Chechnya, Tsarnaev and terror


According to media accounts based on police reports, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings is a 19-year-old man named Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a resident of Boston who lived in the former Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan and may or may not be Chechen in origin. He identifies himself as a Muslim.

Obviously no one knows, if in fact he is guilty, what his motivation was for helping his brother to set off bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday. That said, a lot of people are unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan so I thought I would set up a little bit of light on the subject since I have been there many times and have studied Central Asia, its politics and culture.

Generally speaking, Kyrgyzstan is divided between its secular Sovietized North, centered around the capital of Bishkek, and its conservative Muslim south, centered around the Fergana Valley city of Osh. Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Kyrgyz Republic represented one of the great hopes for democratization in former Soviet Central Asia. It had a flawed but democratically elected president, one of the least corrupt police forces in the region, and was relatively peaceful. Largely it was free of Western influence because it did not have oil or natural gas reserves coveted by Russia or the United States. Therefore, it did not suffer from the famous oil curse.

In recent years the most important political development in Kyrgyzstan was the 2005 Tulip Revolution, which saw radical Islamist insurgents and financed by the American CIA and based around Osh topple the regime of Pres. Akayev, who fled into exile rather than order his security forces to fire upon his people. Nobody can be 100% certain why the United States decided to repeat the same mistakes that it made in Afghanistan during the 1980s, but it isn't a huge stretch to assume that the fact that Akayev was demanding increased rent on the US air base at Manas that was established after the 9/11 attacks may have had something to do with it.

Since 2005 the political situation in the Boston suspect's homeland has deteriorated. Some analysts consider it nearly a failed state. Certainly the central government has lost control of much of the South. For example, when I tried to cross from Tajikistan into southeastern Kyrygzstan at Sary Tash in 2008, border guards informed me that they had not heard from Bishkek in years. In fact, they no longer even had a passport stamp. It was very clear that local warlords were in charge of mining and other concerns there.

Radical Islamists, always active in the southern part of the country, have become emboldened since 2005. One insurgent group, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has attracted self radicalized Muslims from all over the world, including a substantial faction from Chechnya. Chechnya, well-informed readers will recall, was destroyed by forces under the direction of Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin. While we in the West may have forgotten this episode, Chechens are well known as ferocious fighters who never forget a grudge. Jihad is alive and well for them.

Why did Mr. Tsarnaev blow up the marathon? Assuming, of course that he did?

It may well be that his trajectory as an ethnic Chechen brought him into contact with radical Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. Although it seems like a stretch for Americans, Muslims around the world often see America and Russia acting in concert. It would then be another logical leap to attack America here yes, including attacking innocent civilians, because after all, Russia attacks innocent civilians in Muslim countries and in places like Chechnya, and the United States does so in other places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of course, all of this is conjecture.


Ted Rall's most recent book is “Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right” (Soft Skull Press).

Israel at 65


I watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombings and thought, of course, of the bus bombings that wracked Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a decade ago. The mundane calm violently shattered. The screams giving way to sirens. The bodies sprawled on the ground. And the smoke — movies never show how much smoke explosions really cause, because there would be too much to see anything.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one making these associations.

Dr. Alasdair Conn is chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, where at least 22 of the severely wounded victims were rushed.

“This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in Baghdad or Israel or other tragic points in the world,” Conn told The New York Times.

The way Dr. Conn put it jarred me. Sixty-five years after its founding, Israel is vibrant, creative, tough, embattled, intense, exhausting — but tragic? Nope.

It’s not because enemies, like the terrorist or terrorists who attacked Boston, haven’t tried for years to reduce Israel to a nation of blood and tears. Just since the Second Intifada, the terror death toll of Israeli Jews and Arabs has topped 1,000. In the latest attack, in July of last year, a Hezbollah bomb planted on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria claimed six lives.

Numbers don’t begin to reveal the human agony behind each of these attacks. Beyond the casualties and their anguished loved ones, there are the wounded, who bear the scars for life. Israel has known tragedy, and how.

But Israel — as a nation, as a set of ideals, as a population within its (somewhat iffy) borders — continues to thrive. If any one word could describe Israel, it would not be tragic. It would be resilient.

Research now shows that people who fare best in life are ones who’ve undergone some adversity — not too much, and not too little.

“In our trauma-focused age,” psychologist Anthony Mancini writes,we sometimes lose sight of our innate capacity to endure. We seem to assume that ‘traumatic events’ must result in ‘trauma.’ And yet the research tells us the opposite. Most people cope with the worst things with only modest and transient disruptions in functioning.”

By that measure, Israel was forged in just the right degree of adversity.

The sites of some of the worst terror attacks in modern history bear no lasting signs. Israeli leaders made a decision early on to restore attack sites to normality as soon as possible. The message that sends is the same as what grass reminds each time you mow it — “we’ll be right back.” All that marks the place is a plaque or some kind of permanent memorial — because preserving memory of sacrifice is also a way of ensuring resilience.

Israel’s economy has a kind of unplanned resilience — not relying on any one commodity or industry, but constantly inventing new ones. So, too, its agriculture, which has moved from simply growing stuff to engineering the finest ways to breed, plant, irrigate, harvest, process and ship produce. Dozens of other countries can grow cheaper potatoes, but all over Europe you’ll pay six bucks a kilo for Israel’s Avshalom brand.

Part of this resilience is born of an innate restlessness. But it also comes from being not just a country, but a People. As Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Israeli think tank Re’ut has pointed out, Jewish longevity and success is in large part due precisely to worldwide networks of communities that could grow when others shrank, or disappeared, that could help when others were hurting.

“A secret of Jewish survival, security and prosperity over centuries of exile has been its geographic spread among nations, cultures and languages,” Grinstein writes.

Israel was supposed to herald the Ingathering of the Exiles, when the far-flung Jews, called, disdainfully, the galut, would all drop their briefcases and flock to Zion.

Thankfully, our innate sense of resilience kept us from doing exactly that. Israel grew strong and has prospered by drawing on the talents and resources and experiences of Jews, non-Jewish friends and, yes, former Israelis throughout the world.

The last Israeli election, which saw the ascendancy of parties informed by a more open — that is a more American-Jewish — approach to Judaism is a good indicator of how Israel’s future also depends on the strength and ideas of outside Jewish communities. It doesn’t just take a village, it takes a web — or, to be geeky about it, it takes an interconnected network.

What binds these networks together is a common story, a shared narrative of struggle, endurance, redemption. That story has enabled Israel, in the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, to emerge “stronger than before from the test of fire and blood.” That story has been both a source of hope, and its fuel.

Because, really, what is resilience but a fancy word for hope — HaTikvah. And if we lost that — now that would be tragic.

Obama: ‘The entire country is behind the people of Boston’


President Barack Obama called Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on Friday to offer ongoing federal help in the Boston bombing investigation, and to express condolences for a police officer killed in the search for suspects.

“The President said that the entire country is behind the people of Boston as well as Massachusetts, and that the full force of the federal government will continue to be made available until those responsible are brought to justice,” a White House official said.

Obama stayed out of the public eye on Friday after traveling to Boston on Thursday to speak at a service for the victims of Monday's bombing.

Top White House officials continue to watch the situation and brief Obama, the White House said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Eric Walsh

New evidence photos from Boston Marathon bombing