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Media Covering Boston Bombing Will Be Partly Responsible if Shame is Put on Ethnicity of Chechens

Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle of brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, gave a passionate press conference, where he attempted to give a prepared statement but was cutoff by reporters, who began to ask questions.

Asked what he would say to Dzhokhar, who was still running from law enforcement, he said he would urge him to ask for forgiveness from the victims. He added, “He put a shame on our family. He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity cause everyone now names—They play with word, ‘Chechen,’ so they put that shame on the entire ethnicity.”

From his statement, it is clear that Tsarni recognizes the media in America will begin to discuss Chechens and terrorism and all other Chechens will now have to answer for why two people with a Chechen background would commit violence, as if their ethnicity is responsible for inspiring them to bomb the Boston marathon.

Already, without any evidence whatsoever on the ideology of the brothers or what was going through either of their heads as they carried out the bombing, there are articles on the Internet tying the act to “Islamic extremism.”

From USA Today: “Chechnya, the Russian republic whose struggle against Russian inspired the two brothers suspected of the Boston Marathon bombings, has been the center of violent separatist uprising and bloody bomb-related killings for decades.” Yet, there is no proof that the struggle against Russia inspired them.

It goes on to quote Evan Kohlmann, chairman of Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York-based international security consulting firm, who says, “Mainstream Chechnyan mujahedeen have not traditionally been a direct threat to the United States.” But, Kohlmann noted there are organizations that recruit Chechen fighters, like the “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and one of its splinter groups, the Islamic Jihad Union, both have recruited Chechen, Turks and other non-Arab Muslims to fight with them against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.” He continued, “Both of these groups are based in the Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan.” And Kohlmann believes “these groups can be just as radical as anything al-Qaeda puts out.”

When Kohlmann offered similar speculation devoid of evidence this morning, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd cut Kohlmann off and appropriately said, “I didn’t mean to cut you off, but we don’t want to draw so many conclusions,” Todd interjected again, “We don’t want to draw so many conclusions here.” Then, followed-up, “But your point is that this is the type of string that the intelligence community is going to start pulling at — is that right?”

ABC News posted a story headlined, “Chechens’ Violent History Includes ‘Black Widows,’ Attacks on School, Theater.” The lead for the story is, “Two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings are of Chechen ethnicity, officials said today, identifying them with a group that has a long history of violence against Russia and ties to Muslim extremists group.” The group: Chechens.

Under the headline, “Ties between Islamic extremist groups and Chechnya well-documented,” Fox News reported, “Analysts told Fox News they may represent part of a jihadi network which has made its way to American soil.” Seasoned Islamophobe and former Bush administration official John Bolton stated, “They could well be supported by a significant international network.”

At POLITICO, a story with the headline, “Chechen rebels’ ties to Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden,” was published. “Though it is too early to tell whether they were radicalized in the US or in Chechnya and whether it was politically motivated,” as Kevin Cirilli wrote, Cirilli wrote a “primer” that would amplify the idea that the suspects were tied to Al Qaeda.

In fact, a reporter asked the uncle if they had been involved in fighting. His answer was, “No, they have never been in Chechnya. They have nothing to do with Chechnya. Chechens are different. Chechens are peaceful people.”

The Washington Post published another sort of primer, “Russia’s Chechnya: A breeding ground for terror.” Foreign Policy ran a post initially headlined, “Chechen’s war just arrived in the United States.” Jonathan Kay of the right wing think tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote for the National Post about “how Chechnya’s culture of terror came to the streets of Boston.”

“This week’s killing of three Marathon-watchers in Boston, including an eight-year-old boy, was seen in the West as an epic act of savagery. But by the standards of Chechen terrorists, it was standard fare,” Kay declared.

According to Tsarni, the two brothers are immigrants who received asylum in the United States. In addition to understanding one’s ethnicity will now be bandied about as a group prone to committing terrorism, what if the uncle thinks it will be harder for Chechens to seek asylum?

He also said, “We are Muslims. We are Chechens. We are ethnic Chechens.” Being an ethnic Chechen is different than being Chechen, but media may not let that get in the way of some good hysterical and wildly speculative terrorism analysis.

The uncle helped the media (and Americans) out with their ignorance of geography. “One of them, Dzokhar, was born in Kyrgyzstan. That’s a neighboring region.”

He also said the brothers were “losers” and that “anything to do with religion is a fraud.” This was unprompted but probably said because he understands the prejudice among Americans to cite Islam to explain acts of terrorism.

During the final moments of the press conference, a reporter, seemingly testing the uncle’s allegiance to America, asked, “How do you feel about America? What do you think of the United States?”

It is a question reserved only for immigrants, who are relatives of people who commit terrorist acts. Relatives of white male US-born terrorists would never have their patriotism tested in a moment like that.

Tsarni offered an answer, “I respect this country. I love this country. This country, which gives [a] chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being.”

Immigrants believe this to be true. Those who are born here in America, however, are often less likely to want to give immigrants a chance, even though their ancestry includes immigrants.

These reports, where media think they are informing Americans, only serve to reinforce that xenophobia. They serve to amplify fear that outsiders from less-stable parts of the world may come into the US and bring conflict and ties to violent groups in the countries where they came from with them. And that can have ramifications for ethnic groups, where media run the risk of fueling a climate where certain Americans are inspired to lash out at Chechens they may encounter and blame them for the bombings.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."