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Beslan tragedy: Some unpleasant truths


The tragic murder of about 400 innocent people held as hostages by Jihadist terrorists in a Beslan school has attracted a great deal of media attention. The crime has been justifiably condemned by just about every world leader, including widespread criticism in the Arab media. One would think that every aspect of the crisis was covered, but it is not so.

We have heard about the clumsy inefficiency of the Russians, and the Russian government admits that it lied about the number of hostages. They had to admit it after all, because with over 400 casualties and 400 dead, it is not possible that there were only about 500 hostages. Arithmetic has conspired against the Putin regime.

Strangely, we have heard hardly anything at all about history of Chechnya and the Chechnyan war, and about Russian civil rights violations there. The attacks of 9-11 were followed by a litany of complaint exposing the real and imagined sins of the United States in the Middle East. Suicide attacks in Israel are regularly excused as "legitimate resistance." Human rights violations in Sudan have also gotten a bit of attention from the press and the UN, however belated. But the war in Chechnya and the history of Chechnya are big secrets.

The Chechnyans have good reason to detest the Russians. They were victims of the Stalinist "nationalities" policy. In World War II the entire population, about a million people was exiled in a single day, because of more or less bogus fears they would collaborate with the Nazis. Suspected collaborators were shot. The remaining innocent population were piled into cattle cars, where they spent many weeks, and roughly 50% of the exiles died of diseases and exposure.

Following the death of Stalin, the Chechens were allowed to return home, but they never lost their desire for a separate national existence from the Russians. Chechen separatism is motivated by nationalism, by their bitter history, and by the fact that they are Muslims, distinct from the Greek Orthodox Russians. After the dissolution of the USSR, Chechnya was retained in the Russian federation by force. Two separatist wars, fought since 1994, have created hundreds of thousands of casualties and about 350,000 refugees. Since 1999, about 80,000 have died. Russia has instituted a wave of Stalinist terror, forcing neighbors to inform on each other, and bringing about the disappearance of nearly 3,000 people. All of this turmoil, occurring a few hundred miles from the capitals of Europe, has gotten virtually no publicity in major media. It was not even mentioned by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in his condemnation of the attacks.

No human rights violations can justify the crimes of the Jihadists in Chechnya, and they should not be confused with the Chechnyan separatists who have denounced the attack in Beslan as well as other barbaric acts. Nonetheless, it is foolish to pretend that the jihadist terror is totally unrelated to Russian behavior in Chechnya, and it is hypocritical to decry the immorality of terrorist actions without even mentioning the repugnant actions of the Russian government. These are sad days for Russia, and our hearts must go out to the families of victims, and to the people, including many children, who were killed and injured. However, we have to tell the truth even now, when the whole world is mourning for the tragedy of Chechnya, because this is the about the only time that the world and the Russian people will pay any attention at all to Chechnya. The Russian people have to know that their government is not telling them the truth, and the concealment doesn't end with falsification of the number of hostages.

We can agree with Russian foreign Minister Lavrov that "Terrorism can be stopped only by uniting efforts of all the states." But it is equally true that human rights violations can be stopped only by uniting the efforts of all states and all peoples, and by ensuring that standards of morality and law are applied to all countries, at all times, not just when it is politically correct or expedient to do so, and not just against convenient targets.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000295.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 16 comments

Yes, and let's not forget the Shamyl uprising in the middle of the nineteenth century, which led to a genocidal assault on the mountain Muslims of the same region.

Posted by khargushoghli @ 09/06/2004 06:12 PM CST

When a tragedy of such magnitude or that of 9/11 or even a suicide bombing that is solely aimed at terrorizing civilians; all we need to do is to simply acknowledge the tragedy, bury the dead and unite in doing one and only one thing, as the People of this world we need to 'Deny any justification for any of such atrocities, and nothing beside that is required at all'.

By rehashing old reasons, current reasons or even intimating ones in the periphery of discussing these tragedies, is to give an implicit endorsment for the action; and that is what the terrorist want to inject in our discourse; and I for one do not wish to give them that leverage. It is morally bankrupt, what they did and continue to do; it is despicable and unacceptable and the world and people's conscience can never mitigate such an act or for a minute consider it a consequence of anything but depravity, amorality and pure and simple terrorism.

If our conscience bother us because of neglecting to stand for Chechens and what they went and are going through, there is a time and place for it, to do so. If we need to raise consciousness about the Palestinian plight, we need to do it as well and consistently. When we talk about the bad Americans and their ... after 9/11 because of whatever reasons, I'll suggest do not wake up to it all of a sudden and do not associate it with the current act; because there is not, neither should there be, any association whatsoever between these tragic events and anything else.

Israel Bonan

Posted by Israel Bonan @ 09/06/2004 06:59 PM CST

Entering into a discussion of the history of Russian brutality in their treatment of the Chechyns, smacks of searching for "underlying causes". What the hostage-takers did was evil, full stop.

Rob Yale

Posted by Rob Yale @ 09/07/2004 04:16 AM CST

It is an evil thing to target civilians, but we can't be selective in our condemnations. If a government deliberately targets civilians for political reasons, it is state terrorism, and governments are just as culpable for such acts as individuals are. Until we recognize this and apply this rule to governments such as Russia, the U.S., and Israel, we are living in a moral vacuum.

Posted by Pam @ 09/07/2004 04:48 PM CST

There is some selective memory going on here. Without excusing Russian/Soviet excesses (and there have been many), after 1996, the Russians had withdrawn from Chechnya giving them a high degree of autonomy. The current round of fighting began in mid-1999 when Chechnyan forces invaded Dagestan (part of Russia) and announced an Islamic Republic. When the Russians repulsed them, three apartment blocks in Moscow and another city were blown up, killing 300 people. This is when Russia reinvaded Chechnya.

You can argue about the validity/brutality of Russia's tactics in the subsequent campaign, but you have to assign blame for starting this round of fighting on the Chechnyans.

Posted by N Chernoff @ 09/07/2004 08:37 PM CST

To say Russia, the U.S., and Israel intentionally targeting innocent civilians is an assumption not fact and is never true. What terrorist do is fact! They murder the innocent for their cause only to make things worse. They never help only hurt others. They murder like animals would with out regard for life or God. They are not human in the eyes of the world so they should be haunted as animals. They should be put in cages to be displayed at the zoo next to the monkeys and apes. They should be allowed to only hurt themselves not others. Let them live in their own little world of hate and death. They and the children they raise to murder, should be excluded in some remote location never to harm the world again.

Posted by Ron Coyken @ 09/07/2004 11:44 PM CST

Where do these things stop? I have noticed that those not having a God or god which ever you prefer we have the hate for so-called satan people (Christians) and the hate of Muslims and the hate for other religious people there can never be a solution to these murders all over the world. Children suffer the most because we know they are defenseless and small and we grown-up can whip the child and for that matter the women. We have lost all sense of human rights. They do not exist.

Posted by Don Javery @ 09/08/2004 10:48 PM CST

Old conflicts do play a role in the current conflict and let's not pretend that the terrorists in Beslan aren't trying to draw attention to the conflict in chechnya. It's unfortunate that it should come to this but we should at least think of how things will proceed from here. The terrorists sieged the school for reason and it was not just to kill people. They knew very well they were not likely to escape alive, and they fully intended to die with the worlds attention upon them. There will be another Beslan if a peaceful solution is not found in Chechnya. Though terrorism is never a justification, are we to continue with our illusion that the deaths of hundreds of children are unrelated to the Chechen war? I don't think so.

Posted by Tan Kah Yap @ 09/09/2004 01:11 PM CST

There is NOTHING that justifies targeting, maiming, and murdering unarmed, innocent people - especially children. The civilized nations of the world must set all other differences aside and join together to save ourselves from the Muslim fanatic animals who will never be pleased until they kill all non-Muslims, which they call "infidels." It is that simple. These sub-human, Muslim fanatics always have a million excuses for their bloodthirsty murder of non-Muslim, innocent people, but the simple truth is that they want an exclusively Islamic world.

