Further Thoughts engendered by the Boston Marathon Bombings and their Aftermath
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Listen very carefully, America!
Do you hear that? It is the "come on" for the United States of America to, somehow, get involved in a civil war in a far away land: in this case, the now-over 20 year old War for Chechenian Independence-- a "come on" that seems at least somewhat louder now with the apparent connection of two Chechen brothers living here in America to the Boston Marathon Bombings of 15 April 2013.
This is certainly not a region of the world in which the United States should get too heavily involved in more directly: it was one thing to get so directly involved in Afghanistan following the 9/11 Attacks-- Afghanistan under the 'Taliban' for some five years or so at that point had become a safe haven for al-Qa'eda and its training camps in which tens of thousands of Jihadist terrorists (besides those who carried out the 9/11 Attacks) were trained and, thereby, was so clearly the one geographical location connected to the horrors visited upon New York and Washington (as well as Shanksville, Pennsylvania) on 11 September 2001.
[A quick note about terminology here, if I might (for words must herein be taken to mean what they actually say): an Islamist is someone who believes (whether they actually act on said belief or not) that Islamic religious Law should also be the civil, secular Law of the Land (in that non-Muslims should also be required to adhere to it and, in addition, subject to legal penalties for not so adhering); a Jihadist is someone who believes that the goals of Islamism are best achieved by direct action ("Holy War", but one of many interpretations of the word jihad)- more or less "taking it to" those who might resist, or even try and defeat, them (such 'direct action' being violent acts of terrorism or outright warfare)... not all Islamists are Jihadists and, certainly, not all Muslims are Islamists (for there are more than many Muslims who, themselves, follow the precepts of one or the other school of Shari'ah [the general term for Islamic religious Law] without at all demanding that others, both within and outside Islam, also adhere to same). Please note that the words 'Islamist' and 'Jihadist' will be used, in this piece, as here defined.]
But even Afghanistan- a bona fide Nation-State (despite a history of subnational tribal strife within same) that first came into being upon separating from the Persian Empire in 1747 and which became fully Independent with the end of British Empire protection in 1919- has proved problematic in the now almost dozen years that the United States (along with a number of its NATO and other allies) has been, in essence, policing it largely through military means (under the banner of ISAF: the International Security Assistance Force).
By contrast, Chechnya is, at best, but a micro-state military intervention into which, seemingly, would make what has transpired in Afghanistan since the invasion of that country back on 7 October 2001 look like child's play in comparison!
Nowadays, the Chechens are, by and large, a 'Russianized' Muslim people (if only in the sense that- like all of the peoples of the Caucasus, historically caught between three 'Worlds' [here meaning "great Civilizations"]- they generally have much more of a connection to the Russian 'World' than to either of the other two 'Worlds' in play in that region [these 'World's being the Islamic and the Persian (please keep in mind that the Iranians being predominantly Shi'a- as opposed to Sunni- Muslims maintains the historical distinction between Islamic and the Persian Civilizations, although the latter has- clearly- long been influenced by the former)]); simply put: like most modern Muslims- no matter how traditional (or not) in dress and behavior- the Chechens, both here and abroad, have (or, at least, would have voluntarily) little- if any- truck with Islamism (or, for that matter, Jihadism)... whatever the other negative aspects of having once been part of the Soviet Union for more than a few generations, the Chechens have generally been modernized through the association and more than many Chechens would very much like to remain so modern as they can (while, at the same time, not having to at all give up many aspects of their own unique ethnic and national culture).
Well noting this, however, does not mean that even 'modernized' Chechens do not yet chafe under Russian rule as had their own ancestors well back into the days of the Czarist Russian Empire. The Caucasus being, during the 18th Century, the marchlands of the aforementioned Russian Empire, the domain of the Ottoman Turks (at the time the temporal leaders of Islam, as the Ottoman Empire still controlled- however ostensibly- the Muslim holy places on the Arabian Peninsula) and the Persian realm of such as Nadir Shah, the Chechens were long caught within something of a geopolitical vise grip (though, as has been the case with agrarian "peasant" peoples throughout History, the average Chechen of that era went about his or her daily business without much care nor interest in the status of the highest-level rulers who claimed their land at any given time).
