At Beslan an arcade of shattered lives competes for media attention. Here, the freelance Ronins of the Arab world teamed with reigning Chechen guerrilla Samil Basayev and spilled many thousand litres of blood. In inexplicable times, where the moral high ground is determined by the age of the newly dead, Beslan is right up there on the charts. A place where a Chechen clone of the Al Qaeda debated briefly the pros and cons of shooting children and decided that killing kids was an Islam-endorsed pursuit. Half of the 326 hostages killed in Beslan were children.
Fuelled by their demented vision of Islam, the goons, even in their most heinous discharge of fanaticism, perhaps, did us one favour. They provided space for Muslim moderates to speak out. In an environment where Arabs criticising terrorism often delegitimise themselves, the outpouring over Beslan was unique. A few samples. Strident criticism came from Abdel Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, ex-editor of London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat
“What a terrible record,” he then laments. “Does this not say something about us, about our society and our culture? If we put all of these pictures together in one day, we will see that these pictures are difficult, embarrassing and humiliating for us. However, instead of avoiding them and justifying them it is incumbent upon us first of all to recognise their authenticity rather than to compose eloquent articles and speeches proclaiming our innocence….”
Hasan Al-Batal wrote in Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam: “The day of horror in the school in Beslan, September 1, should be designated an international day for the condemnation of terror….” Columnist Suleiman Al-Hatlan wrote in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan: “If the ‘heroes’ of the Muslim violence and terrorism do not represent true Islam, then who does? The painful truth is that the acts of barbarism occurring at present are nothing but the natural consequence of generations of Muslims having been force-fed speeches (filled with) hatred for others…which deepened the backwardness and the ignorance in the Islamic world…. In our Islamic world, the voices of ignorance continue in their plans to develop the backwardness so that degeneracy and lack of direction reign even more.”
This and other critiques were fundamentally different from the 9/11 outpourings where there was a said as well as unsaid element of ‘the Americans had it coming’. Nobody’s saying that the children of Beslan had it coming. For this reason, it could prove a turning point in the fight against an enemy that proves its manhood by giving the world a compressed course in beheadings, explosions.
For long in the Muslim world, different groupings have blamed outsiders for their state of being. The Turks blamed their lethargy on the Arab dead weight. The Arabs pointed fingers at the Turks who ruled them for centuries. Before this, the Mongols were convenient scapegoats. The Persians, of course, blamed all three impartially. The recipients of blame changed with the arrival of the English and French. Now the US and Israel are the big bogeys. However, the influence of these western powers was an after-effect and not the reason for the weakness of West Asian states. In always blaming somebody else there’s a danger that you start putting forward a different and exaggerated take on events and, in due course, start believing your exaggerations.
As contempt for governments grows in the Muslim world, the mantle for violent change is falling on individuals and groupings—viz, Muktada al Sadr, the Hezbollah,
Osama bin Laden, Zarchawi and others. These Arab Bismarks hate the west more than they wish to live. It’s also time to rethink the view that Al Qaeda and co are reincarnations of some medieval djinn. They aren’t. Radical Islam is now a globally transportable ideology stemming primarily from the belief that a new world order can be crafted by a theatrical display of force. The idea that it can so be possible is an influence of radical European belief and not Islamic thought. It’s a byproduct of globalisation.
Says John Gray in Al Qaeda and What it Means To Be Modern, “Anyone who doubts that revolutionary terror is a modern invention has contrived to forget modern history. The Soviet Union was an attempt to embody the world without power or conflict. In pursuit of this ideal it killed, enslaved tens of millions. Nazi Germany committed history’s worst acts of genocide. It did so with the aim of breeding a new type of human being. No previous age harboured such projects. The gas chambers and the gulag are modern.”
And so are the beheadings set to Quranic chants. Right now, the only weapon of choice we seem to have against the terror that radical Islam wields is military power. But if our battle against terrorism has to be made more sophisticated, we have to realise sooner than later that the greatest tool at our disposal is the piety, decency, and courage of the world’s vast majority of Muslims. Beslan might be a catalyst for that introspection—on both sides.