In the days following the metro attacks in Moscow, media coverage has coalesced around two distinct narratives that ‘make sense’ of things. The options seem to be these: (a) militants operating out of the North Caucasus represent a link in the global chain of Islamic terrorism, or (b) these acts of violence are the consequence of the Kremlin’s military occupation of the region, which sustains an extremist separatist movement.
Before considering the details of these theories, let’s first identify the biases contained therein.
Hypothesis ‘A’ appeals especially to the Kremlin, but it has its supporters in the West, too. As blogger poemless pointed out in a comment on a previous post, tying Chechen terrorism to the larger War on Terror is a mutually beneficial interpretation for Russian siloviki and American hawks. To the degree that such attacks are international, the Kremlin is accordingly ‘let off the hook’ for governance failures internally. Terrorism wonks, on the other hand, gain the opportunity to highlight another proof of Islamism’s threat (and, therefore, another justification for their field’s existence and funding). Or perhaps Islamic terrorism analysts just see Islamic terrorism wherever they look, it being their job to study Islamic terrorism.
Hypothesis ‘B’ is, I think, the more traditional story Westerners like to tell about Russia’s Chechen terrorism problem. The payoff here is that militants’ attacks on Russian civilians, understood as motivated by nationalism, are the direct consequence of Moscow’s imperialist polices in the North Caucasus. Applying this line of thinking to American confrontations with terrorism (i.e., to implicate U.S. foreign policy in the causation of terrorist attacks on the U.S.) would be considered wildly leftist, if not treasonous. When directed at Russia, however, this interpretation is a favorite means of criticizing the Kremlin’s security policies and the efficiency of the Russian state on the whole.
This brings me to Robert Pape’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, titled “What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?” The article is a regurgitation of the same argument he’s been making for the past five years, since publishing his book “Dying to Win: the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.” Pape completely and uncompromisingly endorses of Hypothesis ‘B.’ Continue reading ‘Response to Robert Pape's NYT Op-Ed’ »