the Disillusioned kid: The School Siege: 'Lenin', Horror and Why It's Relevant
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Saturday, September 04, 2004

The School Siege: 'Lenin', Horror and Why It's Relevant

The school siege in North Ossetia which ended yesterday, leaving over 150 dead, has horrified the world, not without good reason. Stories of children being taken hostage, starved, forced to drink their own urine and then being shot illicit entirely understandable responses in all right-thinking people (and presumably a lot of wrong-thinkers as well). However the way that the story has been covered in the dominant media presents a slightly misleading picture of Chechen barbarians versus an entirely innocent Russia. (I'm talking here about the wider geo-political situation. The children in the school are entirely innocent and those who would treat them so cruelly could, not inappropriately, be described as barbarians, a point to which I turn below.)

'Lenin' makes an interesting point in this regard:
...when that bus was detonated in Israel recently, the media coverage of it seemed to imply that everything was going along just swimmingly until this happened. On Russia, they have not been quite so obtuse but the fact is that it has taken a series of grotesque episodes to produce even a particle of discussion on what is being done to Chechnya.

So, what has been done to Chechnya? Here are a few clues:

1) 150,000 civilians killed in the second war alone.

2) Rape.

3) Killings, disappearances & torture.

4) Arbitrary detention, shootings and looting.

5) The conscious targeting of civilians.

To be sure, this should never be confused with what was done to those school-children - I do impose a very precise distinction. For one thing, this makes the siege of a single school look small-time. For another, no Chechen group could even dream of matching the deathly results of Russian policy.

The most important difference, however? No pictures.
The point he makes is, I think, right in many respects, but misses one crucial element. The consequences of killing somebody from miles away and at six feet are little different, nonetheless there is something particularly horrific about the latter. To be able to look into the eyes of a child and still be able to kill them is nothing short of barbaric. If one factors in the fact that the victims were children, presumably a deliberate choice, who were entirely incapable of defending themselves, I don't think that expressions of horror are misplaced, which takes nothing away from the brutality and immorality, not to mention illegality of Russian policy in Chechnya.

In case anybody thinks that this is all very tragic, but irrelevant to us, I draw your attention to Zeynep Toufe's remarks:
Probably a lot of people are thinking that it's just so far away. What could possibly be the repercussions of events in Beslan, Russia where this unfortunate school was located, or the war in Chechnya where tens of thousands have died and hundreds thousands displaced as Russia tries to keep control over a people who clearly desire independence? Yes, it is all far away. So was Afghanistan at one time.

This is now a world where methods, weapons and cruelty quickly travel and boomerang around the globe. We pay no attention at own peril.
Subsequent Update: 'Lenin' has posted a comprehensive response to my criticisms on his blog.

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