Dozens of people were killed yesterday when Chechen independence fighters attacked the town of Nalchik, in Russia’s northern Caucasus.

But the Russian government continues to obscure the political issue at
stake, describing the attackers as “bandits” and “religious extremists”.

It’s another illustration of the way in which the emergence of
al-Qa’eda has been a godsend to repressive governments throughout the
world. Now any dissident or separatist movement with even vaguely
Muslim connections can be blamed on “Islamists,” and the most
repressive measures against them justified as part of the “war on

Examples are legion. Last month, the Chinese government asserted that separatists in Xinjiang “receive direct support from Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda group.”

A few days later, the government of Uzbekistan justified its massacre
of protesters by accusing them of “a foreign-assisted coup aimed at
forming an Islamic caliphate.” Supporters of self-determination in southern Thailand have to put up with the same nonsense. Not to mention Kashmir, Aceh, Kosovo …

The analogy with the Cold War allows some to believe, or at least to
pretend, that these conflicts are all inspired by a global conspiracy
against western values. Zbigniew Brzezinski, himself a prominent Cold
Warrior, puts the lie to that claim in this morning’s Australian: “If that were so, Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro would be as much at risk as New York City.”

The truth is that, like the Iraqi resistance, the Chechens and others
are motivated by specific political goals. Their grievances are
concrete, not transcendental, and peace will come only when they are

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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