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Root causes

September 5th, 2004

There is no excuse or justification for terrorism. But that doesn’t mean it is inexplicable, the product of purely irrational evil impulses. There will always be people willing, under certain circumstances, to resort to terrorism. If we want to fight terrorism effectively, we have to avoid creating those circumstances.

Successive Russian governments created the conditions in Chechnya that allow terrorists like those responsible for the Beslan atrocity to flourish. There was a long history of oppression, from Czarist times to mass deportation under Stalin. But the current outbreak can be traced most directly to the actions of Yeltsin and Putin. When Chechnya sought independence from Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin’s response was one of brutal and incompetent repression, eventually leading to an effective Russian withdrawal, and the creation of a failed state, in which warlords and militias flourished, and terrorism established itself.

After a series of Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow and an attempted invasion of the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, Putin came to power with a policy of crushing Chechen resistance, which he implemented with high civilian casualties and the destruction of much of the capital city of Grozny[1].

Again, this history doesn’t justify, excuse or mitigate horrible crimes like the one we have just witnessed. But there is also no excuse for those who advocate policies that are bound to promote terrorism while rejecting any analysis of “root causes”.

fn1. Those interested in a more detailed history can find what seems to be a pretty good one at Global Issues. This is a leftwing site, but seems to give fairly objective coverage.

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  1. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 07:51 | #1

    Shorter James: I want evidence that the Russians are mass-raping and mass-murdering people in Chechnya, so I’m not going to read the history of the Chechen war mentioned above, but I did actually take a minute or two to listen to a snippet on an Australian radio programme. You know it’s odd, the way that I never seem to come across information that changes my mind about anything.

  2. Brian Bahnisch
    September 7th, 2004 at 09:43 | #2

    d the big point about the Lateline interview with Martin McCauley is that we have no information other than what we’ve had from the Russians and that seems designed to mislead. The Russians, he says, don’t want us to believe it is a domestic Russian problem.

    McCauley does a good job in delineating other likely possibilities.

    Another possibility was given on AM this morning. That was that the Chechens did it to stir up religious/ethnic conflict in the area so they could take advantage from the chaos.

    Quite simply, no-one knows, except perhaps the Russians and you can’t trust them. So it is far to early to blame international Islamist Jihads or whatever.

  3. Fyodor
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:06 | #3

    Jack,

    As always, you’ve made some important and interesting points, but I disagree violently with the following set of assertions:

    “The ultimate (root) cause of terrorism is the failure of Arabic countries to construct civilised social institutions that allow indvidual autonomy but maintain social authority.

    A series of subjugations and divisions have thwarted their institutional passage to modernity. Arab nations never got a chance to develop political civilisation. The Ottoman Empire supressed the development of local Arab civic institutions.

    Islamic law tends is antipathetic to capitalist legacy. Large businesses must be divided between heirs on the death of their owners. This discourages the accumulation of wealth..

    Finally, the Islamic religion is chronicly schizoid. They split into Shiite and Suuni sects. There has never been a single centralised ecclesiastical authority to lay down the law. Paradoxically, this has made it difficult to seperate the Church from the State when modernity came aknocking.”

    First off, the Arabs/Muslims do not have a monopoly on terrorism. People of many different religions and ethnic groups have resorted to terrorism when placed in extreme conditions: Irish catholics, Communist Chinese, Buddhist Vietnamese etc. There’s nothing unique about “Islamic” terrorism. The fact that Arabs resort to terrorism says much more about their weakness in the relative balance of power than about the particular social, political or religious attributes of Islamic countries.

    Secondly, you seem to be suggesting that the terrorism emanating from Arab countries is driven by the socio-political backwardness of these countries. This may explain the opposition of fundamentalists within these countries against their own governments, but does not explain their attacks on Western targets.

    What DOES explain terror attacks on Western targets is the West’s interference in the region and, in particular, the USA’s hegemony, which regularly takes an anti-Islamic flavour. The running sore in this regard is Israel, and the USA’s inability/unwillingness to play the role of a truly honest broker between the combatants in that conflict. Opponents of this Western interference resort to terrorism because they are so hopelessly overmatched in conventional power by the West, not because there is a particular bias towards terrorism in the Arab or Muslim consciousness. It has nothing to do with birth rates, modes of inheritance or the theological/secular divide in governance.

    By referring to “irritants”, “xenomorphs” and “immunological reaction” you are deliberately – albeit perhaps unintentionally – sanitising the root cause of the problem: the West, and primarily the USA, have stuffed up the Middle-East, and opponents in the region are retaliating the only way they can, with terrorism.

    The solution should be obvious to a devotee of Machiavellian realpolitik: stop pissing off the natives, force a resolution of the Israel/Palestine issue and encourage the evolution of Islamic countries towards secular government and all the economic goodies that liberal capitalism can bring.

