Book in 2012 Predicted Boston Bombing Motive
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 09:06:54 AM EST
A book published in 2012 predicted the motive for the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Terrorist's Creed, by professor Roger Griffin, explains how revolutionary religious movements construct a motive for terrorism against the United States and the West.

Griffin, a world-renowned expert on totalitarian thought and the connections among political fanaticism, violence, and religion, highlighted Chechnya in his study that explains how young men are radicalized into a zealous form of Islam. Carefully avoiding stereotyping Islam or Muslims around the world, Griffin zeros in on the powerful allure of revolutionary "Islamism" in mapping a course toward terrorism.

The Tsarnaev brothers, suspects in the terrorist act in Boston, are ethnically Chechnyan with parents and other relatives in the Russian Republic of Dagestan.

Chechnya and Dagestan are in the northern region of the Caucus mountains that link Russia to the neighboring countries of Iran and Afghanistan, Griffin discusses the historic “protracted struggle" of Chechnya against the forces of "Tsarist Russia” and how “an idiosyncratic form of Islam blending Sufism with pagan traditions served as an ethnic marker for the Chechens in their Caucasian homeland.”

Over time, Chechnya went through a process of Islamization, and eventually “Sufi missionaries finally succeeded in transforming Chechens into practising Muslims in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,” according to Griffin.

As I reported on Talk to Action on April 19, The repression in Chechnya by invading Russian troops was brutal and deadly. In 2002 Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that "Russian forces in Chechnya arbitrarily detain, torture, and kill civilians in a climate of lawlessness."

Some Chechen Muslims suggest that Russia and the United States reached an understanding whereby the US would not pay attention to human rights abuses in Chechnya as long as Russian forces were fighting radical Muslims.

A YouTube page reportedly created by Tamerlan Tsarnaev reveals a fascination with apocalyptic Islamic prophecy. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a battle with police and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was later arrested and charged in the terrorist attacks.

Griffin suggests that Islam has” become integral to the nomos [the social construction and ordering of experience into meaningful identity frameworks] that Chechens were seeking to defend. From the mid-1990s, Chechnya underwent a process of Islamic radicalization as Saudi-backed Wahhabism swept aside Sufism.” Griffin cites the work of Jeffrey Bale, "who has studied modern Chechen terrorism in depth."

Griffin notes that Bale:

warns against assuming that ‘in the 1990s the Chechen resistance movement was essentially secular, nationalist movement with irredentist aims’ concealed behind an Islamic façade.
“Chechnya was declared an Islamic Republic, writes Griffin, and, “under the influence of the Global Salafi Jihad, plans were developed within the new Chechen fundamentalist communities to conquer neighbouring Dagestan and create a larger Islamic state.”

On Talk to Action on April 19 I reported that religious fanatics often combine a totalitarian political mindset with a belief in sacred prophecy that they are mandated by God to rule the world, and they must act now against their enemies because time is running out. In fact they believe that we are approaching the end of time itself, the literal end of the world as we know it. This worldview is call apocalypticism.

The role of apocalypticism in the Boston bombing is clearly outlined in the video favored by the late Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “The Black Flags from Khorasan,” which details a prophecy which tells of a massive army of non-Arab Muslims marching on Jerusalem to prepare the way for the return of the Mahdi, the figure in Islamic apocalyptic narrative who signals the end of time and the global triumph of Islam.

Khorasan is the name of a historic region south of the Caucuses, and it's role in apocalyptic prophecy within Islamism is promoted by al Qaeda. Some analysts claim that this prophecy helped al Qaeda recruit young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan, first against the Russians, and later Americans.

A chapter by Griffin is titled "Rethinking What We Read in the Newspapers About Terrorism." Griffin argues that the "widespread misunderstandings of the metapolitical causes of terrorism, and the role that religion, particularly Islamism, may play in them has had important consequences for its coverage in the media."

The Washington Post of 27 January 2012 reported the case of Yonathan Melaku, a US citizen of Ethiopian ackground raised by Coptic Christian parents. The former Marine was arrested while on his way to desecrate the graves of US soldiers by scrawling ‘Arabic statements on them’ and leaving ‘handfuls of explosive material nearby as a message’.

23 Months earlier he had gone on:

...a mysterious shooting spree that targeted the Pentagon, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and two other military buildings in Northern Virginia. A video found after Melaku’s arrest showed him wearing a black mask and shooting a 9mm handgun out of his Acura’s passenger window as he drove along Interstate 95, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’

The article indicates that Melaku was a recent convert to Islam and had decided to carry out a series of attacks on buildings and ‘sacred sites’ of the US military, the synecdoche of the nation that Islamists see as the imperialist arch-enemy of their faith. Despite these clues, the article’s headline reads

‘Motive of Shooter who Targeted Military Sites is Unclear’.

The fact that over a decade after 9/11 a patently obvious Islamist message did not get through to the journalists of the Washington Post suggests continuing failure to appreciate the semiotic dimension of what took place that day in the capital of the US.

Semiotics is the study of the meanings of signs and symbols and how they are interpreted by individual. The novels and films built around the popular "The Da Vinci Code thriller series" are built around the concept of semiotics. But on a more serious scholarly level, semiotics is considered a useful way to understand how we all create meaning, identity, and actions around our interpretation of signs and symbols.

Scholar Umberto Eco is an example of a prestigious intellectual who uses semiotics to write not only serious academic work but also popular novels.

For more information on Griffin’s work, click here.


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