How Explosions Beget Explosions


I started writing this the day of the bombing, but it took several days and the subsequent events to make sense of it all and sort my thoughts out. Someone I care about very deeply was near the attacks, and I spent most of Monday afternoon in a state of anxiety and fear. Though I knew she wasn’t hurt in the explosions, no one knew if there were more bombs around the city or more attacks to come. As far as I was aware, it was chaos. The police had ordered evacuations and the subway had been shut down. Cell phone service had reportedly been cut off and people ordered to not gather in groups. She left her office in the evacuated zone at 4pm and wasn’t home until after 8.

Only a while later did I even begin to calm down. I didn’t feel remotely okay until Wednesday. The whole time I felt confused and anxious. But more than anything I felt powerless; a loved one’s safety was threatened and there was nothing I could do about it. I was angry. Continue reading

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The Ignorant Speak


Let’s be clear: We don’t know anything. Not really, not yet.

The two men who prepared, placed and detonated the pressure-cooker bombs during the Boston Marathon this past Monday, and then engaged in a shoot-out with police while trying to escape yesterday were brothers, Tamerlan (26) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19). Ethnic Chechens who were born in the Russian Federation, they left the Caucasus as refugees during the Chechen civil war in the mid-90s for Central Asia (either Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, accounts differ), then moving to Dagestan briefly (where their father now lives) before immigrating to the United States in 2001.

Chechnya, as you will certainly hear a lot in the near future, has a long history of terrorism, dating back to the 19th century. (I plan to write about this soon.) This is true. But it isn’t necessarily relevant. Continue reading

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Thoughts on the Boston Bombings

I have a lot of things swirling in my head about the events in Boston this past week, and I’m trying to get them organized and down on paper. I realized I haven’t been blogging recently (I have other things in the works), but with the revelation earlier today that the two bombers were Chechen, it’s even more imperative that I make myself heard. Though I am an expert in Islamic history, I particularly study Islam in Russia and the former Soviet Union, and I hope to provide some desperately needed perspective and context to the inevitable debate about these events.

Short version: I’m going to writing a lot in the next few days. Starting later tonight.

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Defining Islamism

With the ascent to power of Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt post Arab Spring, “Islamism” is the latest new, important buzzword in the news. The reactions in the American media have ranged from mildly cautious to downright panicked, but they all seem to have one thing in common: none of them really know what Islamism is. Continue reading

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Sectarianism Update: Al-Qaeda and the Syrian Rebellion

An Al-Qaeda flag in Syria

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an excellent article on Al-Qaeda’s attempts to involve itself in the Syrian civil war. Since the beginning of this year, there is evidence that Al-Qaeda militants and other Sunni jihadists have taken the revolt against the Assad regime as an opportunity to strike against one of the secular Muslim governments they so infamously despise. Continue reading

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Why the Syrian Civil War Is Not a Sectarian Conflict (and What That Means for Any Possible Solution)

Despite frequent assertions to the contrary, the civil war raging in Syria is not a sectarian conflict. In fact, there is little evidence to support such an assumption. Anti-government protests and skirmishes have broken out across the country, in predominantly Sunni, Shi‘i, Alawi, Druze and Christian areas, respectively. One of the single most consistently restive areas of Damascus has been Mezzeh—one of the richest neighborhoods in the capital and located in the shadow of the Presidential Palace—which has a significant Alawi population. Continue reading

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The Partisan Court Supreme

"Come at me, bro."Responding to some of the recent furor surrounding Antonin Scalia’s rebuke of President Obama’s immigration policies, John Cook wrote on Friday an interesting defense of Scalia in Gawker. For those who may have missed it in the noise about the health care decision, Scalia, in his dissent on the ruling on the Arizona immigration case, went out of his way to criticize the President’s just-announced executive order. While that’s the Supreme Court’s job, it’s usually done when the order pertains to something on SCOTUS’s docket and is not an entirely separate matter to the case at hand. Continue reading

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Syrian Notes, June 27

Remember the smoldering conflict I described as a low-intensity civil war back in March? Well, other people are beginning to agree with me. (Bashar al-Assad, for one.) The situation shows no sign of improving; Assad remains defiant, Russia still supports him, anti-government forces are still resisting, Homs is still being shelled (watch here), the West is still putting “pressure” on the government and there’s still no end in sight. (And Jadaliyya is still providing some of the best information and analysis.) Continue reading

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Good Ol’ American Islamophobia

As you might have noticed, Islamophobia is kind of a thing in America (Europe, too, but I’m just talking about America here). And it’s getting worse. The ACLU reported recently that anti-mosque activity is on the rise. Particularly prevalent are efforts to prevent the construction of new mosques. And negative opinions of Muslims have increased significantly in the decade since September 11th. Continue reading

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The Wisdom of Foreign Intervention

From the TelegraphIt appears that the UN-brokered ceasefire in Syria has failed. Just last week there were two bombings in Damascus suburbs and Syrian forces again shelled Homs (something expressly forbidden under the ceasefire agreement). With the situation in the country remaining violent and unstable, France and now Turkey have broached the subject of armed foreign intervention in Syria, specifically by NATO forces.

The argument for intervention, as it goes, is generally based on the avoidance (or rather prevention) of war crimes on the part of the Syrian government. Writers have drawn parallels to Srebrenica and Rwanda and wondered why the prevention of war crimes merited intervention in Libya but not in Syria.

This rationale underlies the UN action. Expressly designed to bring a peaceful solution to the conflict, the ceasefire and UN monitors are in place to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis and prevent any gross acts of violence. Continue reading

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