Wars have always had inhuman results, no matter what is the scale. Since the early 20th century, terrorism has perpetrated mass killing of innocents, condemned by all moral values. Salafi jihadism in particular has produced extreme scales of bloodshed against civilians, comparing with the monstrosity of totalitarian regimes under Hitler or Pol Pot, among others.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and throughout the 1990s, Salafi terror groups operating from the Philippines to Algeria have butchered families, students, journalists, elderly, and the weakest elements of civil society.
Children, too, have been murdered during these ghazwas (jihadi raids). In the post 9/11 era, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Indonesia’ Jemaa, the Janjaweed in Darfur, and the Shabab of Somalia, among others, have bombed and slaughtered kids. The al-Muhayya bombing in Saudi Arabia, the Amman bloody wedding, and the Baghdad’s surreal infanticides are only examples as to how Salafi jihadists and Khomeinist operatives have gone in their devastation of children’s lives.
Obviously, the young souls lost in New York, Madrid, and London testifies to the universality of jihadi terror. The latter’s ideologues do not exclude children from their operations, regardless of any consideration: The “caliphate” can be built on the skulls of all enemies, Muslims and non Muslim alike. But five years ago in Beslan, the zombies of jihadism took the Caucuses’ population to an unreached low. Not only did the so-called “separatists” target specifically a school in the Russian town of Beslan, but they built their tactical goals on causing pain to the kids and their parents. We now know the details of the operation and have seen the atrocious pictures of boys and girls laying dead or being whisked out from the premises covered in blood.
However, even if massacres can’t be compared when collective punishments are exerted on the little ones, Beslan’s killings have something peculiar in its horror: a calculated will to display the scenery of captured children via media all over the world: The Jihadi Kamikazes were proud of doing it. For whatever the “Chechen cause” is, and regardless of the political debate surrounding it, Beslan’s savage “intention” shattered any demands the armed terrorists were allegedly advancing.
Fighting face to face or even as a guerilla is one thing; targeting children specifically is a very different matter. The real message from that tragic episode, at least the one that has registered in Russia and around the world, is that jihadi terrorism has no moral bounders. Or at least the Takfiri Salafi strain, which nevertheless is an emanation from Wahhabism. Neither the international community, nor the Muslim societies subscribing to universal human rights can accept the premise of such inhuman violence when it openly, unashamedly, and ideologically, legitimizes infanticide. There are simply no merciful spaces in any set of legal traditions, from Scotland to Jordan that can incorporate a legitimization of Beslan’s motives.
But regardless of legal and doctrinal debates, Beslan sent irreversible chills throughout the globe. Notwithstanding academic discussion of Chechen and Russian politics, the raw scenes affected moms and dads around the world. Mumbai’s urban jihad alerted citizens across the planet that it can happen in any city. But Beslan’s butchery awoke basic instincts of parents: it can happen in any neighborhood, any school. Even if top government advisers in Brussels and Washington are claiming jihadism is just a “spiritual experience,” this ideology has committed unforgivable sins. Its doctrinaires have often repeated (and were heard on satellite TV and in chat rooms) that punishment of the enemy can require millions of children dead.
Beslan’s long-term effect is going to harden democratic societies and crumble the argument that engagement with totalitarians can mitigate their actions. Only political development within civil societies where the jihadists are produced can isolate the radicals and reverse their advances. Ironically, women and children are the real hope against the terror ideology; and it is precisely these two weak segments of society that the terrorists have been targeting. The questions after Beslan and all similar horrors are simple: who is providing the “fatwas,” who is sending the petrodollars and what is the doctrine behind the violence. Everything else can be figured out when these answers will be provided.
Beslan is perhaps a unifying platform which must be seized promptly by the main players in international security.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia, and even China have all been targeted by Salafi Takfiris. The jihadists are aiming at the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as India and major Muslim countries. There cannot be a wider consensus at this stage of global politics than waging a U.N. campaign against global jihadism.
Way beyond al-Qaida as an organization, the Security Council must render its ideology illegal. Let there be discussion of the issue and let clarity win the day: There should not be room to any violence promising the rise of empires and totalitarianism, and grounded with ideological legitimacy. The fascist genocides of the 20th century were enough reasons not to allow this to happen again.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad” and a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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