Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, September 06, 2004
AS USUAL, it's Mark Steyn who knows how to prick the pretension of the high-minded liberals who have failed so utterly to describe, let alone prescribe for, the enormity of the Beslan massacre. His round-up of the reaction among commentators in the British and US press is worth reading in itself.

He then gets to a few obvious points the others have missed. Some extracts:

We can all get upset about dead children, but unless you're giving honest thought to what was responsible for the slaughter your tasteful elegies are no use. Nor are the hyper-rationalist theories about "asymmetrical warfare".

When your asymmetrical warfare strategy depends on gunning down schoolchildren, you're getting way more asymmetrical than you need to be. The reality is that the IRA and ETA and the ANC and any number of secessionist and nationalist movements all the way back to the American revolutionaries could have seized schoolhouses and shot all the children.

But they didn't. Because, if they had, there would have been widespread revulsion within the perpetrators' own communities. To put it at its most tactful, that doesn't seem to be an issue here.
Steyn is referring to the Arab and Islamist contribution to the Beslan massacre, and assuming that early reports on this will be confirmed.

According to Henny Herald today there is "rising disgust" in Arab states at the murder of innocent hostages. If Los Angeles Times writer Megan Stack is right about that, it's been a long time coming. She quotes Egypt's "highest-ranking Imam" producing the usual Islamic leader's response: the perpetrators are simply "not Muslims", by definition. This was also the line advanced on ABC television news by the spokesman for the Victorian Islamic Council, Bilal Cleland.

(You may recall that Cleland two years ago took an evangelical Christian group to Victoria's VCAT tribunal on a charge of religious vilification after three of his co-religionists gate-crashed a discussion on the Koran held by the group, and were offended by what they heard.)

This form of denial quarantines Middle Eastern Islam, in particular, from any responsibility the behaviour of those who act in its name and draw material and moral support from it, and from its foreign-resident representatives like Sheik al Hilaly of the Lakemba mosque. Meanwhile the doctrinal, moral and material support continues to flow from the Saudis in particular to the murderers. As it does, the ABC promotes a documentary that suggest fundamentalist Christianity lies behind the US foreign policies their authors disagree with, so providing a leftist mirror image of Islamic denialism.

It ignores the fact that overwhelmingly the Islamic world sees conflicts involving Muslims and non-Muslims as part of a universal campaign against Islam, and supports the Islamic side. With such religious endorsement the doctrine of Jihad is available to any conscientious Muslim to act as perpetrator or supporter of terror. And so it goes, while most liberal opinion remains in its own form of denial.

Perhaps the Russians will now ask the Israelis for advice on ways of discouraging such monstrous indifference to humane feeling among the Islamists. I suppose they've already blown up the family homes of the Chechen perpetrators, but what action should Russia, an oil exporter, demand of the Arab states behind the Arab perpetrators?

Should there be resort to the doctrine of collective responsibility, a brutal practice used by both sides in real wars to discourage free-lance militants? If some carefully targeted form of retribution had any chance of proving effective, would liberal opinion support it?

We're still living through the phoney war stage in the war on Islamist terrorism.