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Don’t Blame Chechnya

April 22, 2013

Chechens are an ancient people who have lived in the Caucasus for thousands of years. Over the centuries, the Chechens survived invasions by the Khazars, Huns, Arabs, Persians, Tatars, Mongols, the Golden Horde and Tamerlane. During the 1400s, Chechnya officially converted to Islam as a means of enlisting Ottoman aid against Russian expansion, although the Chechnyan pagan religion survived into the 1800s.

Chechens repelled Russian attacks until the Russian conquest was finally completed in 1859, after a bloody, decades-long war that decimated the Chechen population. Chechens rebelled against Russian and Soviet domination at every opportunity – during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 1878, the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and during World War II. The Chechen rebellion during the siege of Stalingrad distracted the Soviet army from its defense against the Nazis, and Stalin reacted by deporting the entire Chechen population to Kazakhstan and Siberia. During Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization, Chechens were allowed to return to their ancestral home, but “Russification” of Chechen schools and culture continued.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991, Chechnya rose up against Russian domination again. Despite his massive military, Boris Yeltsin was unable to subdue the Chechen independence movement. But Vladimir Putin brutally re-took Chechnya in 1999 and 2000 and installed a pro-Moscow government, although armed resistance continued until 2009.

Chechens fled the violence in large numbers, mostly re-settling in Europe. About 1,000 Chechens came to the United States, many seeking asylum, like Anzor Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen, and his wife Zubeidat, an ethnic Avar, who brought their family to the U.S. in 2002. Their older son Tamerlan was 16 years old at the time; their younger son Dzhokhar was nine. Eleven years later, the two brothers would detonate two pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding 183, many of whom lost legs to the assault. Tamerlan died in a shootout with law enforcement; Dzhokhar faces the death penalty.

Many Chechens who came to this country were horrified to learn that the Boston Marathon terrorists were ethnic Chechens. They say they feel “exposed” and “embarrassed.” Ali Tepsurkaev told the New York Times, “Most of us would be dead right now if it wasn’t for the United States giving us a home and saving us from all the violence. After all this hospitality we’re getting from Americans, to hear that some Chechen…. It’s hard.”

Almut Rochowanksi told the Times that he reassures his friends: “Americans have dealt with this issue [terrorism] long enough now to know not to discriminate against entire groups.”

Mr. Rochowanski may be more optimistic about Americans than is justified. Republicans are calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be tried as an “enemy combatant” rather than as a civilian, although he is an American citizen. No non-Muslim terrorist has ever been the subject of such calls. Senator Rand Paul has called for a pause in the progress of immigration reform “until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system” – referring to the Tsarnaev family’s immigration in 2002.

American has suffered from terrorist attacks almost since the founding of the Republic. Wikipedia’s first listed American terrorist attack was committed in 1837, by a pro-slavery mob against an abolitionist. American terrorists have included abolitionists, the Ku Klux Klan, Christian and Jewish extremists, anarchists, leftists, rightists, Black Panthers, Weathermen, Puerto Rican nationalists, Québécois, Mansonites, the Japanese Red Army, Indian mystics, tax protestors, animal rights activists, pro-lifers, survivalists, white supremacists, skinheads, and disaffected postal workers.

Somehow we manage to abide by our rules, our laws, and our culture in the face of terrorism. Only when the terrorist is a Muslim do we lose our heads and blame entire peoples – whether Arabs, Muslims, or, now, Chechens. The only real difference between Timothy McVeigh and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Andrew Rosenthal tells us, is that Tsarnaev is a Muslim.

  1. Good post until the last line. Sorry, but it’s not so simple. McVeigh is brought up again and again as the counterweight to terrorist after terrorist in some strange kind of math where one Christian terrorist equals 200 or 2000 or some other number of Muslim terrorists. The real math goes the other way – Muslim terrorists outnumber all other kind, and there’s a reason for this that has to do with their belief system. While this is politically incorrect to state openly, at some level as a society and as a culture we know this, so that why “we lose our heads” when the terrorist is a Muslim.


    • Thanks for taking the time to send your comment. My point in that sentence was a legal one, not an arithmetic one, but let’s consider the arithmetic.

      I haven’t seen any actual terrorist counts that would justify your statement that Muslim terrorists outnumber Christian terrorists by 200 or 2,000 to one. There are after all all kinds of Christian zealots who have resorted to violence that can be characterized as terrorism – from anti-abortion activists on the right to environmental activists on the left. The Tsarnaevs and McVeigh both used bombs, but it wasn’t Muslims who shot up Columbine, Aurora, Tucson and Newtown. “Going postal” isn’t a Muslim expression. Mathematically, it may well be that for every Tsarnaev there is a Malvo or a Kozinski.

      Even if you are correct that Muslims predominate among terrorists in our time, that is surely a recent phenomenon. There was a time that Christian terrorists in white robes – members of the Ku Klux Klan – far outnumbered Muslim terrorists anywhere.

      I personally don’t think there is anything inherent in Islam that leads to terrorism, any more than there is anything inherent in any other religion that leads to terrorism. That said, I do think there is something about modern Arab countries that fosters terrorists among their citizens. I do think that oppressive government breeds resentment that can and eventually will turn violent, and Arab dictators have for decades made a high art out of channeling their citizens’ resentment into hatred, first of Israel, and more recently of the United States.

      I don’t think that has all that much to do with Islam. I think it has more to do with oppression and dictatorship.


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