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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Tamerlan Tsarnaev: What’s in a Name?

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Killed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen Muslim, has been identified by the FBI as a “strong believer” in Islam, and an adept of jihadism. Tamerlan was unabashed in his Muslim piety and avowal of jihad—the latter bringing him to the attention of both Russian intelligence and the FBI.

Indeed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was identified last summer, during a 6-month sojourn in Russia, as having frequented a well-known jihad-fomenting mosque in Machachkala, Dagestan, meeting directly with a jihadist underground movement leader there at least six times.  It has further been suggested that Tamerlan and his surviving brother Dzhokar, a Boston Marathon bombing suspect co-conspirator, who was in thrall to his elder brother (as well as to jihadism), were jointly “inspired” by Doku Umarov, known as Russia’s Bin Laden, and also an ethnic Chechen. Umarov is believed to have organized jihad terror attacks, such as the mass-murderous homicide bombing of Moscow’s Metro system, which slaughtered at least 40. Ominously, as noted by Chechen analyst, Dr. Carlo Gallo, “Umarov has made statements in which he said that the enemy of Islam is not just Russia, but America….”

But the astute observations of young freelance writer Alyssa Kilzer—a client of Zubeidat Tsarnaev, mother to Tamerlan and Dzhokar—are even more chilling, and indicate that the brother’s “radicalization” was a pious Muslim family affair. Ms. Kilzer, who received facials from Zubeidat Tsarnaev for several years at the Tsarnaev household (410 Norfolk Street, on the border between Cambridge and Watertown, M.A.), therein witnessed arranged marriages, wife-battering, hijab donning, strict Islamic piety with repeated Koranic references, and ultimately, baleful anti-American Islamic conspiracy theories about 9/11/2001. Kilzer also alludes to the “political activities” of Zubeidat Tsarnaev and her husband (Anzor) had engaged in (a euphemism for their anti-Russian jihadism?), which caused the Daghestani native parents—both lawyers—to flee.

The Tsarnaev family ties to Daghestan—a primordial hub of Islamic jihadism in the Causcasus for over a millennium—may prove critical to understanding the jihad carnage in Boston wrought by the Tsarnaev brothers. Moreover, it is also worth noting that Dzhokar Tsarnaev was mentored (albeit only via e-mail correspondence) by a full-throated University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth apologist for so-called Chechen separatism, Brian Glyn Williams.

But there was an even more basic, profound warning sign of the Tsarnaev family’s dangerous Weltanschauung—the very name Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev chose for their eldest son: “Tamerlan(e).”

The cover art for "Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism," a miniature painting from a sixteenth century manuscript of the Zafarnama by Sharaf al-Din Ali-Yazdi, from the year 1552.

The cover art for “Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism,” a miniature painting from a sixteenth century manuscript of the Zafarnama by Sharaf al-Din Ali-Yazdi, from the year 1552.

The cover art for my recent book “Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism” (at right) reproduces a miniature painting from a sixteenth century manuscript of the Zafarnama by Sharaf al-Din Ali-Yazdi, the best-known example of early Persian historiography the Islamized Mongol conqueror Amir Timur-i-lang, or “Tamerlane.” The image was housed in the British Library and originally published/produced in Shiraz, Iran, 1552. It depicts soldiers filing before Tamerlane holding heads of their decapitated enemies which they used to build a tower shaped like the minaret of a mosque, in Baghdad (1401).

The upper inscription embedded within the painting reads,

How fate and destiny have cast awe in the minds of the “Tavaajis”! [king’s messengers, and herein, more generally, “traitors”], In an orderly and numerical fashion, They made minarets with the heads of the wretched “Tavaajis” As a lesson to the inhabitants of the world.

While the lower embedded inscription states,

So that no subordinate would dare to challenge superiors and no fox acts like a lion, and threatens the kings; Under the temptation of the demon pride…

Historian Jean Aubin’s 1962 analysis notes that the Baghdad siege lasted nearly forty days, adding that the Zafarnama insists, “in hopes of seeing the city surrender and conserve it intact, Tamerlane delayed several times the attack requested by his officers.” Ravaged by starvation, groups of soldiers and residents fled the city, “by jumping from the summit of the ramparts.” When Tamerlane’s forces launched their final assault, escape from Baghdad was prevented by archers who were arranged on both riverbanks of the Tigris.  Consistent with the earlier accounts of Browne and Grousset, Aubin summarizes the fate of Baghdad’s hapless population, stating,  

The rare survivors—approximately one person out of a hundred, according to the Zafar-nama—were sold into slavery. The only ones spared were theologians, sheiks, and dervishes who managed to reach Tamerlane’s pavilion. They were given food and clothes, and sent to a safe place.

Tamerlane was born at Kash (Shahr-i-Sebz, the “GreenCity”) in Transoxiana (some 50 miles south of Samarkand, in modern Uzbekistan), on April 8 (or 11), 1336 A.D.  Amir Turghay, his father, was chief of the Gurgan or Chagtai branch of the Barlas Turks. By age 34 (1369/70), Timur had killed his major rival (Mir Husain), becoming the pre-eminent ruler of Transoxiana. He spent the next six to seven years consolidating his power in Transoxiana before launching the aggressive conquests of Persia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and then attacking Hindustan (India) under the tottering Delhi Sultanate.

Timur’s campaigns are infamous for their extensive massacres and emblematic “pyramids of heads.” Brown cites “only a few” prominent examples, in addition to the graphic cover art illustration, resulting from the 1401 Baghdad carnage:

As specimens of those acts mention may be made of his massacre of the people of Sistan 1383-4, when he caused some two thousand prisoners to be built up into a wall; his cold-blooded slaughter of a hundred thousand captive Indians near Dihli [Delhi] (December, 1398); his burying alive of four thousand Armenians in 1400-1, and the twenty towers of skulls erected by him at Aleppo and Damascus in the same year; and his massacre of 70,000 of the inhabitants of Isfahan in (November, 1387)…

Timur defeated his major Muslim rivals, the Ottomans, under Bayezid, July 20, 1402, destroying the Ottoman army (at Cubuk), and holding the sultan captive. Bayezid died a few months later (March 9, 1403, at Aksehir), “..broken by disaster and humiliation.” With the Ottoman army’s decimation, the conquest of Western Anatolia (and beyond), as Grousset has noted, “was no more than a route march for Tamerlane. ”Bursa, the Ottoman capital, was plundered, and Tamerlane’s surrogates continued their devastating advance further to Nicaea (Iznik).

Ibn Arabshah and Sharif ad-Din describe the conquerors behaving like a horde of savages, and that lovely city was set on fire. Tamerlane’s grandson Abu Bakr galloped as far as Nicaea (Iznik), “slaying and looting everywhere,” as Sharif ad-Din tells with relish.

Christian Smyrna (later Izmir)—which had defied repeated Ottoman attempts at conquest—was besieged by Tamerlane himself, after its governor, Brother Guillaume de Munte of the Knights of Rhodes refused to convert to Islam. Following a two-week siege, which began in early December, 1402, the city was overwhelmed, and a general massacre ensued. According to Ibn Arabshah,

…[H]e slew the grown men and cast in bonds the women and children and from the corpses of the slain built mosques and from the skulls raised towers; then he despoiled that fort of its wealth and robbed it of its treasure and emptied it and desolated and plundered it and utterly drained its silver and gold and made the wings of glad news fly with these exploits, which news according to his presumption he sent through the world with propitious augury and swift flight.

A rather gruesome variant on the primary use of decapitated heads for skull towers occurred during the capture and destruction of Smyrna, as recorded by the Zafarnama.

A few escaped slaughter by casting themselves into the sea, and swimming to the vessels; while others were drowned. After our soldiers had put the inhabitants of Smyrna to the sword, they razed the houses, as well of the city as of the cattle, casting their arms and movable goods into the sea. There were from certain parts of Europe great ships named Caraca, with two masts, and some with more, which brought over soldiers and arms to succor the inhabitants. When they came near the palace and beheld the town and castle in ruins, they were struck with fear and anchored. Timur ordered that some of the Christians heads should be thrown into these ships, which the slingers of wild-fire accordingly did. The mariners seeing their companions heads, returned in fear and frustrated of their hopes.

French historian Rene Grousset maintained Timur was indeed a pious Muslim (who may well have belonged to the Naqshbandi Sufi order, according to Manz),  while emphasizing the important Islamic motivation for Timur’s jihad campaigns:

It is the Qur’an to which he continually appeals, the imams and [Sufi] dervishes who prophesy his success. [emphasis added] His wars were to influence the character of the jihad, the Holy War, even when— as was almost always the case— he was fighting Muslims. He had only to accuse these Muslims of lukewarmness, whether the Jagataites of the Ili and Uiguria, whose conversion was so recent, or the Sultans of Delhi who…refrained from massacring their millions of Hindu subjects.

American historian Beatrice Manz concurs with Grousset’s assessment about the centrality of Islamic jihadism in motiviating Tamerlane’s conquests, although she also stresses his dual role as “restorer” of the Turco-Mongolian world order. Tamerlane patronized Muslim scholars, constructed Islamic religious buildings, and waged jihad campaigns for dissemination of the Muslim creed to establish his bona fides as a promoter of Islam. The Zafarnama, Manz observes, invokes promulgation of the Sharia, specifically, as a primary animating factor for many of Tamerlane’s campaigns:

Timur undertook many of his campaigns in the interest of religious order, and we find that almost all mentions of Sharia in [Nizan al-Dim] Shami’s Zafarnameh occur as justification for Timur’s conquests.

Timur’s jihad campaigns against non-Muslims — whether Christians in Asia Minor and Georgia, or Hindus in India — seemed to intensify in brutality. British historian E.G. Brown highlights one particular episode which supports this contention, wherein Timur clearly distinguished between his vanquished Muslim and non-Muslim foes. After rampaging through (Christian) Georgia, where he “devastated the country, destroyed the churches, and slew great numbers of inhabitants,” in the winter of 1399-1400, Timur, in August 1400,

began his march into Asia Minor by way of Avnik, Erzeroum, Erzinjan, and Sivas. The latter place offered a stubborn resistance, and when it finally capitulated Timur caused all the Armenian and Christian soldiers to be buried alive; but the Muhammadans he spared.

