Don’t Blame Chechnya
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.