  4. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:08 | #4

    It is overly simplistic to ascribe Chechen terrorism to “oppression” or atrocities by the Russian army.

    As Fyodor correctly summarises, there was a marked Islamicisation of the Chechen campaign in the late 90′s, with the appearance of suicide bombers, involvement by outside Islamicists, and Chechnya changing over to an Arabic script. This seems to have been driven by external interests and financing, and seems to have wider aims than expelling Russia from Chechnya. Putin understood this new threat but the West at the time rejected his attempts at explanation.

    There have been atrocities by both sides, and it is puzzling that it’s only the Russians who are condemned.

  5. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:14 | #5

    In connection with the atrocity, there is a big difference between inadvertent death in war and the deliberate targeting and murder of children. If any further pointer was needed, it’s provided in the needless torture by thirst and the deliberate shooting into the backs of fleeing children.

  6. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:33 | #6

    “… it is puzzling that it’s only the Russians who are condemned.”

    Read the post before this one, Tony. And even in this post, I referred to terrorist attacks in Moscow.

  7. michaelh
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:34 | #7

    Tony’s right that we tend to ascribe a great difference between the ‘inadvertant’ killing of civilians in war and by terrorism.

    While this is perfectly rational, I think it probably makes much less difference for the surviving families who’ve seen their children killed, whether it was by terrorists’ bombs or the bombs of a regular military force.

    And in resposne to Niall,it’s just as true that,

    ‘religious causes’ only become obvious when they appear to fit one’s overall ideological viewpoint.

  8. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:42 | #8

    JQ, my apologies if there was a suggestion I was referring to your commentary when I wrote “it is puzzling that it’s only the Russians who are condemned.” I was not. There has been a lot of commentary on that theme in Western media, preceding the current atrocity.

    Perhaps it has resulted from the extreme danger that Chechnya posed to journalists, which has deterred media organisations from on-the-ground reporting.

  9. Martin Pike
    September 7th, 2004 at 12:18 | #9

    James, I get most of my info from sources like the Guardian. Seriously, and I’m not trying to be a patronising w****r here, but if you haven’t heard for years of Russia’s conduct in Chechnya then you need to review your news sources. Sure, the G is lefty, but what about Times international or the Economist?

    You asked for it, so i’ve found it, a summary of the issues in the centre-right Economist:
    http://www.economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3170269

    Note this key quote:
    “Though there is some evidence of links between al-Qaeda and Chechen rebels, the conflict in Chechnya is essentially a home-grown problem in need of a home-grown solution. Many of the terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere have been carried out by “black widows”—Chechen women who have lost family members in the conflict—not foreign jihadis. Women were reported to be among the hostage-takers in Beslan. It was the carte blanche given to Russian security forces to abduct, torture and kill young Chechens suspected of rebel ties that spawned the black widow phenomenon. “

  10. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 13:01 | #10

    This 2003 Washington Post article is one among many that report the Islamicisation of the Chechen conflict.

    The Guardian is notoriously one-sided in its discussion of this subject. I would add also that the Global Issues summary in JQ’s introduction seems to present a sanitised view.

  11. Martin Pike
    September 7th, 2004 at 15:08 | #11

    It’s a good article Tony. The Guardian is left of C but also puts more effort into actual reportage in un-trendy areas of the world; it is genuinely global in outlook.

    But you have more right wing options that are still good for keeping tabs on such issues as they spring up- for example the Economist, or the UK Times.

    Assuming both the articles in the previous couple of posts have some merit to them, wouldn’t that suggest a carrot + stick approach? Attack the causes (the repression etc that has the locals opening their arms to the Arab pseudocolonialists) and simultaneously attack al qaeda et al (focussing on its heartland, and financial channels)?

  12. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 21:13 | #12

    Martin, I honestly don’t know. These events where people kill each other always have multiple layers of interpretation. They enormously increase my respect for diplomacy and people like Kofi Annan. I hope we can start avoiding these types of things.

  13. September 7th, 2004 at 23:46 | #13

    Causes of terrorism are many. Putin classifies editors of newspapers as terrorists ….

    The well-regarded Raf Shakirov editor of Russia’s top daily newspaper, Izvestia, has been forced out over the graphic coverage of the Beslan hostage tragedy (via Radio Liberty)

    Unless Russian society demands a change in policy toward Chechnya, the prospects of change rest solely in the hands of Putin, a man who, on the issue of Chechnya, has over five disastrous war years showed himself to be a chronically limited, vicious, failed leader The Beslan school massacre as a Chernobyl moment; 9/11 The discovery of the financial backing of the two hijackers ‘would draw a direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia, and trigger an attempted coverup by the Bush administration …

  14. September 7th, 2004 at 23:53 | #14

    The only way to minimise international terrorism is to drop the Good vs evil crap that western leaders such as george, john w, and putin go on with.
    I mean George says he is good and calls on his god for guidance and then turns around and gives the nut case leaders of Turkmenistan and uzbeckistan arms until the cows come home.
    And the scaring thing is, George will continue to decide our foreign policy if he and John W are reelected.

