Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Bombers Notes

This is a continuation of Saturday's notes aimed at explaining last week's Boston Marathon bombing. Who were the perpetrators? What led them to that savage behavior? Who else or what other influences were involved? What can be done to avert similar tragedies in future? And what impact does that event have on other narratives indirectly affected? (Syria, gun violence, immigration, First, Second and Fifth Amendment rights, accuracy of media, others...we have much to think about.)

Did the Boston Bombing Hurt the Syrian Revolution? Obama & Putin Confer as Rebels Allege Regime Massacre
Juan Cole couples the Chechnya angle of the story with oppositions forces in the Syrian civil war.

The phone call between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Boston Marathon bombers were identified as Chechens, in which Obama thanked Putin for Russia’s cooperation on counter-terrorism and promised more such collaboration, was probably the most cordial exchange the two countries have had for some time. The thaw was occurring as Syrian troops were accused of committing a massacre of hundreds civilians as they advanced on Judaydat al-Fadl in the hinterland of Damascus. In other developments, Lebanon’s Hizbullah Shiite militia appeared to have been drawn more explicitly than ever before into the fighting in Syria near the Lebanese border. 
Russia has been backing the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad against largely Sunni rebels. Some of those rebels, in the north of the country, have turned to Muslim radicalism and announced an affiliation with al-Qaeda. The governor of Chechnya, Putin appointee Ramzan Kadyrov, has denounced the small number of Chechens who went to fight with the rebels in Syria, most of whom are fundamentalists (Kadyrov is a secularist). He said, “They represent neither our people, nor our religion,” saying that they would be “personally hunted down” if they tried to come back to Chechnya. 
It should be realized that from Aleppo in northern Syria, where the radical Jabhat al-Nusra is active, to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya in Russia, is only about 960 miles through Turkey and Georgia, about a 20 hour drive. In Chechnya, the nationalist Chechen forces of secularists, Sufis and other non-fundamentalists have since 1999 fought the radical Caucasus Emirate Islamic Insurgency, more or less an al-Qaeda affiliate, with Putin’s backing. Ramzan Kadyrov and Putin do not want a resurgence in the area of Muslim radicalism, and so hate the idea of the Syrian Jabhat al-Nusra defeating the secular Baath Party. (The secular-fundamentalist split in Chechnya, by the way, is mirrored in the Tsarnaev family. Anzor Tsarnaev married a daughter to a policeman working for Kadyrov, according to AP, while his son, Tamerlan, became a radical fundamentalist. See my “Fathers and Sons and Chechnya.”
Professor Cole's commentary is a rich source of information, more than the average American will ever ingest. I was a history major and even now am an avid reader of current events, but Juan Cole is heavy lifting. the link above is long and the comments thread even longer. readers can dig as deep there as their curiosity will carry them. But I found his earlier commentary (to his credit subsequently amended and edited, as the reader will see) provocative reading.

Fathers and Sons and Chechnya
The anger and embarrassment visible in the interviews given on Friday by the uncle and the aunt of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, are entirely understandable. 
But I see clues here to family dynamics that may be important in understanding what happened. In Ivan Turgenev’s 1862, novel, “Fathers and Sons,” the old man’s son, Arkady, comes back home after studies with a friend, Bazarov, after both had adopted the radical philosophy of Nihilism. Their radicalism roiled the family for a while, until Bazarov’s death. (Later, in 1881, Nihilists assassinated Tsar Alexander II). 
The key back in 2013, I think, is Maret Tsarnaeva’s assertion that the father, Anzor, ‘worked in the enforcement agencies’ in Russian Chechnya. 
It appears she meant he worked as an attorney for the prosecutor’s office in Soviet Kyrgyzstan, i.e. for the Communist, Stalinist state. 
‘We were,’ she said, ‘lucky to get him out of Kyrgyzstan alive,’ presumably because radical Muslims were trying to track him down and take revenge on him there.
Update: If he had been a Soviet era prosecutor, a lot of people in Kyrgyzstan would have had a grudge with him. Hence his abortive attempts to flee first to Chechnya in the early 90s and to Daghestan later. 
She also seems to imply that he was given asylum in the US easily, precisely because he had been an ‘enforcer’ in Grozny against the Muslim fundamentalist rebels, and so there was no doubt that his life was in danger from them.* 
The uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said that the bombings had nothing to do with religion, that that charge is a fraud, he said, because he knew the family and the boys as children (i.e. he knew them to have been raised as secularists). Someone, he said, ‘radicalized them.’ 
Most ex-Soviet Muslims are secular and many don’t believe in God or think religion is important. Their families lived under a Communist regime for some 70 years, with its campaigns of official atheism and anti-religious indoctrination in schools. In the ex-Soviet Muslim-heritage republics, there are huge struggles between those happy in their secularism and those who are attempting to recover a Muslim identity. That struggle has played out in Chechnya as well as in Uzbekistan. 
*This para deleted because the early speculation seems unwarranted: 
It is possible that she is saying that Anzor Tsarnaev was a soldier or security policeman for the pro-Russian Chechnyan government of Akhmet Kadyrov, established in 1999 in the course of the Second Chechnya War against the Islamic Peacekeeping Army, which had invaded Daghestan. 
I am totally impressed when someone takes the time to correct ideas or impressions later shown to be unwarranted.  Here again the reader will find a good comment thread. This one raises good questions.
Very interesting. Along the lines of the father son thing, look at the age separation of the 2 boys. As an older sibling of same sex siblings 7, 8, and 14 years than myself, foster parent who has raised many kids, and as a schoolteacher I am very familiar with hero worship among siblings  Add to that an absentee father and I can easily see how a younger brother, could easily be drug into something that would be entirely out of character for him otherwise. The older brother was going through life failures, divorce etc. . His comment about no friends in America goes hand in hand with attachment disorder behavior. They talk about the older brother coming here later than the younger one. 
  • So who was he living with before? 
  • How old was he when his family first came here without him? 
  • How did that make him feel? 
  • What kind of abandonment issues could he have developed 
  • Did he blame his father for abandoning him? 
  • Then, after he is here, his father goes away again? 
  • How did he feel about that? 
  • Ok, add to that “if”" the older bro;er is pissed off at dad, add to that typical family dynamics and it is no large leap to see “ownership” of younger brothers loyalties as a prize to be fought over, or conquest over dad. With dad out of the picture, over seas, older brother wins. If younger brother does survive, I doubt questioning him will get him to reveal what he probably does not understand.
Many would argue this is too much navel-gazing. I submit that these are precisely the kinds of questions to be addressed if efforts to avert future tragedies of this sort will succeed. There are unintended consequences to all policies, often (such as non-combatant casualties dismissed as "collateral damage") but those who craft and execute policies should be willing and able to correct mistakes to the extent that they are reversible. 


