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.