In the legendary days of the Yiddish Forward, Ab. Cahan, the founding editor, could leave his office at 175 East Broadway and roam the streets, synagogues, restaurants, schools yards and tenements of the Lower East Side to listen to his readers. And he did, often. It helped him keep a finger on the pulse of his community and enabled the newspaper to directly connect with and reflect the ongoing concerns of his readers’ daily lives.
Now my office is on the eighth floor of a building in Lower Manhattan, largely removed from most of our far-flung readers. But I am able to tap into a virtual Lower East Side in cyberspace — a shtetlsphere, if you will — where engagement with readers can produce an ongoing conversation and some terrific journalism.
That’s what we’ve been doing this year. I hope you’ve noticed.
We began by asking you to nominate your most inspiring rabbi, and the result was a mesmerizing set of profiles of spiritual leadership across the nation. Then we asked for “Six Words on the Jewish Mother” and the result is published in this week’s paper — 18 charming, concise, hilarious odes just in time for Mother’s Day. A similar project for Father’s Day, also in conjunction with Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir®, will commence soon, with a May 29 deadline for submissions.
But before then, we invite you to take part in a different kind of conversation on the brit milah, the circumcision ritual that has been a staple of Jewish life for millennia and is now under assault, from within and beyond our community. It’s a ceremony that inspires emotions ranging from rejoicing to repugnance — with dissonant combinations of everything in between. We would like you, our readers, to share your experiences as parents of a Jewish newborn facing this ancient, primal rite, or as an adult who chose to enter the convenant. Were you conflicted or inspired? Was it a moment of discovery or of disgust? Or did you, perhaps, walk away from it? What were the consequences?
As you can see, our efforts to engage readers span from the celebratory to the serious, as befits a publication that seeks to capture the many facets and challenges of American Jewish life today. Join us.
The company made waves this week when it changed the geographic tagline for the Palestinian version of its search engine, Google.ps, to read “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories,” Foreign Policy reported.
“We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products,” Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement to the BBC. “We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries.”
“In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations.”
In November, the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.
Dr. Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the BBC that the Palestinian Authority had asked Google and other international companies to use the term “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories” after the U.N. vote.
“Most of the traffic that happens now happens in the virtual world and this means putting Palestine on the virtual map as well as on the geographic maps,” he said.
It comes as no surprise that Israeli officials weren’t pleased.
“Google is not a political or diplomatic entity, so they can call anything by any name, it has no diplomatic or political significance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel.
On Twitter, some saw the name change as a significant step:
Google is de facto recognizing a state of Palestine. bit.ly/12wVNC4ampmdash; Cassandra Vinograd (@CassVinograd) May 3, 2013
Others thought the company could have gone further:
And some users who disagree with the tech giant’s decision won’t be Googling anymore:
What do you think about Google’s decision?
Warren Buffett, the famed investment Oracle of Omaha, is in love with the Israeli economy, or at least with one company.
On Wednesday, shortly after announcing his purchase of Israeli cutting tool maker Iscar for $2 billion, a move that would complete his takeover of the company, Buffett sat down with Israeli reporters at the modest corporate headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway investment company in Omaha, Nebraska.
“It’s 2 billion votes of confidence in Iscar and in the Israeli economy, you can’t separate the two,” he told Israeli TV’s Channel 1, “when we put $2 billion into Iscar, we’re putting $2 billion into Israel.”
Buffet made his first investment in Israel exactly seven years ago, buying 80% of the company’s shares for $4 billion. Seven years later, Iscar’s value has doubled in the remaining 20% ownership were sold for $2 billion, reflecting an estimated company value of $10 billion.
In back-to-back interviews with Israeli reporters, days before he holds the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting followed closely by investors across the world, Buffett showered praise over his Israeli partners. Asked what he found most impressive in doing business in Israel, he said: “If I could take our managers from Israel and clone them I would feel very, very good,” he said. “They have brains, they have energy, they’re never satisfied with where they are today, they always think things can get done better and they don’t get discouraged when the world economy slows down, they just try harder.”