Boston bomber: FBI 'dropped the ball' over Tamerlan Tsarnaev
The FBI was alerted by Russia's security services to serious new concerns about one of the Boston bomb suspects as recently as last November, it was claimed on Sunday night.

As the agency was accused of "dropping the ball" over the case, NBC News reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been seen making six visits to a known Islamic militant in a mosque in the Russian republic of Dagestan. The visits came during a six month trip that Tamerlan made to the city of Makhachkala to see his family, NBC said.

According to a local police official, a case file on Tsarnaev was then handed over to the FBI along with a request for further information. However, the FBI never replied. The agency has already admitted that it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 after Russia raised concerns that he was becoming a follower of radical Islam, but found nothing "derogatory" against him and did not pursue the case further.

[...]   Michael McCaul, the chair of House Homeland Security Committee, said the FBI must explain why it failed to keep track of Tsarnaev after the 2011 interview, particularly after he visited his family in Dagestan, which is a known centre of Islamist militancy and training facilities. 
"If he [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] was on the radar and they let him go, if he was on the Russians' radar, why wasn't a flag put on him, some sort of customs flag?" Mr McCaul asked on CNN, adding that there were clear signs that Tsarnaev had been radicalised during his trip. 
"One of the first things he does [upon his return] is puts up a YouTube website throwing out a lot of jihadist rhetoric. Clearly something happened, in my judgment, in that six-month timeframe – he radicalised at some point in time," Mr McCaul added. "Where was that and how did that happen?" 
In a further sign that Tsarnaev's record was in the US security apparatus, the New York Times reported that a "hold" had been placed on his citizenship request by the Department of Homeland Security after routine background checks discovered the FBI's former interest in him. 
The FBI has also not explained why it did not immediately retrieve the Tsarnaev file after the bombs exploded on Monday afternoon – an event which should have triggered routine checks on those suspected of involvement in with Islamist militant groups. 
Even three days later, when the FBI correctly identified the bombers after reviewing hours of the CCTV footage and public smartphone videos of the race, they failed to cross-reference the photograph with a man whose picture they already had on file.
When contacted by The Daily Telegraph to ask why Tamerlan's file had been overlooked in the aftermath of the bombings, the FBI said it would not comment on "operational matters".
While at pains to praise the bravery of police in the hunt for the bombers, which ended last Friday night with Tamerlan, 26, dead and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19, in hospital in a 'serious' condition, senior politicians openly questioned the competence of the FBI. 
"The ball was dropped in one of two ways," said senator Lindsey Graham on CNN warning that the FBI needed to improve its performance. "The FBI missed a lot of things, is one potential answer, or our laws do not allow the FBI to follow up in a sound solid way."
"It's people like this that you don't want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake," he added. "Either our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed, but we're at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game." 
Another Republican, congressman Peter King, chairman of the House sub-committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, was even more direct, accusing the FBI of having a track-record of failure in monitoring potential terror threats. 
Another angle here.
"The parents' marriage broke up about two years ago. The father—a former boxer himself who was distraught when Tamerlan gave up the sport—has since moved to Dagestan after falling ill. Both parents believe that their sons are being framed for the Boston attack. 
Over the past two years, Tamerlan became more confrontational about his religion, engaging in arguments with other worshipers at a Cambridge mosque he sometimes attended, according to a mosque spokesman and worshipers there. 
His growing religious interest coincided with a rocky period in his life during which his boxing career stalled, he drifted in and out of community-college courses, he was charged with assault by a girlfriend who said he slapped her, and a friend of his was murdered. 
The challenges in the U.S. were hard on the family, which comes from a centuries-old, patriarchal Caucasian tradition of mountain warriors that has often been at odds with Slavic Russian society. "It was hard because you realize that you used to be somebody there, but here, you're a nobody," said Maret Tsarnaeva, the brothers' aunt. "As Chechens, we always had to work hard to prove ourselves, no matter where we were."

