Friday, April 19, 2013

 

From freedom fighters to terrorists: Identity of Boston bombers shifts US attitudes to Chechnya

The revelation that the two brothers suspected to be behind the Boston Marathon attack are ethnic Chechens has led the US establishment to perform a rapid volte-face towards the previously sympathetically-viewed region and cause.
Terrorist Salman Raduyev [center], one of the leaders of armed Chechen groups, with his followers at an election rally in Grozny in January 1997.

Through the two separatist wars fought by Chechen militants in the 1990s, the standard US portrayal of the restive region focused on the David and Goliath scale of the adversaries, the ‘denial’ to Chechens of their right to self-determination, and the abuse of human rights.

In the wake of Monday’s attack, a new sinister international image of Chechnya has emerged.
“Chechnya region is cauldron of Islamic militancy” proclaimed the headline in the New York Daily News.  For LA Times, it was “Festering Chechen militancy”, while the Washington Times went with “Chechnya is a hotbed of Islamic extremism”.
USA Today, Fox News and the Washington Post all simply picked “Chechnya is a breeding ground for terrorism”, as their header.
The international experts now offered a different narrative of the conflict that has bedeviled Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and cost thousands of lives as well as draining billions of dollars from the budget.
"The [second Chechen conflict in 1999] war initially began as a nationalist war but very, very quickly metastasized into something that looks much more like the radical Salafi-Jihadi movements we've seen in other regions around the world," Christopher Swift, a professor of National Security at Georgetown University, told ABC News.
"The movement that's emerged from the 15 years of war is very radical, it's very virulent, it's very nasty”.
"The Chechen jihadi network is very extensive," Middle East analyst Walid Phares told Fox News. "They have a huge network inside Russia and Chechnya."
“United States shut its eyes to Chechen terrorism,” said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
No longer were the Tsarnaev brothers victims of oppression, simply looking for a better life in America as refugees.

"They could well be supported by a significant international network," John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News.

Evan Kohlmann, chairman of Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York-based international security consulting firm said, “these groups [the two men may have belonged to] can be just as radical as anything Al Qaeda puts out."

Many newspapers also recalled the hostage-taking incidents that ended in tragedy at the musical Nord Ost in Moscow in 2002, and a school in Beslan in 2004.
Indeed, the National Interest foreign policy magazine went as far as to declare that Vladimir Putin’s Chechnya policy “has been vindicated” and that “President Obama needs to call Putin ASAP.”  For all about turns, these abrupt attempts to give more context to the Boston Marathon bombing and redefine Chechens as ‘dangerous enemies of Western civilization’ may not even be particularly relevant. While the Tsarnaev brothers appeared to have a very strong sense of ethnic identity, there is little so far to suggest that they were a cell in some shadowy terror group. In fact, the two had barely spent any of their lives in their homeland.

(Photo:A terrorist killed during the hostage release operation at the Dubrovka Theater.)

While the new portrayal of Chechnya as a terror base, may not be any more three-dimensional or correct than its previous incarnation as a tragic land denied its independence, few would deny that violence, oppression and violations of human rights have characterized the history of Russians and Chechens living in the same state.
But the quick abandonment of sympathy towards Chechens, and sanctimony towards the Kremlin in large swathes of the US establishment prove this: it is one thing to castigate a nation overseas for its approach to terrorism, but it is something else to encounter it face to face, when citizens of your own country die in acts of calculated violence.
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