Hard News by Russell Brown

Innocents II

It would seem some other blog has linked to Monday's post, because yesterday afternoon I got a sudden rush of emails whose collective message might be paraphrased as "YOU ARE A FRIEND OF THE CHILD-MURDERING TERRORISTS! AN APOLOGIST FOR AL-QAEDA! YOU HATE AMERICA! YOU DISGUST ME! WHAT ABOUT THE ARAB HOSTAGE-TAKERS!?"

I don't excuse the hostage-takers in Beslan. How the hell could anyone excuse that? I object to the characterisation of them as "rebels" and refuse to call them that (actually, I realised I had used the word further down the original post and took it out later on). Indeed, they may have fatally damaged the kind of Chechnyan separatist cause to which it might be possible to say that "rebels" would rally.

My offence, of course, was to note a context for the atrocity in Beslan: that of the genocide in Chechnya. I didn't think that was particularly outrageous - the Guardian editorial said much the same thing, if in much better prose:

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said that he considered the event a declaration of 'full-scale war' against his nation. But depraved terrorism of this type does not come unannounced. Russian forces fighting the two wars in Chechnya have distinguished themselves with their own brand of brutality - killing, torturing, maiming and kidnapping with equal abandon and disregard for the rule of law.

Putin's policy of a draconian crackdown and his failure to even countenance a limited degree of self-determination in some parts of the Caucasus has been a policy doomed to fail. He has become a recruiting sergeant for terrorists and an excuse for those with the darkest of motives to hitch a ride on the feelings of powerlessness among the people of the region.

For most of my correspondents, all that "killing, torturing, maiming and kidnapping" appears not to have existed because they didn't see it live on television. But one, George Fleet, actively approved of it:

You ask how I feel about 50,000 Chechen dead? Exactly the way I felt about Japanese and German civilian casualties of WW2 - a sad but unavoidable consequence of standing up to tyranny.

Try and think before you say things like that, George. And then don't say them.

Michael Cambridge noted darkly that "[you] couldn't even bring yourself to mention the arabs amongst the hostage-takers. Hardly surprising, you only referred to the fact they were Muslim obliquely." Well, yes, because it's still not clear there were any Arabs. The Russian government put forward the claim, but it has been contradicted by hostages. And one of the reasons for the public anger at the government within Russia (which has accompanied and in some cases rivalled anger about the atrocity itself) is that it has already admitted to lying about the events.

It may be difficult to discover exactly what happened now that Putin has ruled out any inquiry, but the Seattle Times has a roundup of present information on the hostage-takers, which leads with the claim that some of the group objected to the taking of children and were killed by their commanders.

Former Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings has an insightful column on the nature and evolution of terrorism in the wake of Beslan. He concludes thus:

Once the world's surge of compassion for the victims has faded a little, the challenge for any responsible government is to assess terrorism, whether that of Chechnya or Palestine or al-Qaida, without sentiment. The only questions that should matter are whether the grievances represented by a given movement receive a political as well as a military response (viz the Good Friday agreement), or whether governments persist with exclusively military policies (viz Sharon, some people in Washington whose names momentarily escape me, and Putin). The fact that what has happened in Ossetia this weekend is unspeakable does not make Putin any more likely to win his Chechen war.

A couple of other correspondents seemed to object to my objection to Donald Rumsfeld promising a "strengthening [of] political and economic relationships" with Uzbekistan's psychotic dictator while his own State Department was preparing to cut him off. Perhaps it's time we had another look at the ol' Memory Hole favourite Senior US Officials Cozy up to Dictator Who Boils People Alive.

Human Rights Watch's 2004 report on Uzbekistan, Creating Enemies of the State: Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan, is here. It details an extreme and brutal campaign of religious persecution, encompassing torture, rape and murder. The country's significant Islamic movements might not be philosophically admirable by our lights, but they do appear to be non-violent. At any rate, Karimov also persecutes ordinary believers (actually, the laws with which he nationalised religion allow him to do the same to, say, Christian missionaries, or even anyone who worships in a non-state sanctioned church).

Is it really not possible to consider that perhaps the unwelcome growth of Wahhabism there (and in Chechnya, for that matter) is a consequence of such brutality, rather than a motive for it?

Anyway, many thanks to John Cathcart for directing me to this very arch column written (before the hostage-taking) under a pseudonym by a Moscow journalist, who cocks an eye at the Chechen elections and has fun drawing comparisons between Chechnya and Iraq. No one does black humour like the Slavs ...

Barrister Anthony Trenwith was in touch regarding yesterday's comments on the prison overflow, which, he says "is going to lead to more litigation like that over the Behaviour Modification Regime treatment at Paremoremo prison. Already applications for injunctions are being prepared to stop corrections continuing to hold prisoners in the Manukau District Court cells." He expands on the theme in his own blog.

August saw by far the highest monthly injury toll yet for US forces in Iraq. The injuries also seem to be getting worse.

The George W. Bush cocaine story is back - although, amusingly, it's from the safe distance of London, where the Daily Mirror is previewing Kitty Kelly's new book, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, which quotes his former sister-in-law Sharon Bush claiming "Bush did coke at Camp David when his father was President, and not just once either." The Mirror story says he is also alleged in the book to have done more than his share of hoovering in the course of his soft National Guard posting.

At the same time, Daily Kos notes an unsourced Indymedia post ("how's that for unsubstantiated?") claiming that Kelly's book contains far more lurid allegations than even those above. Hmm …

Meanwhile, FactCheck.org has a comprehensive summary of the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, with particular regard to the shifting stories of his accusers. Media Matters notes that Swift Veterans for Truth altered its website account of one incident after realising that it conflicted with the account of its star witness. It's unnerving that an election could turn on this sort of sleaze.

And, finally, all manner of dramas over at IdolBlog. I trust that Paul Ellis has already offered the young lady an apology …