  15. September 8th, 2004 at 15:43 | #15

    Of course, it could be that the perpetrators saw the killing (and raping) of kaffir children as their religious duty. This, combined with a world view which sees the Muslim convinced of his inherent superiority and constantly confronted with evidence to the contrary, is an extremely toxic mix.

    It seems to me that many in Umma believe that being of equal status to Christians, Jews, Atheists and other infidels constitutes being ‘oppressed’.

    Caving into the demands of the Islamists over Chechnya is about as helpful as caving into the demands of the Nazis over Sudetenland.

  16. September 8th, 2004 at 17:41 | #16

    Of course terrorism isn’t caused just by a religion. Nobody is that stupid. Surely! Surely?

  17. Fyodor
    September 8th, 2004 at 19:07 | #17

    murph,

    I don’t think many Chechens believe that they have equal status within the Russian Federation, as testified by the fact that the Russian army keeps raping and killing them. So, yeah, they probably have some right to feel “oppressed”. That may explain why they want to secede.

    I believe your last sentence is factually incorrect and also violates Godwin’s Law, so isn’t really helpful.

    John Humphreys,

    Please read Dan Hardie’s comments earlier in the thread. He provides a much more insightful and helpful analysis of the situation than the usual RWDB explanation of muslim = terrorist.

  18. nikos
    September 8th, 2004 at 22:44 | #18

    I GENERALY AGREE WITH YOU ,BUT IT SEEMS RUSSIA HAS GREATED A SMALL PALESTINE NEXT DOOR TO THEM , HISTORIC LESSONS WERE NOT LEARNED BY BOTH PUTIN OR BUSH THEY BOTH HAVE GREATED THE PROBLEM .IT STARTED WITH PALESTINE (CO-SPONSORS OF THE PROBLEM ARE EX-USSR-USA – ISRAEL ,AFGANISTAN THEN IRAQ ,ALL THE ABOVE HAVE CREATED TERRORISTS – BOMB ATTACKS-HIGHJACKING PLANES-SUISIDE BOMBERS ETC.THE FIRST IDEAS OF TERRORISM ON THE MUSLIM WORLD CAME FROM THE PALESTINIANS WHICH IN THE PAST HAVE DONE SEVERAL TERRORIST ATTACKS AND STILL ARE DOING(BOMBS ETC). BUT THEN WE HAVE ANOTHER ISSUE WHAT PEOPLE CAN DO WHEN THEY ARE CORNERED TO A WALL WITH NO ESCAPE ROOT OR JUST AN ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION??
    THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THIS ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION AND SAVE THE WORLD FROM THIS ATROCITIES WHICH HAVE BEEN DONE IN THE NAME OF LIBERATION ,OF LIVING A LIFE AS HUMANS , OF ISLAM .
    ANOTHER ROOT OF THE PROBLEM IS LITERACY , THE MIXTURE OF ISLAM WITH NON EXISTENT LITERACY ,EDUCATION ,CIVIL LIBERTIES ,LEAVES THE IMAMS OF ISLAM AN OPEN FIELD TO EXERCISE THEIR BRAIN-WASHING TO THIS PEOPLE, OF LIFE AFTER DEATH STRAIGTH TO PARADISE WITH THE URI( WOMEN ) OF PARADISE WAITING FOR THEM .THATS WHY THE TERRORISTS IN THE BESLAN OSSETIA SAID THEY DO NOT FEAR DEATH , ALL HAD A TICKET TO PARADISE BY SOME “CLEVER” IMAM WHO DID THE BRAIN-WASHING.
    WELL WHATS THE ANSWER TO THIS ?? FIRST THEY SHOULD FIND WHO IS SUPPORTING THEM ,WITH MONEY ,ARMS,ETC ACTUALLY WHO IS BEHIND ,LANDEN? THE SAUDIES ?? OR SOME OTHER REGIONAL COUNTRY ??
    STOP THE MONEY AND ARMS !!! AND THEN TRY TO FIND A SOLUTION .LOOK AT AFGANISTAN AFTER 5 YEARS MORE THAN HALF OF THE COUNTRY IS RUN BY WARLORDS ,USA DID NOTHING WITH THEIR ARMIES ,STILL THE PROBLEM IS THERE ,LADDEN OR HIS BUDDIES ARE AT LARGE !!AND STILL IT SEEMS ,EVERYONE THERE ,HAS ITS OWN PERSONAL ARSENAL OF SMALL ARMS AND MONEY TO BUY THEM .LOOK AT IRAQ THE INFRASTRACTURE OF THE COUNTRY DESTROYED,POLICE ,ARMY,EDUCATION SYSTEM,HEALTH SYSTEM,SOCIETY, AND STRAIGHT AFTER WE HAVE THE RISING OF IMAMS -ISLAM WITH PERSONAL ARMIES OF FANATICS READY TO SUICIDE ON THEIR ORDERS.
    WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE ?? WELL FIRST TAKE OUT THEIR LEADERS -LIKE SADDAM AND THE REST OF THE HIERARCHY OF THE REGIME ,STOP THE MONEY TRAIL AND THE FINANCING OF TERRORISTS, BUT NEVER-NEVER I SAY AGAIN NEVER TARGET THE PEOPLE ,NOT EVEN BY MISTAKE OR OTHER ( SEE THE PRISON ATROCITIES IN IRAQ BY USA FORCES,OR THE DESTRUCTION OF GROSNY BY RUSSIANS OR THE DESTRUCTION OF HOUSES BY ISRAELIS OR THE PRISON ATROCITIES BY USA IN AFGANISTAN ,OR PLANE BOMBINGS )GIVE HOPE TO PEOPLE ,GIVE THEM A FUTURE ,STOP KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE BECAUSE THAT CREATES FANATICS-TERRORISTS – READY AND OPEN FOR THE IMAMS GUIDANCE.
    I BELIEV THAT BOTH PUTIN AND BUSH NEED A BUNCH OF NEW ADVISORS,BETTER INFORMATION SERVICES,BETTER STRATEGIC PLANNERS FOR THE LONG TERM – HOW TO HANDLE SITUATIONS LIKE THIS ,WE WOULD HAVE AVOIDED 11/9 ,BESLAN ,AND MANY OTHERS . THE STRAIGHT AND OPEN WAR TO THEM (TERRORISTS)IS NOT THE SOLUTION AS I EXPLAINED ABOVE OR THE HEAD STRONG OPINIONS .LIKE ,THIS IS THE WAY/SOLUTION ,TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT ,AND IF THEY DONT TAKE IT WE BOMB THEM!!!THERE IS NO OTHER WAY ??? JUST BOMBS???
    ALSO THEY SHOULD MAKE AN AGREMMENT ,UNITED NATIONS ,OR SOME INTERNATIONAL BODY ON THE PUNISHMENT OF TERRORISTS -THEIR SPONSORS -THEIR SUPPORTERS ,WHEN THEY TARGET/KILL CHILDREN .