Posted by Jonathan J. L. Simmons @ 09/13/2004 09:16 AM CST

Fact: a family who loses a child from a bomb dropped from a British of American plane (or Russian) feels the same loss as those who lose them through 'terrorist' activities.

Fact: Accidental deaths from western military activities are seen as legitimate. Claims of accidental are immaterial when you knew that they were a possibility.

Fact: Far more civilian deaths occur because of 'legitimate' military action.

Therefore if we really want to reduce deaths (and not just western deaths by the way) we really need to look at the excesses of our governments and armed forces first.

Then again one western death is worth at least 25 unpeoples' deaths.

Posted by Chris Newman @ 09/13/2004 03:50 PM CST

"Far more civilian deaths occur because of 'legitimate' military action."

Vs. what? Terrorist actions?

So, exactly what is your overall point? That the Russians shouldn't hunt down the terrorists that killed innocent people?

Posted by razorace @ 09/15/2004 12:02 AM CST

RE: "you have to assign blame for starting this round of fighting on the Chechnyans"

Russia re-invaded Chechnya in 1999 because this was the year Putin stepped from the shadows to make his bid for the presidency and wanted to play the hard man. The apartment block killings of 300 people in that year were not necessarily perpetrated by Chechen terrorists - the original witness descriptions of the bombers were not of Chechnyans at all. However it was immediately ascribed to Chechen terrorists by Putin, who used it to swing popular opinion behind a war, and behind him as a leader.

Terrorism has no justification but the facts need to be plainly stated with regard to Russia and Chechnya

Posted by Andrew Smith @ 09/15/2004 01:36 PM CST

If the Russian response to this atrocity is to use it as an excuse to commit similar acts of violence that it has over the past decade (hundreds of thousands killed, a country pretty much razed, thousands disappeared etc) then no, I don't agree with a 'legitimate' Russian tracking down of 'international terrorists'.

Posted by Chris Newman @ 09/15/2004 01:53 PM CST

There is no better time to stop a war than when it is about to start. Terrorism was started when a weaker force was subjected to humiliating exposures and sooner or later deviced a mechanism to counter their tormentors. I am not safe and you are not either.

Posted by Samuel Jalang'o @ 09/29/2004 07:58 AM CST

has anybody read into some of the muslim rules and cultures.

they are the ones who believe we are the infidels, as in anybody who is not muslim.
they are the ones who believe they will take over the world and wipe out none muslims.
they are the ones who will not not allow marriage to other faiths.
who beat thier women for showing bare skin.
whos ideals would take us back to the dark ages.
they are flooding our shores and countries as refugees, but are diguised as foot soldiers waiting to regroup and rise up on us all.
when will we wake up and give them thier own world ,back home ?

Posted by doboy @ 09/29/2004 10:42 PM CST

True Muslims are praying to their God and helping their fellow human beings whenever possible; not shouldering AK-47s, and destroying life.

True Christians are praying to their God and helping their fellow human beings whenever possible; not conspiring to maintain a political influence in a sphere so that they may remain viable indefinitely. They are not destroying human life.

A true Jew is praying to their God, and helping their fellow human beings whenever possible; not building walls of irony, or firing rockets into crowds of people. They are not destroying human life.

Whatever or whoever God may be to you, God has put you here, as It has done with your brothers and sisters. Your brothers and sisters are vast. They speak differently, think differently, pray differently.....but they pray, and they all bleed red. They bleed life. They bleed creation, and they bleed humanity. They bleed tears, they bleed remorse, they bleed hatred. They all bleed.

Religion is a convenient mask for racism, intolerance, and grabs for power; whether it be politically, geographically, or militarily. It is humankind grabbing, not the hand of God.

Humankind is not a chessgame of the Gods. We create our own dilemnas. They are not written out for us to follow. Rather, we take the written word, and twist it to our device. The written word, to begin with is just that. Written by man. Not by God.

Posted by William Forrester @ 10/04/2004 02:35 AM CST

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