It is depressing to consider that individual acts of Islamist terrorism no longer instantly disgust the media because they have become routine and we have become cynical towards them. What is even more depressing is that yesterday Wahabbis managed to surpass themselves in barbarity, such that the entire world took notice in a way it has perhaps not since 9/11.It had been a particularly bad ten days for Russia, as the twin airliners were brought down and then a 'black widow' exploded herself outside a Moscow metro station. The toll: around one hundred dead. The verdict: expected terrorism in the aftermath of the questionably-democratic Chechen election. Had it stopped there, the world might have said little. But it did not stop there.Viewed objectively - cold-heartedly - what happened in Beslan is not out of kilter with the usual actions of Islamist terrorists. Neither the casualty count nor the suicidal methods nor the complete disregard for human life are new. Dozens die in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and the media barely bats an eyelid. But terrorism is not about objective cold-heartedness. It is about terror - terror inflicted and terror emphasised with. Terror deals in emotion, and the emotional impact made by the terrorists of Beslan is far greater than anything else to have occured recently.Insofar as it is possible to divine exactly what impact they intended to have, it is likely that they intended to attract maximum media attention. Beyond this, they highlighted the weak security of Russia and tried to cause the maximum amount of fear. This was also the reason for a number of 'distributed' attacks across Russia recently rather than a focus on one big one, according to TIME
. One thing they have definitely been successful in is grabbing the attention of the world.Putin's reaction needs to be measured. Although this will ensure us a strong ally in the War on Terror, we also need to consider the effect Putin might have on the legitimacy of the war. We certainly need to consider how this effect will be displayed in a media where Abu Ghraib is worth more reporting than all the good news from Iraq
. I think we'd be wise not to underestimate the possibility that sympathy for Russia in an on-going battle against terror could evaporate if he is seen to be taking action that is considered too tough in Chechnya. Of course, there is no political solution to a battle with Wahabbi extremists - but there isn't with the most militant Palestinians either. The trick is that not everyone recognises this.Here's a round-up of the most interesting comment and analysis to come out of the British media Saturday -
A Guardian editoral
comes up with the usual answer of liberal internationalists to, well, anything - 'an agreed, collective, non-violent, international response.' The fact of Putin going to the Security Council is interesting to reflect on because of what it says about Russian internal politics (he needs the panacea of legitimacy, help, etc.), but I won't join this journalist in thinking it'll change anything on the ground: you'd have to think the UNSC was an effective/powerful institution to believe that.
has a round-up
of Russian press reaction to the siege.
The Telegraph editorialises intelligently
about the need to balance sympathy for Russia with concern that her actions in Chechnya may be pathological. This raises the important question of: Is the support of Putin's Russia ultimately going to help or hinder the war on terror? Bush's strength is an asset because it is moderated by wisdom and humanity. Can we say this about the ex-KGB officer from Leningrad?
An LSE prof at The Times is entertaining a chilling prospect
: there seems to be no solution to the Russo-Chechen conflict, so it's likely to escalate. And with the spread of WMD, escalation is going to mean many more deaths. Includes some historical context, which is much-needed in this situation.
In all, the events of the last few days encapsulate the global war on terror in microcosm. Violent and fanatical fundamentalists who cannot possibly co-exist with the civilised world have hijacked what might seem to the casual observer to be at least understandable causes and are using them as a springboard for mass murder. It hardly need be stated that an ideology that straps bombs to women and uses them to blow up children cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with, and cannot be dealt with in any way but through force. This is the real challenge facing the civilised world right now, and Beslan made it plain on our TV screens for one dreadful day.
posted by Andrew Gawthorpe @ 1:47 AM