Not until the reign of the Czarina Catherine the Great [1762-1796] were the Chechens, along with other peoples of the Caucasus, brought firmly within the Russian domains and, even then, the Chechens strongly fought back (thus, the current fight for Chechnian independence is not so new as it is merely an old battle newly engaged over the past more than two decades now): for some three quarters of a century thereafter, the Chechens so resisted the Czars of All the Russias and even gained a large measure of autonomy for a time in the 1850s (while the Russian Empire found itself rather preoccupied with the Crimean War then ongoing to the west, across the Black Sea from the Caucasus) while Shamil, Imam of the Dagestani, managed to unite the various nationalities of the Caucasus against the Russians (at least until Shamil himself was captured in 1859: the personality that was Imam Shamil, however, would forever connect Chechen nationalist aspirations with those of the Dagestanis to their east [Dagestan had been taken from the Persians by the Russian Empire in 1721]).
When the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of the Bolshevist Vladimir Ilyich Lenin began to, more firmly, establish itself as the successor state to Czarist Russia beginning in 1918, the mistakes made by the Czars in their own overbearing dealings with subject peoples were not (or so the Bolshevists hoped) to be repeated: good Socialists all, Lenin and Trotsky and all their retinue truly thought that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Lenin promulgated nearly half a decade later would eventually become a worldwide political entity and, further, they also believed that, in the end, nationalism would- someday- have no place in such a world (in which all of Mankind would simply be Socialist Man: people of a united Earth with no need for national or other like distinctions); nonetheless, Lenin allowed each nationality (depending on size of population and geographical extent) to have its own Soviet Socialist Republic (if large enough) or Autonomous Region within a larger SSR (if too small) or, perhaps something in between (an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within an SSR which, itself, might include its own Autonomous Regions within it) within his new Soviet Union (theoretically, this hierarchical system would then be repeated up to a global scale had the USSR expanded with increased Socialist revolution in country after country- in the manner Lenin himself thought inevitable- until the worldwide Socialist state of Lenin [and Trotsky's] dreams had, finally, been achieved and the very need for such "national" socialist entities in place of bourgeois Nation-States would simply disappear within the dreamt of/hoped for global realm of Socialist Man's ultimate bliss)...
thus, as early as 1918, the Chechens- along with the neighboring Ingushes- were each permitted to organize a 'National Soviet' within a new Terek Autonomous Federation but said entity would yet remain within Soviet Russia; four years later (as the RSFSR itself became the core of the new USSR), this Autonomous Federation was dissolved and the Chechen Autonomous Region within the RSFSR was created. This situation lasted until 1936, by which time Josef Stalin was in charge of the Soviet Union (and, as monstrously ruthless as Stalin was, he was also something of a geopolitical realist to whom the Soviet Union was simply a vehicle for establishing and maintaining a Communist version of the old Russian Empire): concomitant with the breakup of the Transcaucasian Federation to the south (which itself led to the immediate establishment of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia- hitherto ASSRs- as separate SSRs each in their own right), the Chechens and the Ingushes were united into something called the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (but still within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic itself). This entity would last (except for the decade or so beginning as World War II was ending, during which time the Chechens and Ingushes [many of whom had already been removed to other parts of the USSR (Stalin was concerned that many amongst these peoples might be collaborating with Nazi Germany, then at war with the Soviet Union)] were encased within a 'Grozny oblast'[an oblast ("region") being the more usual administrative division of Russia proper]: Nikita Khrushchev would restore their joint ASSR [after much of the hitherto forcibly removed population had themselves been returned to their homeland] in 1957) until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself towards the end of 1991.
