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.