As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Fidesz, the ruling political party, has since 2010 set about trying to concentrate authority in the parliament in which it has been able to muster a supermajority, taking powers of oversight away from the other organs of government. Recent constitutional amendments passed this year included limiting the power of the country’s Constitutional Court to strike down any laws passed by a two-thirds majority, castrating the court and allowing to rule out on procedural matters. The retirement age for judges was also lowered in an attempt to weed out uncooperative justices.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Welcome, readers! This week’s news quiz will have you kicking yourself — or at least thinking about Jews who kick, even as you also think about the sea, the South, the shekel and… breasts. (If you weren’t already.) Enjoy!
Skeptics point out that all that happened yesterday was that Arab leaders acknowledged what everyone already knows — that if and when Israel makes a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, it won’t return exactly to 1967 borders.
This is true. When the Arab League indicated that it is updating its position from its Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, to accept some degree of land swapping so that Israel won’t have to return to 1967 borders, it was really just a matter of its leaders coming closer to earth and recognizing that the Green Line won’t become a border. The Palestinian Authority and the international community have long realized that Israel will cede land in its sovereign borders in return for holding on to parts of the West Bank.
In fact, when the so-called Palestine Papers were leaked in 2011, they showed that the Palestinian Authority had been prepared to deviate significantly from the 1967 lines, at least in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, stating the obvious can be important. The road to peace is obstructed by taboos from both the Israeli and Palestinian side, and the breaking of each and every taboo is an important landmark. Only when key players publicly break a taboo can the discourse start to shift, closer to agreement. The fact that the Arab League has shown willingness to revise its “1967 lines” mantra, and inject some flexibility in to the take-it-or-leave-it Peace Initiative could, if capitalized upon, present an opportunity.
There is still a huge gulf that divides Israel and proponents of the Peace Initiative, with massive differences in important areas. But the latest development updates it from an offer frozen in its time to one that could potentially be revived and form the basis of talks.
One of the most interesting questions is how, if this leads somewhere, will Hamas react. Hamas’ ideology is uncompromising, and doesn’t lend itself to the idea of agreements. However, in the scenario that the Arab world, represented by the Arab League, moves forward, there could be significant pressure on Hamas not to stand in its way. Hamas has kept its reaction to the plan in check in the past, resisting the temptation to vote against it at an Arab League summit in 2007 and instead abstaining.
But there’s another less obvious factor that could prove relevant. It was Qatar that met with John Kerry and announced the openness to land swaps. Hamas is increasingly reliant on Qatar for donations and political credibility. In October the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza - giving the regime kudos by going there and promising $385 million, for building projects. This gives Qatar obvious leverage withHamas.
Yesterday’s development is by no meant a fast-track to a peace agreement, but it could simplify a still-difficult route.
Sid Schwarz’s new book has a rather ambitious title, but then, this rabbi/entrepreneur is a rather ambitious man. In “Jewish Megatrends”, he aspires to do nothing less than, as the subtitle says, chart the course of the American Jewish future. He’s not doing it alone, of course. That’s where I came in.
Schwarz asked me to moderate a panel at the JCC Manhattan with him and just some of the 14 Jewish leaders and thinkers who contributed essay to “Megatrends.” The event took place last night and what could have been an unwieldy gabfest — there were, after all, seven of us with microphones — instead turned into a coherent, stimulating discussion.
The framework was provided by Schwarz when he posits in the book that there are “tribal” Jews and “covenantal” Jews and that American Jews in their 20s, 30s and even 40s are much more the latter than the former. Theoretical attachment to the Jewish people, the state of Israel and the legacy of the Holocaust is no longer enough to get American Jews to join a synagogue and contribute to Federation.
Judaism, he argues, needs to be seen as a path “to help us live lives of sacred purpose.”
And, in what he terms a countercultural statement: “Jewish community should be the place where people and relationships count.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, famed for his uncompromising support of Israel, locked horns with a jeering crowd of even more uncompromising supporters of Israel in a Times Square hotel ballroom on Sunday.
Appearing at a day-long seminar on Israeli security, the celebrity scholar was repeatedly heckled and booed as he described his contacts with Palestinian leaders and urged civility in public discourse. Returning fire, Dershowitz told the audience they were “part of the problem, not part of the solution” and “you don’t speak for anybody but yourselves. Fortunately, nobody is listening to you.”
