Russia, rebels, and Islamic terrorism

Mark Steyn chides the mainstream media for referring to the attackers who raided the Southern Russian city of Nalchik last week as “insurgents,” “rebels” and “militants,” rather than “terrorists,” and for downplaying the Islamic connection.

I see his point about political correctness in the media, but I’m also of two minds about this issue.

There is no question that right now, the radical Islamic terror network has a major presence in Chechnya and other traditionally Muslim (but until recently, secularized) regions in the Russian Republic. However, I also believe that this is a case of the Islamofascists exploiting a separatist movement that originally had non-radical, secular political goals — and exploiting the plight of a people brutally terrorized by the Russian state. The Russian Army under Putin has conducted a genocidal war in Chechnya, subjecting civilians — including Russians living in the region — to indiscriminate aerial bombardment, massacres, and torture. Murder, looting and rape by Russian soldiers routinely go unpunished. By portraying its war as a part of the War on Terror, the Russian government has gotten the West to look the other way. It goes without saying that Chechen terrorists have facilitated this task by committing such unconscionable crimes as the school hostage-taking and massacre in Beslan. And yes, religious fanaticism is undoubtedly a part of the picture. But the picture is also more complex than recognized by Steyn and others who want to see a seamless web of “Islamic terrorism” from Nalchik and Beslan to the West Bank to Fallujah to the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

For my take on these issues after the Beslan massacre, see this column. See also this little-noticed open letter to President Bush from Elena Bonner and Vladimir Bukovsky, two former Soviet dissidents and strong supporters of the War on Terror, who warn against treating Putin’s Russia as an ally in this war.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Russia, rebels, and Islamic terrorism

  1. Anonymous

    Don’t put Nalchik, which is the capital of the relatively prosperous Kabardino-Balkar Republic, in Chechnya. There are ethnic tensions between the two major ethnic/language groups, but Chechny-based Islamists are attempting destabilization here, as in Ingushetsia, and wherever they see an opening throughout the Caucasus.

    Alene

  2. Cathy Young

    Oh, I know that Nalchik is not located in Chechnya, Alene! I’m just saying that in Russia, ethnic hostilities and the repressive policies of the Russian state are a major factor.

  3. thecobrasnose

    Good point about the roots of the Chechnya insurgency, but I don’t think Steyn is being naive in folding it into the GWOT. The native combatants seem to have gotten much more mileage out of their association with Islamic terrorists than Putin has by glossing over Russia’s atrocities. The pre-September 11 one two act between GWB and VP has seriously puttered out over the past few years, and I don’t foresee the US whole heartedly backing fierce Russian aggression in Chechnya any more than Russia did the US in Iraq (though I grant you in advance that their motives are very different).

    But as Steyn noted in a different article, most of the terrorism in world is between Muslims and somebody else (including less compliant Muslims). Why the effort to conceal that fact?

  4. Rainsborough

    Terrorism, the deliberate killing of the innocent, should be condemned. But it doesn’t follow that reporters are obliged to use pejoratives in referring to one side of a political conflict and not the other. Certainly not in this case, where the Russians have killed far more innocents than have the Chechnyans. And likely not in any case, where reporters meet their responsiblity by reporting the facts and leaving it to others to characterize them. Don’t call him a terrorist, just describe how he selected his victim and what he did to them. (And his view of his motives and justification–a demand for context is fair enough.) Then let the reader decide what to make of this “militant.”

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