In 1997 the station master of Baku’s train station personally assured me the train from Azerbaijan to Moscow, passing through Chechnya, was perfectly safe, despite the routine robberies and sudden beheadings in one incident. His personal assurance. I liked that one and instead bought a ticket on a now defunct airplane, the Tupolev 134, on an equally defunct airline, and asked the Chechyan mafia members swilling expensive Chivas Regal, in the semi-submerged cruise ship that served as a semi-secret bar in Baku harbour, where the Cuban barman served with a semi-smile of relief, what they thought.
They didn’t think anything; just sneered, in their black shirts with black ties under black jackets, wearing black sunglasses in the black night.
In Chechnya if you are not mafia the chicks don’t dig you. The capital of Chechnya is Grozny, and the Grozny football team, run by some mafia head who may also be president of Chechnya, one forgets these days, tends to win most of it’s home games. Getting into the stadium is not exactly easy, with all the machine guns around – bodyguards, security, police, passerbys with machine guns. Since the guy who runs the team, who also has mafia written all over his black shirt black tie black sunglasses black Mercedes Benz, and may also be president of Chechnya, is very rich, some very famous stars play for Grozny, and pledge absurd alliance to this poor, developing football team. Brazilians, Africans, ex-European footballers of the year. They train thousands of kilometers away somewhere in Russia then fly in for home games and fly out again immediately. They just love the club of course, in a wry sort of way.
That’s Chechnya, and if you don’t have cash bulging out your pockets you grow a beard like the kind they would not dare in some Arab countries, and then pretend you don’t care if the chicks don’t dig you and take to the hills, where if you shout ‘freedom for Chechnya!’ loud enough and proclaim faith to a god you did not find before at the bottom of a bottle of vodka, then someone somewhere will subsidise you, not necessarily some disparate Arab group, who know you do not fully understand what Jihad means, but perhaps even a spy agency from a land yonder who likes the idea of you harassing Russians.
Some of that changed, after Beslan, where nearly 1,000 people were held hostage without water for 3 days in North Ossetia, Russia, a part of Russia that has a dialect of Iranian as the regional language. The Chechyans, who arrived fully armed for the siege and easily bribed their gunladen way passed police check points, then massacred a few hundred fleeing victims, nearly 200 of them poor children, during a totally bungled-up and quite disgraceful attempt by police and army to break the siege. Chechyans were no freedom fighters; they were really bad guys.
Being a really bad guy in the Caucasus Mountains, where Chechnya is located, puts you in good company; it’s where Stalin was born in nearby Georgia,and for that matter Sadam Hussain was born only 300 kilometers away. But it’s also a beautiful area of the world. “When God was handing out land for different countries,” they say in the Caucasus,”he forgot about us, because we were eating and drinking and dancing when we should have been queuing up for our land. Since he’d already given all the land he had to give, he was forced to give us the special parts he was reserving for himself.”
And in the Caucasus refusing a gift can start a war. Name two republics there and they’ve probably fought each other. It’s where the world’s first Christian nation is located, and the first holocaust of the last century. Near the mountains is Kolmykia, the only Buddhist republic in Europe they say, where chess is taught as a school subject, but the rest of the countries and republics are divided between variants of Christianity or Islam, and often a mix, where traditions include bride kidnappings, when the woman is plucked off the street by a gentleman on a horse, or worse, and instantly is therefore married to him, or these days bundled into a black Mercedes.
The have-nots are permanently humiliated, and sometimes disgruntled. They are the weak ones found in every society, the good-for-very-little who want an easy path to the top, but their society has a role for them too, and they are the ones who carry out the honour killings deemed necessary for such a culture to flourish, or are victims of blood feuds lasting hundreds of years, where revenge killing after revenge killing continues between two clans, families, groups or tribes.
The two flakes who carried out the bombings in Boston were not representative of their culture. They scraped the worst of it into their souls, as young as they were, when they left the area, from Dagestan, a shockingly beautiful country, and found themselves in USA, which as every immigrant knows, is like every other country, no land of special opportunity, just a country where if you learn the culture and work hard, and smart, you can do quite well. For two men who are used to a community-based structure, where the so-called honour of the clan, or family is everything, the level of individualism in Western countries can be daunting -individualism; not especially freedom, which is often less in our societies with well-established rules. However, these two had more than enough time and support to adapt.
Almost. Somewhere down the line they flipped. We will only know in bits and pieces, because the younger brother now in captivity will lie his way round and round in circles, and our dangerously limited and underinformed press will simplify each lie for our conditioned minds. Osama Bin Laden’s name will come back, and all kinds of nationalism, disguised as Islamic thought will dribble to our ears. He will say what he thinks is the best thing to say, then change it. Meanwhile, the president of Grozny football club, who may also be president of Chechnya, may deem the pair have insulted their homeland, and politely order his men to accordingly knock-off a couple of of men who are of the same family as the brothers – that is why their uncle made it perfectly clear how bad the two bombers were and how much he, and the Chechyan community felt shamed by them. Wise move.
Did the two brothers act totally alone? It is almost inconceivable they did, coming from the communitarian society they do, but they may have decided to try to impress, or worse. Their tweets are indicative of some twisted attachment to Chechnya: “a Dagestani, Ingush and Chechen are travelling in a car“, the younger one tweeted hours before the bombing, “which one is driving? The policeman,” and “stay safe,” he tweeted, after the bombing. Did the older brother really think his version of religion told him to destroy with a pressure-cooker bomb in a nasty, inefficient attack, or was this part of a greater revenge for a slight that may not have happened to him personally? As someone who had been arrested for violence against his girlfriend 5 years before, he was clearly not averse to trouble. But did they make their own decisions?
It is up to you and I to decipher the lies the younger brother will tell for years. I have, of course, refrained from writing their names. No need. No glory.