The occasion was the second annual Jerusalem Post Conference, an odd combination of high-level exchanges on security policy and raucous, far-right pep rally. The title was “Fighting for the Zionist Dream,” though it might just as easily have been named “Fighting Over the Zionist Dream.” Most of the day was devoted to thoughtful presentations by senior Israeli defense leaders, analyzing the complexities of Iran and Syria policy and discussing ways of reigniting peace talks with the Palestinians. Speakers included a former prime minister, a ranking Likud cabinet minister, a former army chief of staff, a former Mossad director, a former chief of military intelligence and others, including several Jerusalem Post journalists.
The paying audience, close to 1,000 New Yorkers, received most of the speakers politely, applauding only occasionally when someone saluted Israel’s soldiers or criticized Iran and booing lustily when they disagreed. The most enthusiastic reception was reserved for Post columnist Caroline Glick, a passionate opponent of Israeli-Palestinian compromise known for her slashing attacks on liberals.
The Dershowitz flap was essentially a replay in high-definition of a ruckus that punctuated the first Post conference, held a year ago in the same Marriott Marquis ballroom with many of the same speakers.
Bah humbug, it’s Lag B’Omer.
I’m usually game for Israel’s national and religious holidays, eating the correct patisserie items on the correct days (honey and cheese cake on Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot respectively), sweating in a succah on Succot, and even finding a certain comfort in the melancholy of the Fast of Av.
But I’m a Lag B’Omer Scrooge.
And here’s why. Every festival has good traditions apart from this one, which has two common customs: lawless scavenging and superstition.
Jewish children across Israel, religious and secular, have filled the skies with smoke with their traditional bonfires. And for the days before Lag B’Omer, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is a temporary suspension of the laws of theft in the State of Israel where wooden items are concerned. If it’s not screwed and bolted down, it’s seen by some as fair game. Well brought up children who would never dream or of taking what isn’t theirs most of the year can be seen gathering up burnable items which aren’t exactly theirs. Damage is wrought in forests; palettes on building sites grow legs.
And many of them light up without the necessary precautions. Several fires have gotten out of hand this year.
Israel’s new finance minister, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, gave his first Knesset speech as a cabinet minister on Monday, April 22, the opening day of the parliament’s spring session, and in defiance of longstanding tradition, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Longtime Knesset observers say they can’t remember ever hearing such a frontal, direct confrontation with the Haredi parties from the Knesset rostrum.
Beforehand, the session heard six opposition motions of no-confidence, including several attacks on Lapid’s government budget proposal. Meir Porush of the opposition United Torah Judaism party (the seated man with the white beard; to his right, with a black beard, is UTJ’s Moshe Gafni) complained about the impact of the budget on Israel’s security and also charged that the government was “starving children.” Instead of defending his budget proposal, Lapid delivered a stinging, sarcastic attack on the Haredi parties.
If you understand Hebrew, it’s worth watching. In fact, even if you don’t understand Hebrew well, you can watch it while following along with my translation, which appears after the jump. Lapid’s exchange with the Haredi lawmakers goes up to 7:15. After that he begins to respond to a no-confidence motion of MK Moshe Mizrahi of Labor. I stopped translating after a few sentences of this exchange, because it starts getting into budget technicalities.
For context, you can read this Haaretz report on the proposed cuts in government budgets for Haredim. Also worth reading: this column on the speech and its fallout by Jerusalem Post commentator Ben Caspit, as well as we this one by Haaretz Jewish World writer Anshel Pfeffer on the challenges facing Lapid and this one by Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger looking at ways Lapid and the Haredim can find common ground. But above all, watch Lapid, Porush and UTJ’s Israel Eichler go at each other. It’s great theater.
And my translation:
I doubt I’m the only one who noticed the irony of Defense Secretary Hagel affirming Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons, touching off a clamor among congressional hawks and the now familiar gaggle of neocons and liberal interventionists for American intervention in the civil war there, on the very day that President Obama was in Texas dedicating the George W. Bush presidential library. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The irony is only compounded by the fact that the library officially opens to the public on May 1, 10 years to the day after Bush’s misbegotten “Mission Accomplished” speech on board the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, declaring that the war in Iraq had ended in victory. Of course, it wasn’t over, and by the time we pulled out eight years later, it was pretty clear that America hadn’t won. Saddam Hussein was gone but the country had descended into years of horrific, violent chaos, and it ain’t over. And for what? Saddam was never shown to have anything to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was toothless.
