[Mb-civic] the Hostage Takers: A More Pointed Analysis

RJ Mac nycrjmac at yahoo.com
Sun Sep 5 21:16:21 PDT 2004

Mark Steyn: No other word for it but slaughter

September 06, 2004

Photographed from above, the body bags look empty.
They seem to lie flat on the ground, and it's only
when you peer closer that you realise that that's
because the bodies in them are too small to fill the
length of the bags. They're children. Row upon row of
dead children, more than a hundred of them, 150, more,
many of them shot in the back as they tried to flee.

Flee from whom? Let's take three representative
responses: "Guerillas", said The New York Times.
"Chechen separatists", ventured the BBC, eventually
settling for "hostage-takers". "Insurgents", said The
Guardian's Isabel Hilton, hyper-rational to a fault:
"Today's hostage-taking," she explained, "is more
savage, born of the spread of asymmetrical warfare
that pits small, weak and irregular forces against
powerful military machines. No insurgent lives long if
he fights such overwhelming force directly . . . If
insurgent bullets cannot penetrate military armour, it
makes little sense to shoot in that direction. Soft
targets – the unprotected, the innocent, the
uninvolved – become targets because they are

And then there was Adam Nicolson in London's Daily
Telegraph, who filed one of those ornately anguished
columns full of elevated, overwritten allusions –
each child was "a Pieta, the archetype of pity. Each
is a Cordelia carried on at the end of Act V" – and
yet in a thousand words he's too busy honing his
limpid imagery to confront the fact that this foul
deed had perpetrators, never mind the identity of
those perpetrators. 

Sorry, it won't do. I remember a couple of days after
September 11 writing in some column or other that
weepy candlelight vigils were a cop-out: the issue
wasn't whether you were sad about the dead people but
whether you wanted to do something about it. Three
years on, that's still the difference. We can all get
upset about dead children, but unless you're giving
honest thought to what was responsible for the
slaughter your tasteful elegies are no use. Nor are
the hyper-rationalist theories about "asymmetrical

For one thing, Hilton is wrong: insurgent bullets can
"penetrate military armour". A rabble with a few AKs
and a couple of RPGs have managed to pick off a
thousand men from the world's most powerful military
machine and prompt 75 per cent of Hilton's colleagues
in the Western media to declare Iraq a quagmire. 

When your asymmetrical warfare strategy depends on
gunning down schoolchildren, you're getting way more
asymmetrical than you need to be. The reality is that
the IRA and ETA and the ANC and any number of
secessionist and nationalist movements all the way
back to the American revolutionaries could have seized
schoolhouses and shot all the children. 

But they didn't. Because, if they had, there would
have been widespread revulsion within the
perpetrators' own communities. To put it at its most
tactful, that doesn't seem to be an issue here. 

So the particular character of this "insurgency" does
not derive from the requirements of "asymmetrical
warfare" but from . . . well, let's see, what was the
word missing from those three analyses of the Beslan
massacre? Here's a clue: half the dead "Chechen
separatists" were not Chechens at all, but Arabs. And
yet, tastefully tiptoeing round the subject, The New
York Times couldn't bring itself to use the words
Muslim or Islamist, for fear presumably of offending
multicultural sensibilities. 

In the 1990s, while the world's leaders slept – or
in Bill Clinton's case slept around – thousands of
volunteers from across the globe passed through
terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and were then
dispatched to Indonesia, Kosovo, Sudan . . . and
Chechnya. Wealthy Saudis – including members of the
royal family – invested millions in setting up
mosques and madrassas in what were traditionally
spheres of a more accommodationist Islam, from the
Balkans to South Asia, and successfully radicalised a
generation of young Muslim men. It's the jihadist
component – not the asymmetrical one, not the
secessionist one – that accounts for the mound of
undersized corpses, for the scale of the depravity. 

If the Russian children are innocent, the Russian
state is not. Its ham-fisted campaign in Chechnya is
as brutal as it is ineffectual. The Muslims have a
better case in Chechnya than they do in the West Bank,
Kashmir or any of the other troublespots where the
Islamic world rubs up against the infidels. But that
said, as elsewhere, whatever the theoretical merits of
the cause, it's been rotted from within by the
Islamist psychosis. 

I wonder if, as they killed those schoolchildren, they
chanted "Allahu Akbar!" – as they did when they
hacked the head of Nick Berg, and killed those 12
Nepalese workers, and blew up those Israeli diners in
the Passover massacre. 

The good news is that the carnage in Beslan was so
shocking it prompted a brief appearance by that rare
bird, the moderate Muslim. Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the
general manager of al-Arabiya Television, wrote a
column in Asharq al-Awsat headlined, "The Painful
Truth: All The World's Terrorists Are Muslims!" "Our
terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted
culture," he wrote. This is true. But, as with
Nicolson's prettified prose in London, the question
remains: So what? What are you going to do about it?
If you want your religion to be more than a diseased
death cult, you're going to have to take a stand. 

What happened in one Russian schoolhouse is an
abomination that has to be defeated, not merely
regretted. But the only guys with any kind of plan are
the Bush administration. Last Thursday, the President
committed himself yet again to wholesale reform of the
Muslim world. This is a dysfunctional region that
exports its toxins, to Beslan, Bali and beyond, and is
wealthy enough to be able to continue doing so. 

You can't turn Saudi Arabia and Yemen into New
Hampshire or Sweden (according to taste), but if you
could transform them into Singapore or Papua New
Guinea or Belize or just about anything else you'd be
making an immense improvement. It's a long shot, but,
unlike Putin's plan to bomb them Islamists into
submission or Chirac's reflexive inclination to buy
them off, Bush is at least tackling the "root cause". 

If you've got a better idea, let's hear it. Right now,
his is the only plan on the table. The ideology and
rationale that drove the child-killers in Beslan is
the same as that motivating cells in Rome and
Manchester and Seattle and Sydney. In this war, you
can't hold the line against the next depravity. 

Mark Steyn is a columnist for Britain's Telegraph
Group and the Chicago Sun-Times. 

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