In November 1991, Chechen nationalists declared their "Chechnya" to be independent of not only the dying USSR but also of the new Russian Federation itself: in an altogether vain (in retrospect) attempt to appease at least some Chechen nationalists (though most Chechen separatists saw- and still see- the move as a method through which Moscow could better establish more direct control over Chechnya [likely, under Boris Yeltsin, this move was actually more than a little of both]), Chechnya was- indeed- formally separated from Ingushetia by specific amendment to the new Russian Constitution in December 1992 (which itself then led the now-separate Ingushetia to declare its own [equally unrecognized by Russia itself] independence from the Russian Federation in 1993). There would now be an autonomous Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation (and one officially sanctioned by Moscow) but it was made quite clear that anything further than that on behalf of potential Chechenian independence would be most strongly rebuffed: civil war thus ensued and now we have had some two decades of what has since become, truly, "Mr. Putin's War" (again, itself something of a replay of what had gone on back in the first half of the 19th Century, as already described above).
As is the case in most civil wars cum wars for national independence (it was no less so in our own American Revolution now so long ago), the situation in Chechnya has become quite complicated as well as rather fluid: not all Chechen nationalists- whether at home or abroad- are separatists (there are many proud Chechens who see a far better future in at least association with Russia than as a micro-state trying to make it on its own) and not all Chechen separatists (those most vehemently agitating, where not also fighting for, an independent Chechnya) are Islamists (or, for that matter, Jihadists): however, many of those Chechen separatists (though certainly not all) who are not Islamists have little problem, if any, availing themselves of the aid of Islamists/Jihadists ("the enemy of my Enemy is my friend" and all that) and it is in this sphere that such as al-Qa'eda has entered the Chechenian Independence picture.
The ultimate goal (here presuming there, in fact, is one) of al-Qa'eda (along with [however loosely] associated 'hangers-on' and various and sundry al-Qa'eda 'wannabe's, though only if taken together as a whole) is the eventual re-establishment of the classic Caliphate of the East of the late 7th into early 8th Centuries: an Islamic 'World'-based 'super-state' run on what may (however inexactly) be called a 'Talibanic' basis (insofar as the Taliban's "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" of the Turn of the Millenia provided us all with something of a "window" into how an extreme version of Shari'ah [again, Islamic religious Law- here used in its most basic sense as a Muslim analogy to the Torah of Judaism (that is: simply rules of conduct to be followed by the devoutly religious)] might well be 'shoe-horned' into the constitutional order of a sovereign Nation-State or even an Islamist 'super-state'). In this, then, al-Qa'eda (and its ilk) is- in the main (and solely in relation to its politicoreligious philosophy, as opposed to its methods)- a typically puritan movement.
As I have often pointed out, in passing, during at least a few of my past Commentaries for this very website, puritanism is- in the end- ever a loser's gambit, if only because- in the first place- it seeks to reclaim that which existed long ago (whereas much has changed, in time if not also of place, since the very "golden age" which the puritans themselves are trying most earnestly to bring back into being) but also because much (if not most) of that which the puritans seek to re-establish never really ever existed at all! (Puritanism is, therefore, a vehicle through which things rather novel are, more or less, presented as being, instead, quite old [thereby making them, at least in theory, the more palatable]: yes, the Puritans who established the English colonies of New Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, New Haven and the original riverside core of Connecticut [and who have, thereby, given us the very term, in English, 'puritan'] truly believed that they were re-creating the original Christian Commonwealth they themselves perceived within the very text of the Acts of the Apostles but- being 17th Century Englishmen [not 1st Century Palestinian Messianic Jews, as were the Nazaraeans=earliest Christians] and settling in a 'New England', the climate and natural surroundings of which were [and are] quite different from those the Apostles themselves encountered, made just such a re-creation something of a fiction in the long run [certainly no one in his/her right mind would argue that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts- the very target of the Boston Marathon Bombings- or, for that matter, the State of Connecticut of the now-early 21st Century reflects- in its Politics, Religion or Culture- the very essence of the English Puritan ideal!] if not also the shorter run as well).
