Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How Should Rebels Rebel? Truth, Terror, and the Tragedy in Moscow

I am still not quite recovered from the shock of the horrific bombing of two Moscow subway
trains on March 29th, which killed at least 38 people and left scores more maimed and seriously
injured. Preliminary reports, while not complete or definitive, seem to suggest that the
attacks were carried out by two women bombers who might have been affiliated with separatist/
nationalist rebels in the North Caucasus region of Russia. The translation: the bloody conflict
between Russia and the majority Muslim territory of Chechnya is far from over.

Some "experts" have suggested that the bombings were done in retaliation for Russian
attacks on known Chechnyan nationalist leaders, or perhaps for the ongoing warfare between
the Chechnyan nationalist forces and Russia. Despite the perception that the Russian army
was victorious over the rebels, and that the rebellion has ended, the Moscow bombings would
suggest that the bitter warfare continues.

But we are left with the question of how a struggle for independence ( or autonomy) should-and should not-be carried out. And all of this now brings to mind the 19 years of bloodshed since the declaration of Chechnyan independence in 1991, which led to the deaths of some 15,000 Russian troops and perhaps 300,000 or more Muslim civilians in the territory.

My first response is that the slaughter of innocent civilians is simply unacceptable, whether for Muslims or for any human beings engaged in conflict. The consequence of the killings in Moscow will only be bad-bad for Muslims who will feel the iron fist of retaliation from Russia, and even worse for the prospects of an eventual resolution of the conflict itself. This renewed cycle of violence is likely to leave Russia more violently militarized, and thirsty for revenge, while innocent Muslims in the North Caucasus will suffer even more.

But my second response is even more pessimistic, because it involves the calculation that the political aims of the parties responsible for the carnage now cannot be heard over the din of the explosions and the cries for vengeance. from the Russian people.The people slaughtered on those trains in Moscow were not combatants. They were, most likely, ordinary working people, like the ones who ride Metro trains anywhere in the world. It is not definitely known that the attackers were Muslims, but the Russian and the international press have already branded them already as "Islamic terrorists".

The likely outcome of this will simply been more virulent hatred of Muslims in Russia, and more intransigence from Moscow on the question of peace and autonomy for the Muslim-majority areas in the old Soviet empire.

There are, no doubt, legitimate grievances that Muslim peoples have with the Russian Federation, and the issues have not been resolved in the least. But in my opinion, the way forward to justice, however justice is imagined, does not go through the path of terrorism and the murder of non-combatants. This is a lesson that the great Mahatma Ghandi taught the entire world, but sadly, it is a lesson that most of the world has forgotten.

Nonviolent direct action in the pursuit of justice is morally legitimate, and in the final analysis,
the best way for a righteous cause to win. Terrorism, which is contrary to the laws of God and all human rights norms, is not.

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