We need to ask why these Chechens use terror

We may loathe this act, but that is no excuse to

misrepresent the excruciating struggles of the Chechen


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

28 October 2002


Well, at last, and for the worst of all reasons, we

are buzzing about Chechnya like furious bees. In that

sense, at least, those homicidal men and women who

took over the theatre in Moscow achieved something.

They were callous. They imprisoned the innocent,

killed three of them and terrified the rest, until the

Russian authorities stormed in leaving more a hundred

dead and many more injured. The media and the Russian

authorities describe them as Muslim separatists, not

as paramilitaries fighting for freedom from Russian

occupation, which is how they see themselves. We may

loathe their latest act of terror ? and I do without

reservation ? but that is no excuse to misrepresent

deliberately the excruciating struggles of the Chechen

people, which, in the eyes of radicalised Muslims is

just one more example of how unfair the world is to

their people.

Depressingly, the only time Muslims get seen and heard

by the world is when the pitiless among them turn to

sickening violence or if they threaten Armageddon.

Until this happens, their grievances and aspirations

are ignored or crushed by the powerful. When it

happens, moral authority is claimed by the latter to

perpetuate accusations against all Muslims. Serb

nationalists are not seen as Christian terrorists, nor

did their activities ever blight all other Christians.

But Muslims are different. We now know, guys, that

damned Muslims are the indisputable barbarians in the

new globalised world where all the rest of humanity

has embraced the postmodern universe of pleasure and


Even Russia, our old enemy now smiles and shakes our

hands. Old Communists are so much more civilised than

these clothheads who did the twin towers, Bali and now

Moscow, not to mention all those sniper murders in and

around Washington. All bloody al-Qa'ida, obviously. I

wouldn't be surprised if Ulrika was molested by a

Muslim (you know how they are with blondes).

You could see this as the continuation of what Edward

Said and other scholars have called "Orientalism", the

demonisation of and unjustifiable violence against

Muslims through history. Did you know, for example,

that Muslims were persecuted from 1820 to 1920 across

Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including in

Bulgaria, Georgia and, yes, Russia? Tolstoy described

this in the 1840s: "Russian soldiers did not let the

women and children escape the horrors that followed as

they entered the houses under the cover of darkness,

horrors no official narrators dared describe."

For months now I have thought about an eight-year-old

girl who was repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers in

Chechnya after watching her mother go through the

same. The child apparently did not cry at all and let

the men push her on to the next, then the next rapist.

She told her aunt she did not want to upset further

her bleeding and screaming mother. Her father had been

shot and her two brothers had disappeared, and like

the African American writer Maya Angelou, who was

raped as a child, this girl is now wilfully dumb.

Chechnya is full of shallow mass graves with chunks of

bodies, hacked or blown apart. Vanessa Redgrave last

year hosted a meeting in London with Ahmed Zakeav, the

Minister of Culture in Chechnya, a deeply civilised

man who condemns terror and the vengeful brutality of

extremist Chechens. I believed his account of the

human rights violations by the Russian army ignored by

the US and UK. As the Palestinian academic Daud

Abdullah says in a recent essay: "After 11 September,

international criticism of Russia's human rights

record in the Caucasus faded into silence. By playing

the 'war against terror' card, Russia managed to

deflect attention [from] the extra-judicial killings,

detentions, torture and sexual abuse."

The rape story was e-mailed to me by a human rights

activist. I have known her for many years, and she is

no apologist for all things Muslim. Before this she

was in the villages of Pakistan where tribal leaders

were using rape as a weapon against families who

transgressed. She, like me, is a Muslim by birth and

one who struggles to keep her principles steady at

this time when Muslims do so much wrong and are also

much, much wronged.

If the raped child ends up with explosives strapped to

her body to blow up theatre-goers or sports supporters

or travellers, is it possible to understand her

actions? Or is this understanding itself criminal

because it is, in fact, showing tacit approval of

horrific acts by suicide bombers who are increasingly

targeting civilians? Yes, to the first and a

resounding no to the second. We need the courage to

ask difficult questions just when anger and outrage

are pushing us towards retribution where again the

innocent will pay a greater price than the guilty.

In this new world order, how do the oppressed secure

their rights or even have their voices heard? Passive

resistance would have no impact. They cannot win

straight battles because they are utterly out-armed

whether by Israel, Russia, India and, ultimately, the

US, whose expenditure on arms now exceeds that of

every other country put together. The Gulf War and the

war on Iraq to come are calculatedly unequal, with no

deaths expected on our side and no need to count the

bodies of the opposition.

To make things worse, this axis of good busily

promotes the worst leadership in troubled areas,

mostly people who can be bought off cheaply in return

for ensuring that nothing like real democracy or civil

society can emerge. For what will the powerful globe

runners do if there are assertive democracies in Saudi

Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Chechnya, or breakaway

republics in China? Why would they say anything

unpalatable to the Hindu fundamentalist Indian

government that allowed 5,000 Muslims to be massacred

in Gujarat after Muslim extremists killed hundreds of


Am I here turning Stalinist Muslims into the real

victims? No. I hate what they do. I hate their idea of

Islam. I hate their hatred for all things Western. I

reject the idea that the end justifies the means.

Suicide bombers, whatever the injustices they are

fighting, do more harm than good. They make it easier

for the enemies of Islam to make life even worse than

it has been for Muslims in the last 20 years. The

majority of Muslims worldwide would agree with me. But

we will not be believed because we cannot provide the

proof that is required of us; we will not parrot the

lies of Bush, Blair, Putin or Sharon, or of the BJP in

India. We can see too clearly that these leaders share

the responsibility for the terrifyingly unstable world

we are all now trying to cope with.

Unless they understand this, more and more angry young

Muslims will turn up to join groups that offer their

rage direction and weapons. And be very afraid because

they, too, are globalised; they are fighting a

guerrilla war in a world without boundaries.

Unconfirmed reports say that the women who held the

hostages in the theatre were from the Middle East.

Like the Britons fighting with al-Qa'ida, these are

the new transnationals. They are indestructible

because they are happy to die. They will always find

support and places to hide because for millions of the

disenfranchised, these obscene counterblasts may feel

like the only way to get a better deal for themselves

and their children.



Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information