Sunday, July 7, 2013

Boston Bombing Roots

by Bill Doughty

In thinking about the “why” behind the terrorist attacks by radical Islamic fundamentalists, can at least part of the answer be explained in books?  While the world was focused on the Middle East, the atrocity at the Boston Maraton last April 15 -- Patriots Day -- shifted some of the attention a bit north of Syria, Iraq and Iran to almost forgotten Chechnya and the fringes of the former Soviet Union.

To understand “why Chechnya?” several books provide helpful insight.  All of these were written before Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens with ties to radical Islam, conducted their vicious attack against innocent Americans.

“Chechen Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror” by Yossef Bodansky introduces readers immediately to terrorists like Shamil Basayev, AKA Amir Abdallah Shamil Abu-Idris, once tied to bin-Laden and al-Zawahiri.

Like author and historian Bernard Lewis, Bodansky attempts to explain the violent reactions of some fundamentalists against western modernization and what their jihad hopes to accomplish.

“The story of the Islamist-Jihadists’ quest to seize the strategic ground of Chechnya and the Caucasus is a unique and critical case study for anyone seeking to understand the means and goals of the worldwide Islamist jihad.  And its failure -- if failure it can be -- contains lessons that may be infrastructure as the secular world confronts continued Islamist-Jihadist surges in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
War in Chechnya in 1994 is thought to have claimed 100,000 lives.

Bodansky shows how sharia law, which called for public violence against its citizens, restricted women’s rights, transformed society, destroyed the socioeconomic infrastructure and fomented violence.  He calls it Chechenization.

In the chapter “Why Should We Care?” he writes:

“Chechenization refers to the profound transformation of a predominantly Muslim society from its traditional, largely pre-Islamic structure to one dominated by Islamist-Jihadist elements that historically have been alien to that society.  Chechenization involving not only the Arabization of that society’s value system, social structure, and way of life, but a near-complete abandonment of a society’s own cultural heritage in favor of subservience to pan-Islamic Jihadist causes, even if those causes are detrimental to the self-interest of that society.”

Under sharia law there is no separation of church and state.  In a radical Islamic state there is no tolerance for "disbelievers," nonbelievers or so-called apostates (former Muslims).

Lawrence Scott Sheets describes in “8 Pieces of Empire” how clerics in Chechnya ordered public televised lashings and public executions.  A highlight of his personal reporter’s narrative is the chapter “Three Libertine Women” in which we meet three freedom fighters, “Sabotage Women,” who fought the Russians nearly twenty years ago.

Harassed by morality police and threatened because of their secular attitudes and behavior, the women -- strong and fierce and free -- “fled Chechnya for Europe, where they are today.”

Andrew Meier, in “Chechnya: To the Heart of a Conflict,” describes a land of suicide bombings, assassinations and ongoing act of terrorism, where assassinations in the years since the first Russian onslaught in 1994, the kidnapping industry replaced petroleum crude as the primary contribution to Chechnya’s gross domestic product.”

Meier says he wrote the book as a report to “trace the convulsions” in the region.

A highlight of Meier’s small book is a timeline from the 17th through 19th centuries when “Chechens adopt Sunni Islam, but retain many ancestral customs,” through the impact of Russia, ending with the Sept. 1, 2004 terrorist attack and hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia and killing and wounding of hundreds of children.

In Moshe Gammer’s “The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule,” we learn of the history of the turmoil in the Caucasus going back to Catherine the Great in 1771, in the same decade as the birth of the United States, 1776.

The embers of violence continued to glow, flaring around the time of the American Civil War.

“In 1866 ... economic, religious, political and other tensions had gradually been building up, making Chechnya (and Daghestan) a powder keg waiting to explode.  The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-8 was the match that ignited it.”

Gammer describes another milestone around the time of World War I.

“The Islamic leaders were interested in securing the monopoly of the sharia over life in the mountains.  In the Chechen congress in Groznyi they had already raised the questions of enforcing the sharia and establishing a Terek Muftiate.”

Gammer calls it an “alliance” between religion and nationalism.

In the ashes of the Ottoman experience and in the face of the Stalinist persecution by the Soviet Union, fundamentalist Islam attracted a greater following among the people.

A purge or “deportation” in WWII caused deep-seated resentment that took root for generations despite a “rehabilitation” during the Cold War.

Terrorism and war continued as the people adopted “Wahhabism,” the religious philosophy adopted by al-Zawahiri.

According to Gammer, “The war of 1994-6 strengthened the Islamic dimension of Chechen identity and brought to the fore memories of the Islamic resistance to Russia in the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries ... Furthermore, Islam poured he strongest rallying call inside Chechnya and more effective than secular ideologies in calling for unity and mobilising support among other North Caucasian nationalities...”

So, the history books help us understand the unholy war that has existed in the region.  Other books can also help explain the brainwashing, “divine purpose” and self-righteous attitude that causes such explosive violence.

Still, the more we understand, the more questions we encounter.  Especially as we consider the “why” behind the Tsarnaev attacks in Boston on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday celebrating freedom and independence.  What caused the two jihadists to lash out and cause so much destruction?  Why would they reject the freedom and democracy they had adopted.  Perhaps their uncle Ruslan Tsarni has the reason that goes beyond the history books: “being losers.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being arraigned this week after the formal indictment was issued last month.

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