Nevertheless, al-Qa'eda's "dream", as it were, is- indeed- an Islamist Imperium (and, in this way, their "dream" is really not all that unlike Lenin's own unfulfilled larger-scale aspirations for his own Union of Soviet Socialist Republics): until (and [or so we hope] unless) then, however, those within and/or affiliated with al-Qa'eda must remain- and, thus, fight on as- an, in essence, Imperium sine imperio ("a government without a State"). In this latter context, then, al-Qa'eda et al. are not at all above well aiding and abetting many a nationalist movement within the geographical range of the core of political, as well as religious, Islam-- from Chechen to Palestine to the Philippines-- even though, just like that of the Bolsheviks of nearly a century ago now, their "dream" does not, in any event, have any real place within it for ethnically-based nationalism (for Islamist Man is, in the end, to be all of a piece no less than was Socialist Man). The logical extension of the essential argument of the Islamists, where not also Jihadists, working with at least some of those currently agitating for Chechenian independence from Russia who are not themselves either Islamist or Jihadist is this, then: "Let us help you achieve your aspirations for national independence so that we- and not your current overseers- can later crush them just as, if not even more, utterly as they"...
problem is: in the shorter term realm of "the enemy of my Enemy is my friend" (the immediate goal- Independence- being far more important than the later, longer-term ramifications should such a goal actually be attained: that is, Who then dominates?), such considerations are not at all of moment!
Out of this very realm, though, came (well-- at least one of) the Tsarnaev brothers reportedly responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombings of Monday 15 April 2013.
As of this typing, the older (deceased) Tsarnaev- Tamerlan- seems to have been the more "radicalized" of the two: this past Fall into Winter, he- at least twice- disrupted prayer services at a Cambridge, Mass. mosque, disputing the claim of the imam preaching therein that it was perfectly OK for American Muslims to celebrate American holidays such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving as well as to honor a man such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Tamerlan evidently took great exception to these notions); then, almost three years ago, Tamerlan also complained that he had "no American friends. I do not understand them"... however, he introduced at least one American to others (about a year after making the above statement on social media) as his "best friend": yet this same best friend of Tamerlan's ended up as one of the victims of a triple homicide in this victim's own apartment in the Boston suburb of Waltham (interestingly, the bodies were discovered around Midday of the day immediately after the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 back in 2011 [meaning, of course, that the murders themselves could have taken place on 11 September 2011])-- might Tamerlan himself have been involved? A most interesting question still to be answered at some point!
But the even bigger enigma (indeed, perhaps, the most enigmatic person [at least in terms of his own biography] accused of perpetrating a public criminal act in the some five decades since we first could hear about a guy named Lee Harvey Oswald!) is the younger (still surviving, but in custody) Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar (also known as 'Jahar'). What, exactly, is he? Typical tweeting and partying "American college kid about town" some times and terrorist/cop-killer at other times? (If so, considering we know that he was active in his high school Drama group: one hell of an actor, then, he be!) Or is he, instead, someone who simply lionized his older, more religiously devout Islamist, possibly Jihadist, brother to the point where Dzhokhar/Jahar only lately became such a willing participant in last week's horrific events?
In any event, simply pinning the label "Chechen Islamist" on these two and leaving it at that (as if we all now can so fully understand the motivation[s] behind last week's events [the Bombings themselves plus what transpired during the ensuing Manhunt] in so short a space of time since said events occurred) is- especially in light of the complicated battlefield that is today's Chechnya, as already described earlier in this piece- all too simplistic (as well as dangerously so)!
In addition, there are a number of other questions about the Boston Marathon Bombings still unanswered as I type this, questions apart from those merely surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers per se:
1. Who actually made the bombs used this past 15 April? Was it merely one, or both, of the Tsarnaevs themselves? Or was there a master bomb-maker involved (here putting aside any training the brothers might have gotten from someone else re: how to make such bombs)?
