The news out of Russia is grim and sickening by any standard, even by the
post 9/11 levels we've sadly become accustomed to.
Not only did the terrorists pick on a school and use children as pawns - bad
enough - they denied them food and water and forced them to stand in windows to
keep the Russians from shooting them.
We don't fully understand why things ended up the way they did - if negotiations
were feasible, if a violent end was avoidable. That will be sorted out in
What we do understand so far are two things: first, that this is a level of
barbarism that one cannot take in easily. As difficult as it was (and is)
to watch the footage from 9/11, particularly when you see the bodies falling and
hear the thuds as lives end on pavement, rather than in flames, the photographs
from Beslan are far worse. If you have the stomach to look at them, you'll
have to look around, because you can't get them through google: apparently they
are too shocking.
What you will see is bloodied infants, dead first graders shot in the back,
small children taken out, their lives shattered before they have even started,
and rows of small, destroyed, bloody bodies.
As is often the case these days, the terrorists are Islamic.
However, what is different, and encouraging, is that the outrage which sweeps
across the rest of the world after an event like this has now been picked up in
the Muslim world as well: from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya, among other
nations and regions, disgust and horror is being clearly registered.
And secondly, while the furious outrage over this barbaric behavior is
universal, there are still enough people who are willing to do this sort of thing, and there's no guarantee that they won't do it here. Among the difficult issues which have arisen in the recent Russian attacks (including the airliner attacks) is the use of women as terrorists and suicide killers.
Even after Columbine, we can't imagine that schools are equipped to withstand
this sort of attack. It has long been suggested that Al Qaeda will turn to
so-called "soft" targets in the U.S., something which would be
painfully easy to do (the logical question is: why haven't they then? and the
theory seems to be that they are gunning for a spectacular attack rather than
something fairly simple. The logical response to that question is: are
they tied to the Russian attacks or not?)
It's going to take some time to sort out not what happened - that's pretty
clear - but the who, how and why. The why is perhaps the most difficult
for normal people to understand. Why children? Why infants? What interpretation
of any religion, what political grievance can possibly justify that?
Look, it's not like the Russians are great innocents in the world. They have
plenty to answer for, not least of all how they have treated Chechnyans since 1945. But killing babies? Even if you believe that Russians have been barbarians in Chechnya, answering barbarism with barbarism is
just evil on evil. And it just guarantees more of the same.
And if you can handle additional heartbreak, read
this woman's story. We hope her other child survived. Her agony
is beyond comprehension.