"Mothers screamed at helpless policemen. One was shown on television saying: 'How long can this madness in the country continue? When will it end?' Another wailed: 'Exchange us for the children. What are our children guilty of?' Another said: 'This was my child's first day at school. He was so happy and told me: 'Mum, I will be a good student'. Please, take me, take me, instead.' " (The Guardian, September 2, 2004)
These were the mothers of Beslan who were begging for the lives of their children. Of the hostages from this massacre which ended last week, over 300 are dead. If you're a parent, it's impossible not to see your own child in the scenes emerging from the massacre: the small, dead bodies, and the crying, naked, and bloody survivors emerging from their school.
The depravity of this act disgusts me.
And then, we discover the child killers responsible for this: Chechen Muslims.
Will I justify this act because Muslims are behind it?
I will join Muslims around the world who have unequivocally condemned this despicable act.
But almost a week after the carnage, the Beslan tragedy brings to mind a broader issue: the future of freedom movements.
Before Beslan, many around the world recognized and roundly condemned Russian atrocities in Chechnya, which include the murder, torture and gang rape of Chechen men, women and children.
Many also recognized the need to grant Chechens the independence they have struggled for for over 200 years.
But after Beslan, those who acted in the name of Chechnya have lost their moral high ground. The plight of Chechens may have gotten more attention since the school siege, but it is unlikely to garner as much support. This beleaguered people and their cause for freedom and justice have now been smeared so systematically, they are unlikely to gain any form of legitimacy or constructive attention in the near future.
The same holds true in Palestine and Kashmir.
While many around the world, even in pro-Israel America, have and continue to support justice for the Palestinians, the bloodshed as a result of suicide bombings has done nothing to bring freedom and justice to this oppressed nation.
Suicide bombings play right into the hands of those who do not want Palestinians to be seen as victims of an ongoing occupation but as the perpetrators of all sorts of inhuman acts while a total of 3,214 Palestinians have died along with 919 Israelis in the last four years. The end of Israeli occupation, not suicide bombings, is the solution.
Kashmiris continue to suffer under a 700,000-strong armed occupation by India. The Kashmiri freedom movement has started losing its support in the world arena. A few years ago, former President Bill Clinton brought up the Kashmir conflict in the UN. Today, hardly anyone cares for it as India continues to declare any Kashmiri demanding freedom to be a terrorist. Asking the people of Kashmir to decide their future is the solution that Kashmiris and the UN want. But India does not agree.
There is no question that Russians, Israelis and Indians are the oppressors who are keeping people enslaved and imposing a regime of terror on the civilian populations of these three regions. But shouldn't freedom movements consider the irony of the situation that oppressors look like the victims when anyone terrorizes innocent children and civilians.
Of course it's easy for me to sit in Chicago in the comfort and security of my home and write about the suffering of Chechens, Kashmiris and Palestinians knowing full well that if these people had the Migs, F-16s and Mirages that the Russians, Israelis and Indians use to bomb them, they would not fail to defend themselves using these weapons. But the utter immorality of killing civilians, which only results in great public relations for the oppressor, makes this reality almost irrelevant.
What is the future of freedom movements? How can they understand the global context in which they are operating? Have they thoroughly considered the nonviolence option which won the hearts of supporters of Palestinians like Rachel Corrie, who was murdered by Israelis? Will the Israelis, Russians and Indians respond to nonviolent movements the way Bishop Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King's foes responded to them? I don't have all the answers but today's freedom movement must consider hundreds of millions of human beings around the world who stood up for the peace and justice movement in opposition to the Iraq war. I ask those in the freedom movements: do you want to win over these hearts and souls or do you want to lose them?
Every act of terror that Muslims use to justify their freedom movements does two things. First, it violates Islamic principles that clearly condemn killing civilians. Second, it erodes support for and attention to the cause. It does not bring to light the suffering of the oppressed, nor does it open the door for a constructive end to the fighting. Instead, it has the opposite effect. Acts of terror lead to a positive portrayal of the state that is oppressing a freedom movement, since after every violent incident, the government is seen as a beleaguered nation trying to fight its own terrorists.
Although the UN Charter allows the legitimate right of peoples to resist foreign occupation, God demands Muslims to be just even towards the enemy. Freedom movements everywhere must realize how much they are losing in the world arena by taking civilian lives. This will neither help their cause, nor end the oppression they are suffering. Terrorism, as seen in Chechnya, Palestine, and Kashmir, has only discredited the nobility and legitimacy of these movements for freedom, peace and justice.
For a freedom movement to be considered a just cause by all, its moral position vis-à-vis civilian lives must be absolutely clear. There was no cause greater than the cause of Muhammad, peace be upon him. But when he heard that one of the Muslim commanders had killed noncombatants, he stood up with regret facing the Kaba and declared his innocence from this act, saying, 'God, I have nothing to do with this.' He uttered this three times to stress the gravity of the matter and ensured that the victims' families were compensated even for the dogs lost in the fighting.
"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do." [Quran 5:8]
"Toys by a Beslan Monument" by user:AndreyA - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toys_by_a_Beslan_Monument.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Toys_by_a_Beslan_Monument.jpg