Unnerved by the Uncertainty of Complexity: The Boston Bombings

Even before the wild overnight developments in the Boston bombings -- Russians, Chechens, the Caucuses (sic), Kyrgy-what? -- it was clear that we are culturally unprepared for the complexity of the Boston bombings.

Wednesday saw a panoply of false news reports from wire services, newspapers, and cable news outlets to the effect that a suspected Boston Marathon bomber had been arrested. Oops. When you get something as straightforward as that wrong ...

The dysfunctionality should not have been a surprise, since the whole shallow rush-to-false-judgment trope was set in motion from the beginning, when an Arab onlooker was tackled near the finish line because, you know, he just had to be responsible. Which was followed by the usual loony tunes conspiracy theories from various points of the spinning ideological compass, that the Saudis abetted by their lick-spittle Obama ... the far right haters of the capital of liberal America ... the government and corporate overlords out to impose a police state, were responsible for the horror.

The truth, as it often is, is likely to be much more interesting than these tired notions.

This is going to get very complicated, especially for the American audience. Our political and media culture just isn't geared to a globalized world, or to the reality that we live in history, not the moment.

The two suspected terrorist bombers are Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed in an overnight firefight, and
19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, believed to be on the loose in the Boston area. The two have reportedly lived in America for the past decade.

They are Russian Chechens, who made their way here through Kyrgyzstan -- where the current fugitive was born shortly after the end of the Soviet Union -- a mountainous former Central Asian Soviet republic. I have visited Kyrgyzstan, one of the more pleasant unstable countries around, though not so unstable that the US doesn't have a major base there which has aided tremendously in the Afghan War. An ex of mine so excelled in school that, at the tail end of the Soviet Union, she found herself uprooted from her comfy life in Moscow and shipped off to an elite Soviet math and science academy in the then Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic's capital of Bishkek. Which was then called Frunze, after a founder of the Red Army. The US Air Force base at Manas is just outside the capital.

How did the Tsarnaevs come to be in Kyrgyzstan, which is Islamic though not vehemently so, with a government close to Russia? As part of the Chechen disapora. The Chechens are a Muslim people who have been at war intermittently with the ruling Russians since the Russian Empire took over Chechnya early in the 19th century after defeating Persia, now Iran, in one of the wars between the two ancient powers.

Here"s the younger Tsarnaev on Russian social media, where he signed in this morning.

The Russian Federation has, after being humiliated in the mid-1990s, put down a major Chechen uprising, employing brutal tactics. It was President Vladimir Putin's success in defeating the Chechen rebels that cemented his power in Moscow.

Why attack the Boston Marathon rather than, say, Moscow, which organized Chechen terrorists have done to spectacular effect on several occasions? We'll see.

Are others involved? Or is this simply a bizarre turn in the lives of two young immigrant men, one of whom, the older brother, competed in the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament in furtherance of his hope of representing America rather than Russia in the Olympics, the other of whom was a Greater Boston All-Star high school wrestler who worked as a lifeguard at Harvard?

Tamerlane, incidentally, was the legendary 14th century leader who conquered Central, South, and West Asia. He referred to himself as the "Sword of Islam."

Hardly anyone in America has heard of him, but he is a world historical figure, both as a fearsome warrior and as a consolidator of Islamic power in a multi-ethnic military empire.

Is the name significant, or it just a famous name, like American Samoans calling their kids Kennedy?

The most intriguing thing about this case, at least that we know so far, is what did not happen. No claim of responsibility, no furtherance of a cause, no matter how delusional, no insistence that behavior must be stopped, or adopted.

Why undertake such a complex, daring, and horrifying act to no apparent purpose? Unless the purpose was simply nihilistic, to exact grievous harm. Or essentially existential, to create fear about our way of life.

Was the attack designed to undermine trust and mutual understanding, things in very short supply in America already?

Of course, these may just be a couple of young, not especially bright guys wreaking havoc for no particular reason. Or there may be a longer game involved. Or things may have gotten fouled up. Or ...

We don't know. We should avoid pretending to know until we actually do. If we do.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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