Just a few blocks from where the Boston Marathon bombing suspects allegedly murdered an MIT police officer, a panel of experts convened on May 1 for a conversation entitled Marathon Bombing: The Global Context.
Who is to blame for the intelligence gap between Russia and the United States before the bombing? Was the bombing an act of religious fundamentalism? Will this event make Boston into a more monitored city, like London, with cameras on every street corner? The panel explored these and other questions on Wednesday.
Moderated by Ford International Professor of Political Science and Center for International Studies director Richard Samuels, five MIT professors and scholars provided several contexts surrounding the bombers’ ideology and theorized about the policy impacts the bombing might have in the weeks, months, and years to come.
MIT history professor Elizabeth Wood best summed up the purpose of the Starr Forum talk.
“Unless we understand the perpetrators of violence as individuals situated in history, as individuals situated in causes that are larger than their own biographies, we cannot understand what happened last week at the Boston Marathon,” Wood said.
How much did being natives of the Caucasus region influence the Tsarnaev brothers? Wood and Carol Saivetz, a research affiliate at the MIT Security Studies Program, explored this question, describing the past century of Chechnya’s tensions with Russia, highlighting how the Tsarnaev family lived through each turbulent decade.
Saivetz’s slide, Tsarnaev Chronology: A Tale of Two Brothers, detailed the family’s moves throughout the region since 1944, when Stalin deported thousands of Chechens to work camps. The family’s move to Dhagestan in 2001, when the boys were eight and fifteen years old, was a result of the violence in the second Chechen War, Saivetz said.
Bakyt Beshimov, a visiting scholar at the Security Studies Program and a native of the Caucasus region, certainly links the Tsarnaevs’ mindset to their homeland.
Beshimov watched every video, read every internet post, and listened to every song that inspired Tamerlan Tsarnaev. “His inner search was, in my view, affected by the struggle in his own country, jihadism in the Caucasus and the global Islamic radical ideology,” said Beshimov. “This mindset puts many Chechens into a vicious circle of revenge.”
Several panelists conjectured that the bombing might justify crackdowns and human rights abuses in Russia, particularly ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year. Then there were the questions of what precedents the Boston response will set in cities around the globe.
CIS research associate and assistant professor at Boston College Peter Krause PhD ’11 mused, “Is a lockdown something we’re prepared to do again and again? What about domestic drones for national security or the government reading our email?”
“I’m not going to counsel one way or another on the [issue of] over- or under-reaction,” Krause said. “I’m confident about this: that understanding when and why these things happen is going to lead to better answers as a society…and I’m encouraged by the people who are here today.”