There were times when Chechnya was at the top of every news bulletin on the television, and on the front pages of the newspapers. Grozny resembled a scene from the Second World War. It looked as if the Caucasus was going the way of the Balkans: war, ethnic cleansing, human tragedy. Yet, after a while Chechnya faded away from the consciousness of many people outside the region, except when terrorist outrages in Russia were reported, or a president was assassinated, even when there have been prolonged periods of conflict. The Boston Marathon bombing has placed Chechnya under spotlight again. It would be foolish, if tempting, to ascribe something to a single cause, such as in this case, by trying to explain why someone decided to set off bombs, with the intention to kill and maim, by pointing to innate evilness or simply to ethnic background: we would not be able to understand the full complexities that turned the Tsarnaev brothers terrorists. Yet, I cannot help but think that history of Chechnya might be a factor in why these men became the bombers targeting marathon runners and spectators in Boston.
If the commanders of the first Chechen war belonged to the generation that was born in exile, after Stalin had deported the Chechens from their homeland, and grew up listening to the stories of hardship in exile even after they were able to return to the Caucasus, then the brothers in question grew up in the age of almost incessant war in Chechnya. In addition to the brutal effects of conflicts, whether experienced or told, there has been a shift towards radical Islam in Chechnya, which might further give a glimpse into the minds of the brothers: while radical Muslim fighters have participated in throughout the conflict, the perspective seems to have shifted from a national or ethnic and local struggle to religious and part of a global conflict. It would be, in my opinion, a false dichotomy to pit national identity against religious identity, because the two can effectively be fused into one, or religion is an integral part of national identity, but it adds to the complexity of the possible reasons why they turned out terrorists. Though it remains unclear what they wanted to achieve with their bombs. What purpose would setting off bombs in Boston do, if their aim was to free Chechnya? Or did they another concrete aim or was it attacking the US that counted? Even if it would be impossible to answer why some people become terrorists, it would be possible to trace how some people become terrorists.
Naturally, people in similar circumstances have not become terrorists: individual choices and morals do matter. Perhaps some people are evil. There will be people who use violence and terror as a means to an end, and even those who rejoice in violence and terror. Investigations may shed light on their motives, but the focus will also be on how to make it less likely for something similar to happen again. Attempting to answer the question how are some people radicalized? might yield some results.