This morning I listen to the news. The Russian military has stormed a school
held by Chechen terrorists, possibly with some al Quaeda
help. Hundreds are dead, including many, many children. I think perhaps that dead children was the terrorist objective
Terrorism is a political act. It is the act of a relatively powerless group to remind the powerful that they too can be hurt, to make them fear. The primary difference between al Quaeda and its terrorist predecessors is the willingness to engage in atrocity for its own sake, the lack of concern for collateral damage, including the willingness to murder people from within the group the terrorists purport to defend. That and the intention to die. Previously terrorists primary goal has been publicity. They traded a hostage for time, concentrating on primarily symbolic acts, pinpricks to a society. No more. Now the emphasis seems to be on terror only, an attempt to intimidate. They wish to show their targets they cannot protect themselves, that the only road to safety lies in submission.
Bestial deeds do produce terror. Suicide magnifies the power of the terrorist by turning that person into a smart bomb. Within bounds, the strategy is effective at gaining publicity, of keeping a cause visible. But that's it. A realistic appraisal shows terrorism has no hope of victory. Minor adjustments may be made, but suicide bombers are not the sort of people interested in modifying the status quo. They're going for a knockout.
The deliberate targeting of children has pushed terrorism across an important threshold. They crossed that boundary deliberately, for terrorists know that nothing is more important to any society than its children..
But in doing so they also count upon the restraint of the nation-state. Nothing causes more fear than a threat to children. At the same time, nothing causes greater bitterness, and more rage in return than their murder. It is a bitterness and anger that will grow in time, while the fear will fade. Make no mistake, that in doing this the Islamic extremists who began this atrocity are very much dependent upon the restraint of the Russian people. I would never argue that Russia has not conducted this war without some resort to savagery. But this round of the war also began in response to a terrorist attack, the deliberate destruction of a Moscow apartment complex, a target that in no way could be called military.
The terrorists run a grave risk in that in threatening Russian children their own may also come at risk. Many would argue that they are already at risk as innocents caught in the crossfire of a brutal war. Russian troops have killed some children. Some may have been killed deliberately, as a by-product of the emotions of war. The deliberate killing of children is always an atrocity. But random acts of poorly disciplined soldiers are very different than a policy of exterminating all children.
Terrorists can murder children here and there. Only a nation-state possesses the power to exterminate them en masse. Terrorist can terrorize, but their terror is a candle in the wind compared to the terror a power Russia can bring to bear should it will so. The men and women who murdered hundreds in Beslan have exposed their own children to attack. During their attack they counted upon the fear and restraint on their victims. Today as the bodies are identified, and maimed succored, they count upon the humanity of their victims, a humanity they have willingly sacrificed.
I am aware that Palestinian terrorist have targetted Israeli children in the past, without israel responding in kind.