  19. September 8th, 2004 at 23:08 | #19

    Does anyone remember this-hey,hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today?

  20. R J Stove
    September 10th, 2004 at 20:47 | #20

    There is one aspect of the Beslan horror which perhaps is worth noting here, because no journalist in a major Australian newspaper can be bothered with it (although anyone with expatriate Russian or Baltic friends is bitterly conscious of it).

    That aspect is the media near-deification in recent days of KGB heavy Putin. And by extension of the entire Communist slave empire which, you know, “collapsed” 13 years back.

    Save on blogs like Professor Quiggin’s, I have not discovered a single local reference since the school atrocity to the career of Putin, who braggingly refers to himself as a “Chekist”; and who – displaying a gift for effective symbolism scarcely inferior to Lenin’s own – revived “The Internationale” as national anthem, in addition to leading the campaign to restore Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Moscow statue. (Both these phenomena are sufficiently well documented on the Internet to obviate the need for URL links here.)

    So while the most vocal elements of Australia’s mass-media commentariat are howling about the need for us Westeners to bail out Putin in the War on Terror (what, if not terror, do they seriously imagine the Russian army has been bringing to Chechnya for the last decade? Tiddly-winks?), my own heartstrings remain resolutely unwrung by Putin’s sob-stuff. I grieve, of course, for all the foully murdered victims, above all the children; for the Putins of this world who exploit such carnage, I harbour the same disgust which is aroused by convicted paedophiles.

    The peculiar susceptibility of Australia’s commentariat to Putin’s opportunistic born-again Soviet gangsterism deserves an article to itself. How much of it is the result of provincial ignorance (it is chilling to encounter, again and again, tertiary-educated opinion-makers who have never even heard of Dzerzhinsky, let alone of his crimes!)? How much of it derives from active malice? Others must answer that question.

    Professor Quiggin deserves to be thanked for the reasonableness of, in particular, his “Root Causes” entry. Reasonableness is not a quality much in evidence among the antipodean yelping classes – “chattering classes” scarcely begins to convey the predominant noise levels – at present.

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