|Pakistani children hold oil lamps and placards as they hold a vigil in memory of the school children killed during the Beslan school hostage tragedy. AFP/Aamir Qureshi|
The first rule, in your moral calculus as a combatant, is that you don't deliberately harm civilians. The second rule is that you most decidedly don't target children, say by taking them hostage, in your fight against the enemy. And, yes, there's a third rule: You observe the above two rules scrupulously, for by not doing so you ratchet up the scale of your uncivilized behavior so many notches that you put yourself beyond the pale.
We may never know what triggered the massacres of well over 350 civilians, half of them children, at a school in Russia's Caucasus town of Beslan, not far from Chechnya, where the victims appear to have perished in the bomb blasts, automatic weapons, grenades and crossfire of a rescue attempt gone horribly awry.
We may never know because Russian officials are notorious for withholding information from their public when they botch a rescue operation, as they are equally notorious for refusing to exhaust all options open to them before they take drastic action.
In October 2002, it will be recalled, President Vladimir Putin, opting not to negotiate with Russian guerrillas holding hostages in a Moscow theater, ended up killing 250 of his own people when he ordered, again before other action was considered, that a deadly gas be pumped into the interior of the building.
Typically, the government-controlled media at the time, which never revealed the exact number of dead, claimed improbably, indeed comically, that the victims died of, well, "stress."
This time around, Russian authorities stormed the school on Friday, again without any plan, and ended up creating a scene of unspeakable carnage, with piles of corpses of children and their parents strewn around - followed by officials in Moscow providing the usual prevarications, false statements, and rumors (known to Russians and dismissed by them as "lozh").
Then, in an egregious display of double-speak Putin invoked the specter of "international terrorism" to define what in effect is a regional conflict in Chechnya, triggered not only by a genuine struggle of a repressed people for national independence, but also by this repressed people's reaction to the abominable atrocities that Moscow's occupation army has inflicted on them all these years.
By identifying Chechens as "prestupnik," or bandits, he shifts attention away from how Russia has refused all these years to face up to the realities on the ground in Chechnya.
After Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered an invasion of the rebellious Muslim republic ten years ago, his troops turned Grozny, the capital, once a quaintly attractive city of 400,000, into rubble, strewn with copses, and caused tens of thousands of Chechens to flee their homeland.
Commenting on that, the Washington Post editorialized last Friday: "President Vladimir Putin has since made the situation worse, launching a second invasion, cutting off the region from aid groups and journalists, refusing negotiations, and allowing Russian troops to torture and torment Chechen civilians."
Instead of seeking a long-lasting reconciliation between Russia and Chechnya - a nation that for the last 300 years has endured the yoke of Russian domination - Putin instead has sought to impose on the Chechens one puppet government after another, through one transparently rigged election after another.
Just as we may never know what brought about Friday's massacre, we may never know either what the ultimate aim of those Chechen militants was and what drove them, so callously, to take almost a thousand civilians hostage. Were they trying to make a point, perhaps to create among Russians an atmosphere of terror, panic and helplessness in order to remind them of the havoc sown in Chechnya by their occupation troops? After all, the history of Russian oppression - including the time in 1944 when Joseph Stalin ordered the mass deportation of the entire Chechen population to Central Asia in the middle of winter, which resulted in the death of 78,000 en route or soon after arrival - runs deep in the Chechen archetype, historical sensibility and collective memory.
This, however, we do know: Chechens do their long-suffering nation and their just cause no favor by seizing a school and taking children hostage.
The families of the victims, along with the traumatized survivors, of this dreadful event deserve our complete sympathy.
Fawaz Turki can be reached at [email protected]
Source : Arab News
Related posts from similar topics: