While terrorism perpetrated by groups or individuals is rightfully condemned, state terror is too often celebrated. Medals are awarded and parades held in honor of bloody campaigns that would be labeled criminal if they were carried out with small arms and suicide bombs instead of tanks and high altitude bombers.
Following the double suicide bombings on Moscow’s subway system in late March Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demanded that those responsible be scraped “from the bottom of the sewers.” His tough talk echoed statements he made in 1999 when he promised to “pursue the terrorists everywhere” and “rub them out in the outhouse.”
After following them into Chechnya with 90,000 Russian troops Putin emerged from obscurity and climbed to the upper echelons of Russian power by prosecuting one of the most vicious and brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in modern history.
Painting the centuries-old struggle for Chechen independence as an Islamic extremist movement, Putin ordered a scorched-earth campaign in the Caucasus. It featured the extensive burning of Chechen homes, mass extrajudicial executions, the systematic rape of Chechen women and indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas, including the near destruction of the capital, Grozny. The Russian invasion of Chechnya killed between 30,000 and 40,000 Chechen civilians out of a population of one million.
Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has done extensive research on the motivations behind suicide bombing. As he found in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Pape concluded that Chechen suicide terrorism is a last resort against brutal military occupation.
Of the 63 Chechens who killed themselves in suicide attacks since 2000, 40 percent were female. These so-called “Black Widows” sought to avenge a husband, child or close relative killed by occupying Russian soldiers. The murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya once said that the Black Widows “are trying to force Russians to feel the same pain that they have felt.”
It’s becoming harder to tell the difference between those occupying the halls of power and those who live in the margins, shadows and sewers.