beslan: turning point in the arab world?

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    Beslan: Turning Point in the Arab World?
    By Nonie Darwish | September 23, 2004

    In the aftermath of the Beslan school massacre, several Arab media outlets and politicians have taken a new, stronger stand against terrorism. It was welcome news to many that articles appeared in the Arab press, denouncing the attack, perhaps even signaling a turning point in the Arab world. The Arab street also did not indulge in its usual celebrations, in which adult men and women cheered acts of terror committed against the children of infidels. The Beslan tragedy even brought out some Arab critics who are against the way Islam is being taught.

    However, there are other reasons other than just sympathy for the little Russian victims that are causing critics of terrorism to appear in the Arab media (But one still wonders whether the Arab media would have treated it in the same manner, if this vicious attack had taken place in Boston instead of Beslan).

    The way Arabs look at Russia and the former Soviet Union is different from how they regard western democracies, especially the United States. Arabs do not want to wake up the Russian bear, because they know that Russia will deal severely with its enemies and do so without the baggage of political correctness that we are all familiar with in the United States. They know that America the Superpower is bound by its morality, public opinion and often exercises self-restraint, even in its War on Terror.

    Iraq serves as a good example. Muslim terrorists there blow up churches, fellow Iraqi citizens, murder Americans and then hide in their mosques. They then dare the American soldiers to go in and bring them out, or even to touch their holy shrines. But the terrorists who burn churches then run into a mosque know exactly what they are doing and, moreover, that they can get away with it if the enemy is America.

    Russia, on the other hand, is a different kind of world power, and, in many ways, can react with a brutality equal to that of the Arab world. Russians will not introspectively ask, “Why do they hate us?” They will react severely against a terrorism that kills their children. Russia might not strive to retaliate with limited surgical attacks on terrorists, but will likely react with an old-fashioned bombing of whole city blocks, subjecting its enemies to a lot of casualties and collateral damage. The Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan was brutal, and the Muslim world still remembers that. And it is unlikely the political opposition in Russia will demand a more “sensitive” war on terror after the tragedy in North Ossetia.

    The Chechens, the perpetrators of the Beslan attack, are simply Russians who practice Islam, but now want to split from Russia and form an Islamic state of their own. However, a separate Chechnya could bring a lot of trouble to Europe and Russia. Such a Muslim state, with its loyalty to radical Muslim countries, would end up becoming yet another playground of terror controlled from Mecca in the heart of Europe.

    It is believed that there were Arabs among the Beslan terrorists, proof of a Middle East connection. And this connection, if followed, will probably lead to Saudi Arabia. The wealthy Saudi Arabs are respected in minority, non-Arab Muslim communities first and foremost because they are the keepers of the holy Muslim grounds of Mecca and Medina and because they speak Arabic, the language of the Quran. That gives them greater credibility when interpreting it. Many Muslim minorities in other countries believe that whatever comes from the Saudis are direct orders from in the words of the Prophet Mohammed himself.

    The Saudis lure poorer Muslim communities into their circle with oil dollars that are desperately needed there. The Arab influence on and support of these communities are not benign or harmless; their basic goal is the fueling of resentments and armed resistance against the larger community, within which the Muslim minorities live. And as soon as the Muslim communities take control of an area or become the majority in a city, they demand a form of separation.

    Most Arab countries have also openly supported these Muslim separatist movements worldwide, such as in the Philippines and Chechnya. But the Arab world is now in a panic, since it realizes that by having given financial and moral support to all these movements in the past to turn against their non-Muslim nations, it has created monsters. Arab countries cannot hide the fact that they have caused much bloodshed and turmoil in all these minority-Muslim regions and should take responsibility for it. Now, they are trying to save face by denouncing terror in these regional conflicts that they helped create. It is time for Arabs to let go and leave them to live in peace in their own communities.

    One hopes the lesson of insurgencies involving Muslim minorities serve as a wake up call to the West of what can happen when Muslims congregate in a one section of a state or country and refuse to mix with the rest of the population. That is how all these hot spots of Muslim turmoil in the world began that the Arabs are now manipulating.

    However, by their actions, Arab countries are now experiencing shrinking support for Arab causes in the realm of world public opinion. They have turned many of their traditional friends into critics, and even their money might not be able to buy them favor internationally any more. With terrible acts of terrorism having been committed against France, Spain and Italy and other nations, the Saudis and other Arab governments should expect to receive a strong condemnation of their activities from the nations of the world, hopefully through the UN, and hopefully very soon.

    Ms. Darwish is an American of Arab/Moslem origin and a former editor and translator
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