A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Boston Bombers: Preliminary Thoughts

This has been a wild week, here and elsewhere. Besides the events in Boston, there were ricin-laced letters in Washington, the plant explosion in Texas, and so on. The ricin seems to have been a homegrown US radical, but now that we've learned the identity of the Boston bombers, the talking heads are having a field day talking about their Chechen backgrounds.

There's obviously a lot still to be learned. I think we should learn a bit from the misreporting we've seen already this week. The New York Post printed a photo of alleged "suspects" who were nothing of the sort, and there have been other rushes to judgment, false reports of an arrest, etc.

It may well prove that this act of terror in Boston was indeed a blowback of some sort from the Chechen conflict, and the perpetrators were radicalized by that. But I would also urge caution until we understand their motives better: apparently it's not clear that either of these men ever set foot in Chechnya. Before coming to the US, they live in Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan. The older brother, who traveled to Russia last year, might have gone to Chechnya, but the links to that conflict are still pretty shaky and unclear.

Juan Cole has an intriguing, if also unproven and perhaps premature suggestion: That the father and family were supportive of the Russian crackdown in Chechnya, even perhaps with security, and that this could be a sign of sons' rebelliousness against a father (and yes, he mentions Turgenev). It might explain some of the lingering questions. But my own instinct is still, let's wait and see before we "explain" the bombers' motives.

And, as is often the case, The Onion may have the best observation: "Study: Majority of Americans Not Informed Enough to Stereotype Chechens."

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