But it was much worse than pointless. Removing Saddam eliminated neighboring Iran’s worst enemy, allowing the Islamic Republic to emerge as the regional superpower. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Iran was the biggest winner from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the invasion’s most outspoken boosters. Here he is in October 2002, in one of his many get-Saddam editorials in the run-up to the invasion: “We are in a war against terrorism, and we must fight that war in a time and a place of our choosing. The war’s next phase, clearly, is Iraq.” Now, here he is four years later, in December 2006: “Question: What’s the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century? Answer: Iran’s emergence as the Middle East regional superpower.” And here he is again in April 2007: “Ironically, Iran has been the great beneficiary of the war in Iraq.”
In other words, the Iraq invasion, which Zuckerman spent months demanding, resulted in “the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century.” So what’s he up to now? Well, last week, even before the chemical weapons bombshell, he was calling the administration’s cautious approach “feeble” and urging some sort of stepped up involvement—either military engagement or full-scale arming of the rebels.
All this doesn’t make Zuckerman a bad man. But it does make him and his neoconservative allies extremely unreliable guides to the uncertain politics of the Middle East. The crowd that pushed us into Iraq created a disaster. And now they’re calling for firm action in Syria.
We know what they didn’t understand about Iraq. So what are they getting wrong about Syria?
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s April 23 visit to Israel has yielded some interesting fallout. Not least is the apparent puncturing of the image his opponents tried to paint of a sworn enemy of Israel. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev does a pretty nifty job of skewering the anti-Hagel crowd, suggesting satirically that the secretary’s effusive embrace of Israel and the huge new arms sale he announced (details of which are here and here) are meant to “lull Israel into a false sense of security,” which “will only make it easier” for Hagel, Obama & Co. “to fulfill their lifelong dream of ‘throwing Israel under a bus.’”
It’s a sinister plot, Shalev writes. Hagel couldn’t have changed his tune in response to the “intimidating” powers of the “Jewish lobby,” since we all know those powers are imaginary. The only other two possibilities are that he’s engaging in psychological warfare, to lower Israel’s guard—or that “Hagel’s critics were wrong.” But that last possibility, he concludes, “can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no?”
Also essential reading is this analysis of the Hagel visit by Bloomberg News columnist (and former Forward staffer) Jeffrey Goldberg (no, for the last time, he’s not me). The new weapons systems Israel is to receive, especially advanced long-distance radar systems, the KC-135 midair refueling tankers and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft (a combination helicopter and jet plane, never before sold to another country), all make it easier for Israel to attack Iran. But given Hagel’s longstanding opposition to attacking Iran, what does this sale mean? Goldberg makes two key points:
New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu opposes new city regulations that require parents to sign consent forms before their baby may undergo a controversial oral suctioning technique employed as part of a ritual circumcision, Liu told the Forward today.
The regulations, championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, were imposed this January in response to reports of babies contracting the herpes simplex virus during the ritual procedure.
Some Orthodox Jews see the consent forms a curb on their religious liberty. The have made their opposition to the forms an issue in the mayoral campaign, asking candidates to stake out positions on the regulations.
Liu has previously voiced support for the ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh. His remarks today, however, appear to amount to the first time he has been reported to explicitly oppose the consent forms.
“For thousands of years, this has been a practice that has been observed by people,” Liu said. “As with most procedures, some risk is inherent. But I would certainly defer to the rabbis on this as opposed to thinking that, well we know better after thousands of years of this practice.”
Asked specifically about the consent forms, Liu responded: “I’m not in support of the changes that Mayor Bloomberg made.”
Other mayoral candidates have made similar remarks. Eric Salgado, a Democrat, also opposes the mandatory consent forms.
Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a Democratic mayoral candidate who enjoys heavy support from ultra-Orthodox activists, has said that he is open to dialogue on the metzitzah b’peh issue, but stopped short of saying that he opposes the consent forms.
So far in 2013, the New York City Department of Health has informed the public of two instances of babies contracting herpes after undergoing metzitzah b’peh in New York City.