The unparalleled devastation Timur wrought upon predominantly Hindu India further bolsters the notion that Timur viewed his non-Muslim prey with particular animosity. Moreover, there are specific examples of selective brutality directed against Hindus, from which Muslims are deliberately spared. Indian historian A.L. Srivastava summarizesIndia’s devastated condition following Timur’s departure:

Timur left [India] prostrate and bleeding. There was utter confusion and misery throughout northern India. [India's] northwestern provinces, including northern tracts of Rajasthan and Delhi, were so thoroughly ravaged, plundered and even burnt that it took these parts many years, indeed, to recover their prosperity. Lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of men, and in some cases, many women and children, too, were butchered in cold blood. The rabi crops…were completely destroyed for many miles on both sides of the invader’s long and double route from the Indus to Delhi and back. Stores of grain were looted or destroyed. Trade, commerce and other signs of material prosperity disappeared. The city of Delhi was depopulated and ruined. It was without a master or a caretaker. There was scarcity and virulent famine in the capital and its suburbs. This was followed by a pestilence caused by the pollution of the air and water by thousands of uncared—for dead bodies. In the words of the historian Badaoni, “those of the inhabitants who were left died (of famines and pestilence), while for two months not a bird moved wing in Delhi.”

The late 13th century chronicler, Bar Hebraeus provided this contemporary assessment of how the adoption of Islam radically altered Mongol attitudes toward their Christian subjects:

And having seen very much modesty and other habits of this kind among Christian people, certainly the Mongols loved them greatly at the beginning of their kingdom, a time ago somewhat short. But their love hath turned to such intense hatred that they cannot even see them with their eyes approvingly, because they have all alike become Muslims, myriads of people and peoples.

Bar Hebraeus’ observations should be borne in mind when evaluating Grousset’s uncompromising overall assessment of Timur’s deeds and motivations. After recounting Timur’s 1403 A.D. ravages in Georgia, slaughtering the inhabitants, and destroying all the Christian churches of Tiflis, Grousset states:

It has been noted that the Jenghiz-Khanite Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century was less cruel, for the Mongols were mere barbarians who killed simply because for centuries this had been the instinctive behavior of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers. To this ferocity Tamerlane [Timur] added a taste for religious murder. He killed from Qur’anic piety. He represents a synthesis, probably unprecedented in history, of Mongol barbarity and Muslim fanaticism, and symbolizes that advanced form of primitive slaughter which is murder committed for the sake of an abstract ideology, as a duty and a sacred mission (emphasis added).

Curiously, the 1970 Rutgers University Press English translation of Grousset’s L’Empire Des Steppes (p. 513) omits the word “coranique” in translating “Il tuait par piete coranique,” so that the phrase becomes, “He killed from piety,” as opposed to Grousset’s French original, “He killed from Qur’anic piety.”

Karl Wittfogel’s study of Oriental despotism, invokes Koran 4:59, appositely, as providing the ultimate Islamic legal basis for authoritarian rule, such as Timur’s.

The Koran exhorts believers to obey not only Allah and his prophet, but also “those in authority amongst you.” In the absolutist states established by Mohammed’s followers, this passage was invoked to emphasize the importance of obedience in maintaining governmental authority.

Law Professor Emile Tyan, one of the great modern scholars of Islamic governance, produced a monumental two-volume legal analysis of the Caliphate system. Tyan expands upon Wittfogel’s apt characterization—which hinges, appropriately, upon Koran 4:59 (and its classical and modern exegeses)—highlighting Islam’s natural predilection for despotic rule, and the “sacralized” impetus to universalize this despotism, via jihad.

The power of Muslim monocracy is an absolute, personal power. Personal because, outside the person of the caliph (Muslim leader), there is no organism with its own existence directly invested with any parcel of authority whatsoever. All organs of government, administration, and justice exercise their respective competence on the basis of a formal or tacit delegation from the caliph. Absolute in that there is no constitutional body that limits, oversees, or curbs the power of the caliph.

[O]ne of the basic principles of Islam is that it must be extended to the whole world by conversion or at the least by submission to Islamic authority. The caliph has an obligation to promote and fulfill this universalism, if necessary by the force of arms. This is the meaning of holy war or jihad. From which it follows that Islamic sovereignty is at least potentially universal.

Timur, Tamerlane, epitomized these classical Islamic trends, still very much alive today, and embodied by the murderous exploits of Tamarlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, to impose totalitarian Islam.

A longer, more detailed version of this article can be found at AndrewBostom.com.

About the Author: Andrew G. Bostom, M.D., is the author of the highly acclaimed The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History, and, Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism. Dr. Bostom has published numerous articles and commentaries on Islam in the New York Post, Washington Times, The New York Daily News, National Review Online, The American Thinker, Pajamas Media, FrontPage Magazine.com, and other print and online publications. More on Andrew Bostom’s work can be found at his blog: www.andrewbostom.org.


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