Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 6 September 2004


It has been a shocking fortnight with one act of terror following another around the world, the most recent being the hostage taking at a Russian school, resulting in over 250 dead.   Whether in Russia, Israel, or Iraq, the violence is perpetrated by both sides, and they should be tackled at the root by long-term solutions, not through more brutality.

Acts of violence have increased around the world to new alarming levels in the past fortnight.  They constitute a deadly trend that begs the question—how to solve this 21st century crisis?   

Last week, the world watched with shock as television screens showed scenes from the Russian town Beslan where militants took over a school with 1,200 people hostage. 

The Russian authorities promised parents they would patiently negotiate a solution in order to protect lives.  But in the end soldiers stormed the school, and the ensuing chaos left more than 250 dead and 500 others injured, many of them children, and a nation in grief.

The incident quickly put the world spotlight on the conflict in Chechnya, which has a strong movement for independence from Russia and a demand that Russian troops withdraw from the region.

It is assumed that Chechen groups were behind the Beslan incident, as well as two other recent acts of terror:  the crash of two Russian planes at around the same time,  killing 89 people; and a bomb explosion at a Moscow subway that killed ten and injured 50. 

These acts have been soundly condemned, especially for taking innocent lives. They have however also highlighted the desperation of Chechens who have suffered thousands of deaths from their conflict with the Russian authorities since they declared their goal of independence in the early 1990s. 

Since plunging back into Chechnya in 1994, the Russian leaders and army have caused “such untold misery, such rank injustice, such fury and despair that, like the Americans in Iraq, they created a breeding ground and magnet for the religious extremists they struggle to extirpate”, wrote Simon Tisdall in the Guardian last Friday.

Ten years of destructive conflict, human rights abuses, massive refugee displacements and blatant flouting of international law have made Chechnya a matter of undeniable international concern, added Tisdall.

“The prevention of further terrorist attacks is fundamentally tied to Moscow’s deftness in handling grievances in Chechnya,” wrote Ben Wetherall, research analyst on Russia  at the World Markets Research Centre, London.  “Ultimately a long term solution can only be found by negotiating with the Muslim-majority republic’s secular nationalist rebels.”

Meanwhile, on 31 August, Palestinian suicide bombers caused explosions in two buses in Beersheba in Southern Israel, killing 12 and wounding 44 people.  These acts were widely condemned, including by the Palestinian Authority.

The next days, Israeli troops struck back, killing four Palestinians, blowing up two five-storey apartment blocks in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, and making many homeless. 

Again, whilst the acts of terror are horrifying and condemned, there are on the other hand also acts of violence and terror committed by the Israeli state, which in recent years have killed and injured thousands of Palestinians (including innocent people among them) and reduced many of their homes and farms to rubble. 

These acts of state violence are a source of bitterness and anger and in turn elicit a response from Palestinians.  

To break the cycle of violence, it is obvious that there must a settlement based on justice for the long-suffering and long-oppressed Palestinians, including the establishment of their own state as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, Israel seems to be getting its way almost all the time, and the support provided to it by the United States has resulted in the perception by most in the Arab and the developing world that the superpower is biased, unreliable and even culpable.

One reason that US President George Bush and UK Premier Tony Blair gave for going to war with Iraq is that the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime would create favourable conditions for accelerating the peace process in the Middle East.

That hasn’t happened.  The US has not exerted itself in an effective way in that direction.  In fact the Middle East situation is worse than before.

In Iraq itself, the occupying forces are caught in a quagmire.  The occupation is most unpopular and spawned the fierce Iraqi resistance which has not let up after the US formally passed over “sovereignty” to the interim Iraqi government.

Again, brutal attacks by the US forces against the resistance have been counter-productive as they stir up more hatred against the occupiers and result in another cycle of violence.

More than a hundred hostages have been taken in recent months by Iraqi groups to create pressures to get foreign troops and workers out of the country. Most recently, 12 Nepalese working in Iraq were taken hostage and killed.

On the other hand, thousands of Iraqis have been killed and many more injured by the occupation forces in battles at Najaf, Fallujah, Baghdad and elsewhere.

Again, the cycle of violence will go on until the occupation forces leave, and a legitimate government elected by Iraqis is installed.

The cases above seem to tell a similar story, that people in occupied countries or who feel oppressed by foreign powers, are likely to fight back, and they are now resorting to explosions in airlines and hotels, to suicide bombings and hostage taking, to inflict pain on the societies of their perceived enemies.

These are desperate acts by people who feel victimized by the brutality of their enemy and who strike back so that the enemy (including its innocent people) feel the anguish and pressure, and eventually leave. 

The root causes of the individual acts of terror should be tackled, if permanent solutions are to be found.

The Chechnya people’s aspiration for independence, the Palestinian people’s long-awaited quest for statehood and justice, and the Iraqi people’s desire to be rid of occupation forces and regain sovereignty and democracy, should be addressed.

For this to happen, the powers must be ready to move from brutal acts of reprisal to long-term solutions with the help of multilateral institutions like the United Nations.

Unfortunately, multilateral solutions were derided at the Republican Party Convention in New York last week.  California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was cheered when he proclaimed: “If you believe this country, and not the United Nations, is the best hope of democracy in the world, then you are a Republican!”

The right of the US to take unilateral military action was also a rallying cry.  The Democratic senator, Zell Miller, speaking at the Republican Convention, attacked John Kerry, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

“Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations,” said Miller.  “John Kerry who says he doesn’t want outsourcing, wants to outsource our national security.  That’s the most dangerous outsourcing of all.”

There’s a long way to go before those in power in the world give up the temptation of the brutal unilateral approach, in favour of long term solutions, backed by the United Nations, and based on justice and fairness.