What if you had to sum up your feelings about your mother in six words? That’s right, exactly six words. No more, no less.
We know, some famous writers take hundreds of pages to work out their mommy issues. But the Forward’s challenge to you, dear readers, is to capture your Jewish mom in a simple six. Consider it the shortest, sweetest Mother’s Day present you could give your yiddishe momme.
The Forward is partnering with Larry Smith, editor of SMITH Magazine, home of the Six-Word Memoir®, in our Mother’s Day challenge. Submit your six-word memoir on your mother or grandmother below before April 24th. Larry and the Forward staff will pick our 12 favorites and publish them in the Forward for Mother’s Day. Those people will receive a copy of the new book “Oy! Only Six? Why Not More? Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life,” published in collaboration with the Jewish cultural mavens at Reboot. We’ll also print another six from noted members of the Jewish community.
For inspiration, here are a few examples about Jewish moms culled from SMITH Magazine’s library of six-word memoirs. For more examples check out smithmag.net/jewish.
Mom and God had boundary issues.
— Marty Kaplan
Cooking chicken soup stirs mother memories.
— Carol Smith
Saying Kaddish. Missing you. Remembering. Remembering.
— Debra Darvick
SMITH Magazine may contact you about inclusion of your Six Words in a future book or other media project.
I have an Orthodox Jewish friend here in New York who is always yapping about Dallas (not the television show).
“The people are so nice,” he says. “The weather is better… The houses are cheaper.” He’s been there only once in his life, but would like nothing more than to find a job northern Texas and move to the city known for Cowboys and (kosher?) Tex-Mex cuisine.
My friend is in his mid-30s, married, and has a soon-to-be 2-year-old son with another on the way. He has a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and recently had to build a wall in his living room to accommodate for sleeping space for his growing family. He wakes up at dawn to prep his son for daycare and then go to work. After cleaning the apartment until about 1 a.m., he gets about four hours of sleep, if he’s lucky.
It is a life that I could not fathom living at this point. It is also a lifestyle that is increasingly the norm for thousands of young couples in New York, especially observant Jews. That’s why places like Dallas don’t sound so bad after all, even for those accustomed to walking around the corner and finding dozens of options for food, prayer and friends.
The urge to find greener pastures outside the high rent, small space environment of New York was on full display Sunday as the Orthodox Union held its fourth Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair. A record-high 1,300 participants spoke with Jews from places like Portland, Ore., Long Branch, N.J., and yes, even Dallas. There were representatives from 41 cities in 18 states, each touting the myriad advantages of moving there.
Louisville has high tech jobs and 120 years of Jewish roots. “The cost of living and safety is unmatched,” said Brian Wallace, who moved to Kentucky six years ago from Monsey in Rockland County.
Yesterday, Israel’s cabinet passed its first reform of the new Knesset, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced afterwards: “The goal of the reform that we approved today is to lower the prices of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism… We will continue to advance reforms to lower the cost of living and increase the efficiency of services to Israeli citizens.”
The reform in question was the signing of the so-called Open Skies agreement with the European Union, which will increase competition in flights to and from Europe and, it is expected, bring down the price of flights.
The cabinet’s resolution has prompted a strike by Israel’s three airlines, which has meant that thousands of people scheduled to travel are unable to do so. The strikers, backed by the Israeli trade union movement, say that the agreement will put Israeli carriers at a disadvantage and lead to the loss of Israeli jobs.
There are pros and cons to the Open Skies agreement. But what should be noted is that it is being billed as the first big achievement of the new government in bringing down the cost of living — a priority placed on the political agenda by the social protest movement.
In the summer of 2011, a Facebook campaign protested the high price of cottage cheese in Israel. Within a few weeks thousands of Israelis were in tents and out on the streets protesting the overall cost of living.
And so today, as the social protests become a distant memory that left Israel the legacy of Finance Ministry Yair Lapid who triumphed electorally on the promise of lower living costs, and as the prices in supermarkets, including the price of cottage cheese, creep back up, those Israelis who can afford to fly are promised that the cost of their air travel will drop.
Never mind “let them eat cake.” In Jerusalem they declare “let them eat airline meals.”
