Please make sure to read the entire piece, especially noting how he takes the media to task for their mischaracterizations of the terrorists who committed this heinous act against school chldren. Pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.
PHOTOGRAPHED from above, the body bags look empty. They seem to lie flat on the ground, and it’s only when you peer closer that you realise that that’s because the bodies in them are too small to fill the length of the bags. They’re children. Row upon row of dead children, more than a hundred of them, 150, more, many of them shot in the back as they tried to flee.
Flee from whom? Let’s take three representative responses: “Guerillas”, said The New York Times. “Chechen separatists”, ventured the BBC, eventually settling for “hostage-takers”. “Insurgents”, said The Guardian’s Isabel Hilton, hyper-rational to a fault: “Today’s hostage-taking,” she explained, “is more savage, born of the spread of asymmetrical warfare that pits small, weak and irregular forces against powerful military machines. No insurgent lives long if he fights such overwhelming force directly . . . If insurgent bullets cannot penetrate military armour, it makes little sense to shoot in that direction. Soft targets – the unprotected, the innocent, the uninvolved – become targets because they are available.”
And then there was Adam Nicolson in London’s Daily Telegraph, who filed one of those ornately anguished columns full of elevated, overwritten allusions – each child was “a Pieta, the archetype of pity. Each is a Cordelia carried on at the end of Act V” – and yet in a thousand words he’s too busy honing his limpid imagery to confront the fact that this foul deed had perpetrators, never mind the identity of those perpetrators.
Sorry, it won’t do. I remember a couple of days after September 11 writing in some column or other that weepy candlelight vigils were a cop-out: the issue wasn’t whether you were sad about the dead people but whether you wanted to do something about it. Three years on, that’s still the difference. 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”.
For one thing, Hilton is wrong: insurgent bullets can “penetrate military armour”. A rabble with a few AKs and a couple of RPGs have managed to pick off a thousand men from the world’s most powerful military machine and prompt 75 per cent of Hilton’s colleagues in the Western media to declare Iraq a quagmire.
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.
So the particular character of this “insurgency” does not derive from the requirements of “asymmetrical warfare” but from . . . well, let’s see, what was the word missing from those three analyses of the Beslan massacre? Here’s a clue: half the dead “Chechen separatists” were not Chechens at all, but Arabs. And yet, tastefully tiptoeing round the subject, The New York Times couldn’t bring itself to use the words Muslim or Islamist, for fear presumably of offending multicultural sensibilities.