Understanding Chechen Radicalism?
Foreign Policy Research Institute
In a column, "America's Enemy Within" (Project Syndicate, May 2, 2013), Ian Buruma has a worthwhile point about American overreaction in shutting down the city of Boston as a response to the fear of terrorism, which can only inspire more potential terrorists who hope to terrorize and disrupt, but he also writes:
Barring any unexpected new revelations, there is not much to be learned from the Tsarnaev brothers, better known as "the Boston bombers." We can dig into their family histories in strife-torn Dagestan, or examine, once again, the lethal appeal of Islamist radicalism. But I doubt that this would be enlightening.To see just how wrong wrong can be if Buruma thinks that Hans Magnus Enzensberger's concept of "the radical loser" is all that one needs to explain the Tsarnaev brothers' actions and that the North Caucasus complex of identity and religion offers no clues to understanding these brothers, he needs to read an FPRI article on this very subject by Michael A. Reynolds, "The Northern Caucasus, the Tsarnaevs, and Us" (E-Notes, May 2013), for example, this from the conclusion:
The Tsarnaevs' North Caucasian roots, of course, did not cause them to attack the population of the United States. But their choice to embrace a radical and militant interpretation of Islam and to carry out bombings and attack the police becomes more comprehensible when placed into the historical and cultural context that helped form them. The peculiar historical legacy and the current state of the North Caucasus render it especially vulnerable to jihadism. It is not a coincidence that, alone in the post-Soviet space, this region has been a site of chronic jihadist insurgencies. The highlanders' distinctive culture of defiance and the formative struggle they waged in the name of Islam against the Russian empire coupled with the suppression of traditional religious authorities in the Soviet era, the devolution of the region's economic and political institutions, and a system of governance that stifles constructive initiative provide . . . conditions favorable to militant Islam. Current conditions give young men in the North Caucasus, of whom there are many, limited prospects. These conditions will persist for another generation, perhaps longer. Today, rebellion in the name of Islam offers these men a simulacrum of highlander tradition, a reassuring reaffirmation of roots at a time when so much of that tradition has evaporated, while also holding out the possibility of glory. The North Caucasus will, therefore, likely remain an incubator of jihadism for some time to come.And, implies Reynolds, that North Caucasus radical Islamism will also continue to inspire young, alienated men of the Chechen diaspora, and the Chechens are a formidable, rebellious people, as we see from these words Reynolds cites from Solzhenitsyn on the Chechens in exile from the Caucasus and their refusal to submit to the Soviet authorities:
There was one nation that would not give in, would not acquire the mental habits of submission -- and not just individual rebels among them, but the whole nation to a man. These were the Chechens . . . . The Chechens never sought to please, to ingratiate themselves with the bosses; their attitude was always haughty and even openly hostile . . . . They respected only rebels.This traditional characteristic of the Chechens is worthy of respect . . . and also of fear. It's precisely the sort of rebellious warlike tradition that alienated young men like the elder Tsarnaev brother would imagine themselves to embody, and lead them to gravitate toward the radical Islamism that appeals to warrior traditions among otherwise nominal Muslims.
And here is an extraordinary thing -- everyone was afraid of them. No one could stop them from living as they did. The regime that had ruled the land for thirty years could not force them to respect its laws.
Or so I understand Reynolds to argue. Read the entire piece and decide for yourself . . .