Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Uniting Against Terror

Those who visit here with any degree of regularity will be aware that in general I try to keep a low profile where personal opinion and commentary are concerned. Over the fourteen months of this blog’s existence, I’ve often preferred to let events and reports speak for themselves, rather than intervene with my own ideas on what has happened. It’s seemed to me on the whole, looking at world events in the post 9/11 global political climate, that what can be observed – vis-à-vis Iraq, the war on terror, the Middle East, the growing Sino-Russian entente, the “axis of evil” – is a tendency, a direction that continues to reinforce itself. Just as in the Cold War, the democracies of the Western world, led by the United States, are coming under sustained pressure and attack from forces antithetical to democracy and liberty. The London bombings of 7/7 merely confirm and further intensify that global trend.

It’s perhaps in the attempt to pinpoint and identify the anti-democratic forces that the perceptions of this weblog tend to differ somewhat from those to be found in a number of other sources. A great deal of commentary in the blogosphere and the Web in general is now devoted to the discussion of Islamism, which is seen as the new threat and enemy, analogous to the threat of Nazism and Communism in the 20th century. In such discussion, the historical defeat of Nazism and Communism is very often taken as a given, a set of facts that can’t be denied or argued with. In particular, the notion that in the late 1980s the West definitively “won” the Cold War is in many quarters accepted as an incontrovertible truth. The liberation of the former Soviet Union’s satellite states in Eastern Europe is pointed to as a living example of this new world order. Yet, while they are happy to acknowledge the new and democratic face of Europe, those who take this line of argument are frequently hesitant or silent when it comes to the matter of what has taken place in the neighbouring Russian Federation since the supposed Western victory.

As the Russian author and journalist Masha Gessen has commented, fifteen years after the collapse of Communism, Russia is restoring many of the old regime’s symbols and some of its repressive ways. She talks of a climate of “stagnant fear” , and of the impossibility of cleansing Russia’s collective memory and conscience (its “national soul”) because of the fact that the victims of Communist tyranny and terror were also its perpetrators, mostly willing ones, and because “we who did not spend eighteen years or even a day in that hell… we have no right to sit in judgment on our grandparents.” This is a machination by the structures of power that not even Hitler was able to achieve. In addition to blocking the nation’s memory and its ability to come to terms with its past, the Russian leadership has for more than ten years embroiled the country in a brutal and savage war in the North Caucasus, a war waged against a small people that tried to establish a form of independence along the lines of that which was regained by the Baltic states in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism. This “war” – which has really amounted to a sustained pogrom carried out by Russian forces with the help of local quislings – has served as a rationale for abandoning the faint beginnings of democracy that were beginning to be observed in Russia in the early 1990s. It has also demonstrated that the Russian authorities have links to terrorist organizations and are involved in the practice of state terror, for the participation of Russian special forces in terrorist acts both in Chechnya and within Russia itself is now beyond question. Under the authoritarian rule of Putin, Russia is steering a course towards a form of fascism which derives its energies and its symbolism from both Stalinist and Nazi traditions. As they move closer together, Russia and China are establishing close co-operation with rogue states like North Korea and Syria, supplying nuclear technology to Iran, destabilizing the countries of Central Asia, and working globally to oppose the U.S. in every field. The existence of shadowy organizations calling themselves “Al Qaeda”, “Islamic Jihad”, and the rest should not make us forget the recent past, when Moscow employed the weapon of Islamic and international terrorism against the West for its own political purposes, just as it used the conflict in South East Asia to confound the U.S. and its allies. The Soviet Union may not formally exist – but those who sustained and guided it are still in power.

Unite Against Terror may be a good slogan for the beginning of the 21st century. But unless it includes the perception that the main practitioners, agents and promoters of terror in today’s world continue to be the forces which in the 20th century made terror into the foundation of totalitarian states – let’s recall the title of Robert Conquest’s groundbreaking study of Stalin’s Russia, The Great Terror – it will remain a shibboleth, a party or group identification that doesn’t take us much beyond a catchphrase like ‘Ban the Bomb’.

(See also: The New Cold War)

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