2. Was there at least one other bomb, one which did not explode, at the Boston Marathon Finish Line as well? I saw at least a few interviews, on the cable television news networks this past week, with people who had family members and/or friends or acquaintances in the VIP grandstands across the street from where the first bomb exploded who noted, if only in passing, something to the effect of there having been a third bomb underneath said grandstands. If so, of course, it could not have been placed there by either of the Tsarnaev brothers (whose actions immediately before and after the two bombs we know of went off are now known)-- so, if there was at least one other bomb at the Marathon that afternoon, who placed it there?
Of course, there is a perfectly "innocent" answer to the above question (I use "innocent" here in quotes to refer to an answer that does not at all require a conspiracy with persons other than the Tsarnaev brothers themselves: I am more than well aware that there is nothing innocent about what happened on Monday 15 April [or, for that matter, late Thursday the 18th into Friday the 19th!]): the reports of an unexploded bomb having been found underneath the grandstand were shot down within hours by the Boston Police (indeed, at the first 'presser' held the evening of the 15th) and those interviewed may simply be ignoring the more recent information (and I can well imagine that someone who had a loved one in that VIP grandstand would find it rather hard to so easily let go of the notion that said loved one had been in such imminent danger, even if later informed that no such danger even existed).
3. And what about that report of an unexploded IED (Improvised Explosive Device) at 'Charlesgate' which had to be defused early in the morning of Friday 19 April? I happen to be rather familiar with the Charlesgate section of Boston (for the Charlesgate itself is just down the street from the first dormitory in which I lived at Boston University [and in which I would first meet the Webmaster of this very website, Tony Roza] back in the mid-1970s) and the reports about this IED via the media were rather confusing: its location was stated to be "near Berklee College of Music" which would imply that this device had been found just south of the Mass. Pike, at the far western end of the same Boylston Street on which the Boston Marathon Bombings themselves had taken place... however, at the same time, it was also reported that Commonwealth Avenue east of Kenmore Square through the Charlesgate had been closed to traffic because of this IED (which would mean that the device had actually been found north of the Mass. Pike, on the other side of that superhighway from where Berklee is).
Again, the reports in the media about this (reports which seemed to disappear rather quickly thereafter) were so confused (at least to someone, such as myself, familiar with the geography) that it may well be that this report might not even be what it, at first, appeared to be. But, assuming there was such a device left on the street (presumably on Thursday evening the 18th), who left it there?-- and why? (It should be noted here, however, that the Charlesgate is not all that far from M I T [where police officer Sean Collier would be killed in the line of duty] via the Harvard Bridge across the Charles and so it is entirely possible that such a device could have simply been left by one or both Tsarnaevs before their encounter with Officer Collier and all that followed thereafter [leading to the death of one brother and the eventual capture of the other in the Boston suburb of Watertown on Friday the 19th]).
I have posed the above boldfaced questions not to here at all raise the problematic specter of Conspiracy Theory for, as I have already expounded in relation to two of these, there are certainly answers to said questions which do not require any of us to postulate a conspiracy beyond the two Tsarnaev brothers themselves (and, after all, perhaps they alone did make the bombs!) but, rather, to show that there is still a lot about the 'how's and 'why's of the Boston Marathon Bombings that is yet to be known as of this typing (much of which, likely, will become known to the authorities long before the general public itself comes to know the same-- some of which, just as likely, will never be released to the public [especially if such information might impede the ability of law enforcement to thwart terrorists and/or be used by terrorists to carry out future terrorist acts]).
But a very important question- and one which cannot yet be answered- is this: just how much will the Boston Marathon Bombings (given what we are still learning about the at least immediate perpetrators of same) now potentially push the United States into more of a role in what is- and long has been- going on in Chechnya?