Obviously, the massacre in North Ossetia was horrible and evil and sick and wrong. It isn’t, however, in any way unique. Nor does it even approach the levels of evilness of the Holocaust, as some (genuinely) respectable commentators seem to be claiming. Update: see end of piece.
Closer parallels to what happened in Beslan last week can be found in El Salvador in 1981, as Nick Barlow points out. Not to mention militias herding 100 children into a building and burning it down, as happened in Honduras in May this year. Come to that, how many children did the Red Army kill in Chechnya again? The US Army in Vietnam and Cambodia?
I’m not sure why all these incidents count as less bad. Is it because the people doing them are our allies, and therefore are less likely to do it to us? Is it because the victims are poor and brown or black, and therefore aren’t quite so easy for white rich Westerners to emphathise with? Yes to both, I suspect.
There are sensible security reasons why people in the West should fear Islamic terrorism more than most of the horrible pieces of barbarism that go on in the world (with or without our backing). But to pretend that this makes the Muslim fanatics morally worse than all the other assorted evil child-slaughtering bastards in the world is, at best, not obviously morally correct.
Update 7/11/04: Norman Geras would like to point out that he definitely, certainly, ISN’T comparing this to the Holocaust in levels of evilness – which is reassuring (I was very surprised by the original Norm post as I interpreted it, given that he’s normally at the vanguard of the anti-Holocaust-trivialisers, which should probably have given me pause for thought). This is good, and I apologise profusely for saying otherwise.
I probably ought, in turn, to add that I didn’t intend to claim Norm considered the murder of 300 innocents equal to the murder of five million; my claim was more about the rarity or otherwise of the kind of evil that took place. I don’t belive the gunmen at Beslan are any more or less the Nazis’ spiritual heirs than the other groups listed above. I got the impression Norm belived they were somewhat closer. Still, poor show by me.
The collected US opinion polls show that George Bush’s combination of vacuous grandstanding and outrageous libels has put him significantly ahead of John Kerry – either the Newsweek 52/41 or the Time 52/42 poll alone would look like an outlier, but both together seem to spell trouble.
However, the latest Economist/YouGov poll (PDF), with fieldwork conducted at the same time as Newsweek and Time, has the two leaders neck and neck on 45%. John Kerry is still one point ahead of George Bush when undecided voters are asked who they’re most likely to pick, and Mr Bush still has a 53% personal disapproval rating.
The Economist poll has been largely ignored by the American media, presumably on the grounds that upstart Limeys haven’t got anything to teach the home of opinion polling – but if it’s more accurate than the other two polls, then George Bush is the one with serious problems. Here’s hoping…
We don’t yet know much about what happened in North Ossetia, in the sense of the motivations and ethnic origins of the murderers. A lot of people are jumping to the conclusion that they are Chechens. A subset of this group are also delivering blithering rants along the lines of ‘this proves that John Kerry is a poof and we should kill all brown persons’ (the cleverer ones disguise their intentions slightly).
My favourite so far is from Matthew Yglesias’s comments:
If Joe Stalin, the toughest motherfucker of the xxth Century couldn’t conquer these folks, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a Sensitive War on an “Exaggerated” War on Terror to resolve the issue. No, on second thought, let’s vote for Kerry and Wait until our kids are held hostage (JFK promises a swift response!)
You absolute fuckheads. If Joe Stalin, the most genocidal maniac of ever, “couldn’t conquer these folks”, this is fairly definite proof that your stupid solution of defeating a chiefly perception-related problem with overwhelming military force is doomed.
The Russians have tried overwhelming brutality in Chechnya. If this outrage is predominantly Chechen, then it’s a pretty good indication that overwhelming brutality is a discredited policy. This makes life difficult for the Russians, who can’t exactly reward the Chechen gunmen for what they’ve done – but at least it’s a lesson on what the West ought not to do going forward.
In short, vote Kerry.
Says John Kerry: “For the past week, they have attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander in chief. Well, here is my answer to them. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could’ve and who misled America into Iraq.
“The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I’m going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments make someone more qualified than two tours of duty.
“Let me tell you in no uncertain terms what makes someone unfit for office and unfit for duty. Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead our country. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this country. Letting 45 million Americans go without health care for four years makes you unfit to lead this country.