Nobody in America is unfamiliar with the term "generation gap."  If US history has any thread of continuity it is that phenomenon in one form or another. And it's not a good explanation for what causes some indivuduals to act crazy when the majority of their peers make more constructive choices.

This one hits where it hurts. 
What separates these victims [of the explosion in West, Texas and the casualties at the Boston Marathon bombing] from one another? Surely not innocence, for they are all innocent, and they all deserve to be mourned. And yet the blunt and awful truth is that, as a nation, we pay orders of magnitude more attention to the victims of terrorism than we do to the over 4,500 Americans killed each year while on the job. As former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis once put it, “every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home.” Very little is ever said in public about the vast majority of these violent and unnecessary deaths. And even when a spectacular tragedy manages to capture our collective attention—as the West explosion briefly did, as the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster did three years before—it is inconceivable that such an event would be constituted as a permanent emergency of world-historic proportions. 
Let’s imagine that they were, as many have rushed to suggest that the Boston Marathon bombing ought to be. Let’s imagine that instead of sending a handful of investigators from the ATF and the Chemical Safety Board to West, Texas, we marshaled every local, state and federal resource available to discover the exact sequence of events that led to the explosion. Let’s imagine that the question—Why?—became so urgent that the nation simply could not rest until it had overdetermined the answers. We’d discover that OSHA hadn’t inspected the plant in 28 years—did this play a role in the disaster? If it’s found that the company that owns the plant, Adair Grain, violated safety regulations, as it had last year at another facility, we might call it criminal negligence and attribute culpability. But would we ascribe ideology? And which ideology would we indict? Deregulation? Austerity? Capitalism? Would we write headlines that say—Officials Seek Motive in Texas Fertilizer Explosion? And could we name “profit” as that motive in the same way that we might name, say, “Islam” as the motive for terrorism? Would we arrest the plant’s owners, deny them their Miranda rights and seek to try them in an extra-legal tribunal outside the Constitution, as Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested we treat US citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Would we call for a ban on the production of ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia? Would we say that “gaps and loopholes” in our nation’s agricultural policies were responsible for the tragedy, as Senator Chuck Grassley has suggested about immigration in the Boston bombing case? 
No, we won’t. We won’t do any of these things, because even if the West fertilizer plant disaster is ultimately understood as something more than “just an accident,” it will still be taken as the presumed cost of living in a modern, industrialized economy.

When it comes to terrorism, we have the opposite response. We launch wars against other countries, denude the Constitution and create massive state bureaucracies for espionage, covert operations and assassinations. Since 9/11, it’s become a political imperative that our nation must express zero tolerance for terrorism, even though, like workplace fatalities, terrorism has been with us long before globalization lent it a more exotic and threatening provenance.

To the problem of violence, there ought to be a path between callous indifference and total social warfare. And that’s why the miserable and absolute failure of gun control legislation in the Senate—just two days after the Boston bombing and on the same day of the West explosion—was especially galling. Like acts of terrorism, the murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School precipitated a national crisis. In the wake of that tragedy, our collective grief took a particular shape, the shape of democracy. The deaths of those school children were linked to the fate of more than 30,000 victims of gun violence each year, and the impulse to act was channeled through our democratic system, where an overwhelming majority of Americans and a majority of the US Senate expressed support for new gun laws, which were nonetheless defeated. 
Last night, a Fox news anchor cited a poll that claimed that just 4 percent of Americans think gun control is the “the most important problem facing the country today.” Implicit in his commentary is the idea that because gun violence isn’t seen as the singularly most urgent issue, it isn’t an issue at all, that like workplace fatalities are to a modern economy, so gun violence is to the Second Amendment—just a cost we should get used to 
So America, here’s your scorecard for the week of April 15, 2013: callous indifference: 2, total warfare: 1.
And speaking of contradictions, this little message points to more cognitive dissonance. We hate the Russians and cannot trust them --  except when we can.

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