Talk of a 'common enemy' is nonsense

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 April, 2010, 12:00am

'Whether you are in a Moscow subway or a London subway or a train in Madrid or an office building in New York, we face the same enemy,' said US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, responding to the twin suicide bombings on the Moscow metro system on Monday that killed 39 commuters.

Why is it that, whenever a terrible event happens somewhere, we have to listen to politicians talk pompous nonsense about it? Terrorism cannot be our common enemy, because it is only a technique. Enemies have to be people - and the people who use terrorist techniques, though some of them may be our enemies, have little in common from one place to another.

The Chechens, who are strongly suspected of being behind the Moscow bombs, are waging a quite traditional colonial struggle for independence. As they are Muslims, they have increasingly adopted the Islamist ideology now fashionable in Muslim revolutionary circles: these days they even talk of a 'North Caucasian Emirate'. But, in practice, their sole target remains Russia, the imperial power that oppresses them.

There have never been any Chechen bombs on the London underground, or on the commuter rail network in Madrid, or in office buildings in New York, nor will there ever be. Russia, like Israel, has been remarkably successful over the years in selling other countries on the notion that they must maintain a joint front against 'terrorism', but the fact is that the only terrorist threat either government faces is from its own subject peoples.

Chechnya, which was conquered by Russia in the mid-19th century but rebelled every time the Russian government was weak or distracted, declared its independence in 1991. Moscow tried to reconquer it in 1994-96 in a war that left Grozny, the capital, in ruins and about 35,000 Chechen civilians dead. The rebels actually defeated the Russian army, and a ceasefire in 1996 was followed by Russian recognition of Chechen independence in 1997. But, Vladimir Putin reopened the war in 1999, and Chechnya has been back under the Russian heel for the past 10 years.

None of this has the slightest relevance to people outside Russia, nor does the anti-Russian terrorist campaign that was the inevitable aftermath of the Chechen defeat. It is as localised as Basque terrorism afflicting Spain or the occasional terrorist killings carried out by diehard Republican groups in Northern Ireland. And as pointless, for the Chechens, too, have decisively and permanently lost.

All terrorist attacks on civilians are wicked, because they transgress one of the few boundaries that we have managed to place on war. Most wicked of all are attacks that are mere vengeance, after all hope of victory is gone.

That is what the Moscow metro bombings are, and therefore they are doubly to be condemned. But they should not be confused with some vast global terrorist conspiracy, although the Russian government naturally pushes that line. Let us hope that Clinton was just being polite to her Russian colleague when she took the same line. It would be very bad if she actually believed it.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries


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