In the first few days after the Boston bombings, liberal pundits (like David Sirota, Cenk Uygur and Michael Shure) were hoping aloud that the perpetrators would turn out to be “white” rather than Muslim or Middle Eastern, so that the incident wouldn’t further inflame grass-roots anti-Muslim passions. Well, it looks like this was a twofer — perpetrators who turn out to be both Muslim and white, ethnic Chechens from the Caucasus region of South Russia. You can’t get much more Caucasian than that.
There’s much we still don’t know about the Tsarnaev brothers, including whether or not they actually were responsible for the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. Given the volume of evidence visible so far, though, it’s not too soon to start drawing some lessons. In fact, we might as well start right away, because this incident just might force us to reconsider a lot of what we think we know about jihad terrorism and the larger questions of radical “Islamism” and politicized religion in general.
The fact that the brothers are ethnic Chechens is critical. It’s probably important, too, that they spent most of their lives growing up outside the boundaries of Chechnya. It seems pretty clear that the brothers were raised to value their Chechen identity as central to their sense of self. And yet they were strangers to Chechnya. Even before they came to America in 2003, they lived mostly in nearby Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan, both of them Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics, where the Tsarnaevs were part of an outsider ethnic-Chechen minority. So while the brothers reportedly felt like outsiders in America—claimed they didn’t have American friends, didn’t “understand Americans,” even after living here a full decade—they were also outsiders to Chechnya. They belonged to both, and yet neither.
Now look at the map. Chechnya is a rough Muslim region in the Caucasus Mountains, wedged between Christian Georgia to its south and Christian Russia to its north, with fellow-Muslim regions of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan to the east. It’s been at war with its Russian overlords on and off for close to two centuries, but the wars of the last two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been particularly bloody. The core of the conflict is independence. It had little to do with religion, other than the fact that religion — mostly the moderate Sufi version of Islam — is a big part of what defines Chechen ethnicity. Radical Salafi preachers with a loose connection to Al Qaeda started showing up only in the last decade or so, accompanying foreign Muslim volunteers who came to join the fight.
When news broke that the alleged Boston marathon bombers were from Chechnya, the Russian republic suddenly became part of the world map for many Americans who hadn’t previously given it much thought.
On Twitter, the instant reactions were so bewildered, they were eventually parodied:
We think it’s the Czech Republic, but actually it’s Chechnya. CNN, you better Czech yourself before you Chechen yourself.ampmdash; Febin Mathew (@FebWin) April 19, 2013
When Buzzfeed compiles a list of 9 Things You Need to Know about Chechnya, you know an area studied mostly by policymakers and regional analysts has hit the big time.
With little known about the motives for the attack, much is being made of the connection to Chechnya. But the fixation on the suspects’ Chechen roots may be misplaced. While Chechen separatists have perpetrated numerous terror attacks in Russia — some taking far more victims than in Boston — it’s not clear why their anger would be directed against the U.S.
“I’m slightly baffled why they decided to attack Americans on American soil,” Aslan Doukaev, a Caucasus expert at Radio Liberty in Prague, told The Washington Post. Doukaev emphasized that the two brothers whom police suspect were behind the attack, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, remained at this stage only suspects. But he added, “Chechens have no grievances against Americans.”
Bloomberg News reports that the Boston bombing suspect shown in the photographs released by the FBI was first identified by Jeff Bauman, the man in the much-circulated photo being wheeled away from the blast with his lower legs blown off.
Just before 3 p.m. on April 15, Bauman was waiting among the crowd for his girlfriend to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon. A man wearing a cap, sunglasses and a black jacket over a hooded sweatshirt looked at Jeff, 27, and dropped a bag at his feet, his brother, Chris Bauman, said in an interview.
Two and a half minutes later, the bag exploded, tearing Jeff’s legs apart. A picture of him in a wheelchair, bloodied and ashen, was broadcast around the world as he was rushed to Boston Medical Center. He lost both legs below the knee.
“He woke up under so much drugs, asked for a paper and pen and wrote, ‘bag, saw the guy, looked right at me,’” Chris Bauman said yesterday in an interview. …
While still in intensive care, Jeff Bauman gave the FBI a description of the man he saw, his brother said. Bauman’s information helped investigators narrow down whom to look for in hours of video of the attack, he said.