Hey, Let’s Demonize Chechens!
Despite the Boston bombers having little to do with Chechnya, the media were quick to demonise an entire ethnicity.
In 1901, a 28-year-old American named Leon Czolgosz assassinated US President William McKinley. Czolgosz was born in America, but he was of Polish descent. After McKinley died, the American media blamed Polish immigrants. They were outsiders, foreigners, with a suspicious religion - Catholicism - and strange last names.
At a time when Eastern European immigrants were treated as inferior, Polish-Americans feared they would be punished as a group for the terrible actions of an individual. “We feel the pain which this sad occurrence caused, not only in America, but throughout the whole world. All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality,” a Polish-American newspaper wrote in an anguished editorial.
It is a sentiment reminiscent of what Muslims and Chechens are writing - or Instagramming - today, after the revelation that Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, are of Chechen descent. At this time, there is no evidence linking the Tsarnaev brothers to a broader movement in Chechnya, a war-torn federal republic in southern Russia. Neither of the brothers has ever lived there. The oldest, Tamerlan, was born in Russia and moved to the US when he was sixteen. The youngest, Dzokhar, was born in Kyrgyzstan, moved to the US when he was nine, and became a US citizen in 2012.
Despite the Tsarnaevs’ American upbringing, the media has presented their lives through a Chechen lens. Political strife in the North Caucasus, ignored by the press for years, has become the default rationale for a domestic crime.