Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Russia's 9/11

It's hard to think of anything to say about last week's slaughter of the innocents in Beslan, Russia that hasn't already been said by others. I tried to put this atrocity into the broader context of the assault of Islamist barbarism against civilization in this post. Mark Steyn, as he so often does, makes the same point far more eloquently:

In the 1990s, while the world's leaders slept – or in Bill Clinton's case slept around – thousands of volunteers from across the globe passed through terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and were then dispatched to Indonesia, Kosovo, Sudan . . . and Chechnya. Wealthy Saudis – including members of the royal family – invested millions in setting up mosques and madrassas in what were traditionally spheres of a more accommodationist Islam, from the Balkans to South Asia, and successfully radicalised a generation of young Muslim men. It's the jihadist component – not the asymmetrical one, not the secessionist one – that accounts for the mound of undersized corpses, for the scale of the depravity.

If the Russian children are innocent, the Russian state is not. Its ham-fisted campaign in Chechnya is as brutal as it is ineffectual. The Muslims have a better case in Chechnya than they do in the West Bank, Kashmir or any of the other troublespots where the Islamic world rubs up against the infidels. But that said, as elsewhere, whatever the theoretical merits of the cause, it's been rotted from within by the Islamist psychosis.

I wonder if, as they killed those schoolchildren, they chanted "Allahu Akbar!" – as they did when they hacked the head of Nick Berg, and killed those 12 Nepalese workers, and blew up those Israeli diners in the Passover massacre

Gregory Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch, a blogger whose work I respect immensely, argues against too strictly interpreting the Beslan massacre as part of an international jihad:

There is a problem with all of this, of course. Each situation is materially different (though they all, of course, involve Muslims groups). While the tactics of indiscriminate terror are equally reprehensible whether done in NYC on 9/11, a Passover dinner in Haifa, or a school in North Ossetia--we need to analyze such attacks within the context of the specific dynamics at play. Put differently, the U.S. was not occupying Saudi Arabia when 15 Saudis crashed planes into the Towers (we had troops there at the invitation of the Saudi government). Contra this, the Palestinian terror groups are operating in the context of a war underway there since 1948. Similarly, Chechens and Russians have been in conflict, at least this last go-around, since the early 90s.

Djerejian argues for the importance of settling these regional wars in mitigating the "root causes" of terrorism, such as the Israeli-Palestinian and Russo-Chechen situations:

Ditto, of course, in Chechnya. Suppose Grozny were awarded some 'deep' autonomy where Russia merely kept certain border security/foreign policy levers. Chechens would have, let's say, their own currency, schools, municipal government, flag, and so on. Such a move would de-radicalize many Chechens just as a Palestinian state would de-radicalize many Palestinians. There would be fewer 'black widows'. Fewer thugs willing to slaughter innocent children. No, of course (like with Islamic Jihad, say) there would be absolutists who would view the Russian concessions as weak-kneed and would thus seek to inflict further terror blows to gain further concessions. But, such radicals would enjoy little support but from the most radical of terrorists (ie, the al-Qaeda theoratic barbarian crowd).

So, to wrap up. There can be no appeasement of gruesome international terror tactics. Not now, not later. But, we can't live in a bubble. These monsters who kill children in Beslan and Tel Aviv emerge from a climate of deep historical grievances, myriad outstanding claims and recriminations, long and bitter conflicts. In other words, and returning to Matt's point (if indeed this, er, is his point), we do need to work to reach negotiated settlements of the Kashmirs, Palestines, Chechnyas of the world. The sooner we can resolve those--the better to narrow down the battle to those who will never be satisfed by any reasonable concessions and attempts at rational compromise. Those, for instance, that hate the very idea of liberal democracy--particularly, its leading avatar America.

I agree with Djerejian that it would be a good thing if we could equitably solve regional conflicts such as those in Israel and Chechnya. The problem is that I don't believe that settling these situations would lessen the impact of Islamist barbarism as much as Djerejian does. To a large extent, the Chechen struggle has already been absorbed into the worldwide terrorist jihad. Newsweek's Terror Watch Web column reported the following on ties between the Chechens and al-Qaeda:

But the larger question about links between Chechen rebels and the international jihadi movement is more troubling. There has been a history of such contacts going back more than a decade. Indeed, according to the September 11 commission report, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed—the mastermind of the terror attacks in New York and Washington—himself sought to join forces with the Chechen rebel leader known as Khattab. The report also states that, among other leaders of the attacks in the United States, Mohammed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah had all sought to enlist in the Chechen cause in 1999—and only ended up in Afghanistan because of a chance meeting with another jihadi on a train in Germany. There is also little doubt that Osama bin Laden used the Chechen cause—and the fierce Russian counterattacks to suppress it—to enlist new recruits. After the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, the report states, bin Laden ordered his media committee to prepare a propaganda video that reenacted the attack on the Cole laced with images of Muslim suffering in Chechnya, Kashmir, Indonesia and among Palestinians.

On September 7, the Christian Science Monitor provided further confirmation of these ties:

Ties between Chechen radicals and Al Qaeda stretch back to the first Chechen war (1994-1996). A radical element - spurred by would-be clerics who traveled to Saudi Arabia to learn about the Salafi fundamentalist strain of Islam - began to develop in the late 1990s.

By 1999, when Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev invaded Russian territory in Dagestan - prompting a second war - it became clear that Islamic radicals dominated Chechen rebel groups.

"Chechnya began to attract [Al Qaeda] emissaries, adventurers, and finances," says Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Yerevan, Armenia. "After 1999, the radical tendency grew strong, and became more internationalized."

This second war burns on, and has two parts: guerrilla warfare and terrorist acts, says Mr. Iskandarian. "Over the last month, we've seen a considerable growth of the second component, terrorism."

"Russian policy in the Caucasus in the last 10 years helped a lot to separate the Caucasus from Russia," he says. "Ideology is being generated against Russia - Islamization is growing. There are more calls for sharia law, not only by radicals, but by average Muslims."

The most comprehensive description of al-Qaeda Chechen ties is provided in this superb September 5th post at Winds of Change by Dan Darling. This comment on the objectives of Chechen jihadist warlord Shamil Basayev, believed to be the architect of the Beslan massacre, is particularly telling:

However, I should point out that Basayev's ambitions extend far beyond just Chechen independence, so everybody saying that a political solution to the Chechen war or Russian withdrawl from the region is going to solve the issue is going to be sorely disappointed.

Unfortunately, the simple truth is that those Chechens who commit terrorist atrocities such as Beslan are not motivated simply by the desire to expel the Russians from Chechnya. Rather, they are seeking to impose Islamist totalitarianism throughout the Caucasus, and no peace deal in Chechnya will deter them from committing additional savagery. While there are some genuine nationalist Chechen guerrillas who are fighting solely for their nation's freedom, they are not the ones blowing up aircraft or slaughtering children.

Make no mistake, the Russians bear an enormous amount of responsibility for the current situation in the Caucasus. The simple truth, however, is that they are now confronted by the same jihadist terror movement that we are. The Chief of the Russian General Staff has already vowed to strike at terrorists anywhere in the world. I fully believe that they will do it, and that when the Russians strike back at the jihadists, it will be with a ruthlessness well beyond anything America has displayed to date.


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