WARNING. This is some heavy stuff and I don't really go anywhere with it. Just be warned.
60 Minutes is doing a powerful story on the Theater seige in Moscow last year. It is very illuminating. It is drawn from an HBO documentary, "Terror in Moscow" which will be re-run next week.
The most important message that it delivers is a reminder of why there cannot be a knee-jerk condemnation of terrorism. Although the methods are deplorable, they can be understandable. There is a world of difference between a group who is suffering extreme abuses from a ruling power resorting to these actions, and those who are just doing it to advance an ideology. Simply put, there is a difference between the Timothy McVeigh's and Osama Bin Laden's of the world and the Palestinians, North Ireland Catholics, Chechens, and other such groups. I deplore their tactics, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't sympathetic. I can write off the terrorists who are fueled by hate. But those fueled by a sense of self-preservation are much more challenging. These are people who are involved in a genuine struggle which is taking the lives of so many around them. Their tactics are wrong, don't mistake me. But these aren't impossibly evil people. They are humans and that is something we need to confront.
The Russians didn't do themselves any favors, either, in trying to get the terrorists portrayed as impossibly evil. All the more so now that we can see some of the film from inside the theater during the seige. Although the terrorists were completely prepared to die for the cause (and completely expecting to) they were also clearly ready for a dialogue. The Russians tried to claim that their attack occured because the terrorists started killing hostages, but that was a blatent lie. Although a hostage was killed, it was about as accidental as it could get in that kind of situation. It certainly wasn't an assasination. The Russians knew this. They had already planned to attack the hostages after tricking them into thinking the Russians wanted to talk. Then, the Russians pumped in a gas to incapacitate, well, everyone. The lead terrorists understood what was happening and left to another position where they put up a final fight with the Russians. Left in the theater were the so-called "Black Widows". These were female terrorists who had bombs strapped to them which they were prepared to set off. Except, they didn't. They could have killed everyone, including the Russians who raided the building after the gas took effect, but it didn't happen. Instead, once they were all unconcsious, they were all killed by the Russian soldiers. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that, really, but I'm also not going to condemn it. The women could have killed a lot of people if they were playing possum, and I'm not sure the Russian army made the wrong choice there. But, its still killing someone in cold blood. Do you risk the killing a lot of people or do you kill a defenseless person just to be safe? It seems like a complicated question. Except for one thing.
The Russians killed a lot of people all on their own.
Now, just to be clear, NO hostage was killed in the process of raiding the building. No hostage in the building when the Russians started gassing the building was killed by a hostage taker. Not a single one. They were all killed by the "recovery" opperation. A whopping 129 of them. For a variety of reasons, too. Some were killed because they were left unconscious laying face-up in the rain and they choked to death. Others never recovered from the gas because the authorities have never admited what was in them and they waited days before even giving doctors a clue of what was killing these patients. To be sure, it was the terrorists who put the hostages in harms way, but that should not remove responsibility on the Russian authorities to seek to protect them. Yes, they saved hundreds, but 129 people is still 129 people. I just think of the scrutiny given the US government over the seige at Waco. There is an example where I'm not sure we did things right and I think lives were lost because of how our government acted. And there has been considerable media, judicial, and legislative scrutiny of those actions. Indeed, a quick study to refresh my memory revealed an overwhelming majority of sites which are extremely (excessively, I would say) critical of the government's action. And here, there is a legitimate arguement that the deaths of the people in the compound are the responsibility of people inside the compound. No such arguement can exist in the Moscow Theatre case, yet the international reporting is largely deferential in some measure. The Russians have been brazenly lying about the seige from the begining, but the facts aren't as easily covered up as they were in the Soviet Union. 2 people were killed by the terrorists. 129 were killed by the Russians. (and no, I'm not counting the dozens of hostages killed in that number)
In America, it is easy to see terrorism in terms of black and white, good and evil. That is what our experience with terrorism has been. It has been 9/11. It has been Oklahoma City. It has been the Trade Center bombing. So, it can be easy to view other struggles with terrorism around the world in the same light, but this would be grave mistake. We mustn't give oppressive government's a blank check to do whatever they want in the name of combating terrorism. Its just not that simple. And we sully our nation's good name when we rubber stamp some of the brutal efforts around the world. The real crime is, its not just England, Russia or Israel that we're talking about. Although in each country, I feel they have committed horrible acts but I don't see them in good/evil terms either. They are complex issues on both sides and both can elicit sympathy and condemnation. Though I'm annoyed at our silence in the face of some of the shamefully haphazard attacks that have been launched on Palastinian civiliains (I'm sorry, but no one can justify sending missles into residential areas to carry out political retribution assinatiations), I'm more troubled at the way we are rubber-stamping the actions of governments we know damn well are being oppressive. Nations we can see in black/white, good/evil. Because we're letting them get away with murder, literally, as long as they say they are acting in the interest of homeland security against "terrorists".
Sorry, I know you guys the light stuff, and I half-considered switching gears half-way through and instead commenting on the 60 Minutes story on Undercover Marketing, but I just wanted to get this out and its my blog so I get to do that. hehe. Just be glad I'm not talking about Baseball.