservative Muslims who want to strip Islam of all of its “modern” accretions and return to the purity of the Prophet Muhammad’s original community of believers.  (The Arabic word salaf means “predecessors.”) 

For a while Tamerlan grew his beard long and wore the simple gown-like garments characteristic of observant Salafis, but he seems to have given this up after a few months; no one knows precisely why. (Did he decide that he needed to look less conspicuous?)

It is worth noting, perhaps, that such practices have little to do with the traditional religious culture in Chechnya itself.  A source close to the family tells me that Anzor, the father, even denounced his son’s behavior—especially his decision to marry an American woman rather than a Chechen—as a rejection of their Chechen roots.

At the Cambridge mosque where Tamerlan sometimes worshiped, he attracted attention on at least two occasions during prayer services by speaking out against moderate imams who were preaching the virtues of tolerance.

“When he first started getting serious about religion, I asked his mother whether he was studying with an imam in the local mosque,” the family friend told me. “She said no, he’s learning by himself on the Internet.”

We now have, perhaps, some idea of what he must have been looking at.  The YouTube page registered under Tamerlan’s name has links to rousing sermons by imams (in English) and an instructional video explaining the proper way to perform Muslim rituals (in Russian).  But there’s also a clip entitled “The Emergence of Prophesy: Black Flags from Khorasan,” a rousing jihadi anthem favored by al-Qaeda.  Another features a ballad that extols the exploits of the Chechen jihadis in their war against the Russians.

For a young Muslim firebrand with roots in the North Caucasus, this must have made for a heady mix of adventure, violence, and seductive (though horribly misguided) idealism—a stark contrast with the grubby reality in which Tamerlan was an unemployed stay-at-home father of a small girl, a man with no visible prospects, dependent on a wife who was working long hours as a home caregiver.  This was hardly the grandiose life that his worshipful parents had foreseen for him.

[5/8/13]  The Boston Globe reported that Bullet that nearly killed MBTA police officer in Watertown gunfight came from friendly fire.

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2 Responses to “Chechens and the Boston killings: some links”

  1. b-psycho Says:

    I take it you mean you’re interested in what Dzokhar has to say. Unless you have a Ouija board…

    /endnitpick

    Like

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