“Letting the Saudi royal family control the price of oil for Americans makes you unfit to lead this country. Handing out billions of dollars in government contracts without a bid to Halliburton while you’re still on the payroll makes you unfit to lead this country.”
Update: link to NYT article added.
Should bloggers shut the fuck up (apart from expressing sympathy with the victims) when people are dying from terrorist vileness?
Michael Brooke has a good response to my post against Harry’s Place removing comments on the current Russian disaster, pointing out that really, really, stupid people tend to say really, really obscene things about terrorist outrages on Harry’s site, and that it would be tactful to kick them out (and equally, for the less mad of us to also be quiet for a bit) until the fires are out and the bodies counted.
I’m not sure. The most important thing in a situation like this, as any kind of pundit, is not to be an arsehole to people who are close to the victims. Another September 11th could be directly relevant for bloggers in this context (a September 11th-scale attack on London, for example, would almost certainly involve someone I know dying). But the chances that a relative of someone in a remote bit of Russia would be browsing the English-speaking blogosphere today, unless they were actually trawling for punditry on the attacks, are low.
I also agree with Michael that there are seemlyness issues going on; it *is* tasteless to be punditing while people are still dying. I’ll leave open the question of why this doesn’t apply to Darfur, and move onto what – to me at least – is more fundamental.
The death of about 250 children (I hope to God the toll doesn’t rise any higher, although it is below what I was fearing when the army moved in this morning) isn’t a tactful or tasteful occasion. It’s a fucking disgraceful occasion. We *should* be angry about it. We should be fucking angry with the terrorists, and even though I disapprove of extra-judicial killing, I’m glad at this moment in time that the Red Army slaughtered most of the bastards. We should also be fucking angry with everyone else who created the situation in which this happened, from Stalin through to Putin.
And I win the award for overuse of ‘fucking’.
I don’t know. If I had arseholes like Nazi Rasta Dave visiting my site, maybe I’d delete them. Maybe I’d even close comments. But on some levels, I’d rather keep them there and keep them open: at least that gives us an insight into the whiney, self-justifying, nonsensical mindset of the people who actually commit these outrages.
I’m most impressed by this picture. While it appears to be of Giles from Buffy holding an unusually hairy ice cream cone up in the air by its 99 flake (always a dangerous activity), it’s actually a picture by Patriotic Artist Scott LoBaido, of Dubya bearing aloft the severed head of Osama Bin Laden.
Good to know the rightists are still taking all that ‘due process’ stuff seriously… oh, and how long until Mr LoBaido is declared Official Artist of the Theocratic Junta? (via Green Fairy).
According to Channel 4, “This might well turn out to be the most awful terrorist attack of our times”. Seems unlikely, given that not even the most pessimistic projections show more than 1/3 the WTC death toll. Or is this another manifistation of the bizarre paedocentric thing, under which society considers Maxine Carr to be worse than someone who’s *actually murdered* a grown-up?
Conservative hawk John Cole would probably have me shot as an effete leftist limey Dhimmi traitor if he got the chance. However, he’s dead right re Dubya’s ‘deficit? pah!’ convention speech – a summary is: “I accept the nomination, and if I win, I intend to fund every imaginable program possible so the Democrats can’t say I am mean.”
Harry’s Place is an excellent blog, but it’s infuriating the way they turn off the comments when people start to be moderately offensive, as in this post (among others). Thicker skins required in the pro-war left camp, methinks.
(I hope no-one’s seriously going to claim that the Norht Ossetian school terrorist outrage *isn’t* an appropriate opportunity to discuss Russia’s brutal and failed counter-terrorist policy. What more appropriate opportunity could there possible be?)
A group of sensible French Muslims is following the lead of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in issuing a manifesto denouncing antisemitism, sexual inequality and homophobia, while affirming their commitment to their religion.
It’s yet more evidence that Islam in the developed world is following the example of Christianity and Judaism and evolving tolerant, liberal wings that still retain their faith. This shouldn’t be a suprising development, and it’s only the influence of loudmouth ‘Muslims are unassimilable’ bigots that has made it even vaguely so.