As the Boston Marathon bombing investigation continues, journalists and a concerned public are turning to historians, political scientists, security researchers, and other scholars for a deeper understanding of the suspects' possible motives. It's no surprise that Penn Press authors like Philip Mudd were among the experts interviewed, but one connection was completely unexpected.
Three years ago Brian Glyn Williams, Professor of Islamic Studies at Univ of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and author of Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War, received a letter from a high school student named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. “He wanted to know more about his Chechen roots,” said Williams, as quoted in the New York Times. “He wanted to know more about Russia’s genocidal war on the Chechen people.”
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Williams provides historic background in a Huffington Post commentary, "The Missing Chechen Context on the Boston Tragedy". Williams writes:
Most Americans know very little about this small Muslim ethnic group. While nothing can legitimize the despicable act of terrorism perpetrated by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I believe ethnic and historical background might provide some much needed context.
First of all, the Chechens I have met, including the members of the small tight knit community here in Boston, tend to be a rather Sovietized, secularized, moderate Muslims. The ones I know tend to emulate George Washington for freeing the 13 colonies from British oppression. The Chechens dream of the same thing for themselves from their historic nemesis, imperial Russia/Soviet Union/the post-Soviet Russian Federation.
Chechnya: From Nationalism to Jihad, by James Hughes at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was cited in "Boston Marathon Bombing: What Do Chechens Have Against the U.S.?," a recent post on the Foreign Policy in Focus blog. The post argues that Hughes' work "sheds some light on possible reasons that Chechen separatists might attack the United States."
After an April 19 interview with KCBS radio in San Francisco, Lincoln Mitchell , an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University's Harriman Institute tweeted "Wrong to assume these were radical Chechnyan terrorists, but also wrong to oppose the notion their background might be relevant." Mitchell is the author of Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution and The Color Revolutions.