Here We Go Again

I am currently watching Behind Enemy Lines. It has unfortunately chased my mother from the living room. She doesn’t enjoy movies like this, especially now that my brother is in the military and was recently assigned F16s.

In a particularly gripping scene a child and most likely, her father, are walking through an abandoned factory compound. You see the father lift his legs up high as he takes one step, apparently stepping over something that we cannot see so far back. The little girl hops over the unseen barrier as her father makes sure she doesn’t stumble into what we cannot see. The marooned American pilot watches with curiosity and then, you see the realization dawn on Owen Wilson’s face. He looks down and sees a trip wire barely a few feet in front of him. The compound is wired.

What strikes me is not the fact that Owen Wilson then runs through the compound to escape his pursuers and the fact that the entire compound is exploding all around him as he can hardly avoid every single wire. What hurts me is the fact that a child was aware of that wire and knew to jump over it. No child should grow up that way.

Watching this movie makes me think of Chechnya. It’s a small, semi autonomous republic in the Russian Federation. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it’s gone through two periods of civil war. There have been horrible atrocities o both sides, Russians storming Grozny and the Chechen guerrilla fighters who attack and then disappear into the mountains.

Things are getting better in Chechnya. Thanks to the heavy handed [and somewhat extreme] rule of Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has brought an unsettled peace to the Chechen people, although violence still occurs. Recently there an a bombing in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, likely carried out by some of the same rebels who have fought in two Chechen wars against Russian rule. And while towns have been bombed out, entire villages massacred and human rights ignored in countless other ways–the American public has no idea what has gone on and what continues to take place. Do you even know where Chechnya is?

Casualty estimates for the Second Chechen War range between 25,000 and 200,000. That’s a huge gap, but it just goes to show how unreliable the Russians are at recording and reporting on the chaos that has ensued within their borders. It also shows how much the information has been controlled coming out of Russia.  Of course, I think that Yeltsin made some great strides after the breakup of the USSR. At the same time, Chechnya has been kept under wraps and after Sept 11th, Putin used the excuse of fighting terrorism to continue the crackdown on Chechen freedom fighters (or rebels, depending on your persuasion).

At the same time, human rights groups jumped all over Palestine and Israel when the Second Intifadah took off in the summer of 2000. And we finally tried to bring Slobodan Milosevic to justice–but he died too soon in the Hague for that to ever be completed. Or there was Iraq where Saddam Hussein had to be taken out of power, and not only for the fact that he had committed human rights violations against his own people. Former President Bush argued on behalf o fhte United States and her allies that it was necessary to remove Hussein becuase of his supposed access to WMDs which threatened our national security. While the “Coalition of the Willing” entered Iraq in March 2003, people were still being killed and displaced in Chechnya as they had been for over a decade. But the US doesn’t hear much about the Northern Caucasus region. Why?

Because Russia is an ally of the United States, and Bush had already strained his relationship with Putin enough. There was nothing else he was going to do to threaten that political relationship. We want Russia on our side, and because of that, we are willing to turn a blind eye to the great crimes committed by both sides in the small mountainous republic that few have heard of.

_____________________

b. stephens writes an excellent article called “Our Selective Moral Outrage” comparing the anger felt by the American public against Israel versus their anger against Russia over their treatment of minorities. Wall Street Journal does it again.

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