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Friday, July 19, 2013

From Beslan to Boston, What Next?


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As a result of the Boston Marathon Bombing many intelligence analysts and reporters have been forced to re-examine the role Chechnya and neighboring Caucuses states may play in future terror attacks. Certainly within the Russian government there is no doubt that the Chechens, Inigushetians, Dagestanis and others remain a major threat to internal stability. Nations outside of Russia must now closely study the mindset of the Chechen diaspora to try to understand if the Tsarnaev brothers actions were a one-off event or the start of something even more serious. Serious attacks attributed to Chechen separatists, including the Beslan School Hostage Crisis and the 2002 Moscow Theater hostage crisis must be reconsidered alongside the Boston Bombings. Concrete steps to prevent these gross actions must be taken now.

One may also consider why Russia conducted various military expeditions in the Caucuses region in the first place. This essay will only briefly touch on that subject as the damage to the Chechen mind-set has already been inflicted. Military invasions so rarely seem to achieve stated goals. Modern society must look beyond bullets and bombs towards a more lasting solution.

In order to understand the reach and potential of various Caucuses militant groups we need look no further than the Beslan School Hostage Crisis. Nearly 400 innocent civilians were killed and another 800 wounded in Beslan, a city in the Russian region known as North Ossetia. The hostage-takers were mostly from Inigushetia but also included Chechens and even a few Algerians. Their motives are not entirely clear but there are clear ties to the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers. Muslim people as a whole have grown to feel they are under a grave threat and economically, at least, millions do face tough times.

There were many more participants in Beslan and the planning for the school attack was far more sophisticated but the roots go back to perceived wrongs against Muslim people living in an impoverished region of a mostly Western nation, in that case, Russia.  

Russia has so far refused to allow the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria to declare independence, fearing they would lose the entire Caspian region. The only government to recognize Ichkeria was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, aka the Taliban-led government in 2000. Various Russian forces have been sent in to the Caucuses region and long and harsh periods of warfare have continued from 1994 to 2009. Yet for hundreds of years before that the Chechen people learned armed resistance and guerrilla warfare techniques and thus a militant society within a society was created.

No nation, even the United States, has ever been comfortable with losing territorial integrity. The split of Timor into East and West Timor was a very violent event. The United States Civil War, one of the worst “separatist” historical events, cost at least 600,000 lives. The split of Eritrea away from Ethiopia was no picnic. The list goes on and on to this day with Syria actively embroiled in Civil War right now.

Years after these Civil Wars take place the people that are most closely involved continue to share their deepest convictions with family and other associates. Dzhokhar’s brother very likely adopted the notion that a terrorist attack would somehow bring attention to perceived Muslim or Chechen persecution. He was able to convince his younger brother that this cause is an acceptable excuse for attacking soft Western targets like a foot race the United States. 

How many other young people could be driven to act in a similar manner?

We cannot quantify these numbers, there are simply too many variables. However we can come to understand that the possibility of another such attack is very real. We can take steps to prevent future attacks. Educating the Chechen diaspora of the pointlessness of brutal attacks on foreign civilians may be such a step. The Boston Marathon Bombings produced little sympathy for muslims anywhere. 

Education is just one long-term solution but one that must be initiated now. Closer surveillance of possible suspects in future Chechen-inspired attacks will be required. The complexity of that task alone nearly boggles the imagination. Chechens have come to live all over the world as a result of the unrest in that region. The majority of these people are peace-loving and productive souls engaged in nothing more than raising families and normal business activities. Yet a slight few are probably engaged in planning the next attack, most likely in Russia but that is no longer a certainty. The huge amount of publicity given to the Boston Marathon Bombings will pique the interests of even more potential attackers.

If the groups are well-organized and led by some charismatic leader like Shamil Basayev we could see another Beslan massacre. If lone wolves get drawn to the cause and inspired by a particular pundit we could see a series of Boston Marathon-style bombings or attacks on transport or infrastructure targets.

Spending a billion dollars on surveillance of all the possible suspects may not be the best use of our resources. Spying on people and arresting potential suspects runs the risk of more people taking offense and likely taking up arms. Certainly we should identify any bomb factories or religious leaders directly inciting young people to violence. But other important steps must be undertaken before the undertakers are overwhelmed with more work.

One of these steps must be to learn as much as we can about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's conversion to radical Islamic beliefs. Articles such as the controversial Rolling Stone cover story, Jahar's World, among others, represent only a preliminary examination of the phenomena. It is too close to the actual event. The tears have not yet dried. The anger has not yet turned to calm determination aimed at getting to the real causes.

Some in the intelligence community will no doubt claim this type of understanding has already been achieved. More than a decade has passed since September 11, 2001 and nearly 20 years since the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995. Hundreds of professors and analysts have poured over the known facts and ideologies behind all types of religious extremism. Important works on these matters such as M.J. Gohari's The Taliban Ascent to Power (2000, Oxford University Press) and Richard Antoun's Understanding Fundamentalism (2001, AltaMira Press) existed prior to 911 but still sit just below the radar screens of the decision-makers.

We may think we know what breeds a bomber or causes a violent uprising but we still don't know enough to stop them before they go off. The lines between domestic terrorism and global terrorism are now blurred but the acts themselves will continue, we cannot forget that for a moment. Complacency may not be the right word, after all the CIA, FBI, NSA, MI6 and Interpol together spend billions of dollars a year, but among the greater population complacency is the right word. Unlike the characters in Terry Gilliam's important film, Brazil (1985), we cannot afford to grow used to the notion that random bombings are just going to happen no matter what we do. The citizens of Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan probably already feel this way.

With regards to U.S. actions, it seems only logical that the State Department, Department of Agriculture or the Peace Corps are better suited towards implementing long-term solutions than the Department of Defense. Yet in reality the specific actions taken by private firms would be less suspect and more effective. We can hardly expect General Motors or Proctor & Gamble to open new plants in Grozny, Karachi, Baghdad or Kabul. But major firms all over the world can initiate business partnerships with existing businesses in these places. Universities can establish working relationships with educational institutions outside of the usual European, Asian or South American cities they now associate with. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) can start new projects sponsored by various donors, public and private. These are the types of projects that will bring about lasting economic change, hope for a brighter future and reduce the chances of violent unrest or bombings.

Taking the same amount of money we spend on surveillance or more and investing it in job-creating economic renewal projects including schools, offices, factories and cultural centers is definitely a better solution. We must finance projects that reduce unemployment and increase hope for a brighter future. We must get better at countering the arguments of radical imams, rabbis, priests, pundits and others before they incite the more easily convinced that mass murder can somehow solve a problem.  Free speech can work for and against the goal of a peaceful society.  Long-term studies can be conducted to prove this hypothesis but time is of essence. It would be better to start now by improving the quality of life and overall education available to the groups facing the most economic hardship. 

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