HOW LONG THE WAR IN IRAQ AND AGAINST TERRORISM?
When asked how long the war, President Bush answered: As long as it takes. If he meant as long as it takes to pacify the contending parties in Iraq and to defeat terrorism the world around, it is likely that he will have become history long before it happens, if it ever does. History attests that national and religious memories are long and that vengeance smolders for centuries. The Serbs have never forgotten their defeat by the Ottoman Turks at Kossovo in 1379 and their domination by the Turks for five centuries. In recent history the Serbs avenged themselves savagely against the Balkans’ Muslim population. Today the UN is all that keeps Orthodox Christians and Muslims from reciprocal genocide six centuries after Kossovo.
The Chechens remember defeat and the scorched-earth policy of the Russians during an uprising in mid-19th century, when Shamyl, a Moslem iman, led a religious and ethnic rebellion between 1834 and 1859 against Russian domination. During WWII the Chechens sided with the Germans, a choice determined by the memories of Russian retaliation during the uprising. Today they are still at war with the Russians and both sides are committing reciprocally unspeakable destruction and slaughter. It was the Chechens who bombed a school killing 300 Russian children; and it was two Chechen widows that blew themselves up in a Moscow subway killing 40 and wounding 90. How could people commit such atrocities? History has part of the answer. And Leo Tolstoy in a story titled “Hadji Murad” reveals some of it.
Tolstoy (1828-1910), prince, landlord, soldier, renowned writer and moralist, lived during the Chechen-Russian conflicts and probably served in the Russian army against the Chechens. If he didn’t he certainly knew about the uprising and the Russian efforts to suppress it. I believe this because Tolstoy could not have written so realistically and believably about the conflicts had he not either been there or learned about it from those who were. Even though he was Russian, his sympathies were with the Chechens. At least, they were when he wrote “Hadji Murad.” And were Tolstoy alive, he would, I suspect, still be in the corner of the Chechens.
Hadji Murad was a Chechen, warrior, and Moslem. He fought with Shamyl as his lieutenant; but he had a sharper sword, so to speak, than Shamyl causing Shamyl to be jealous, and over a disputed division of plunder, to send out an order to his followers to bring Hadji Murad to him dead or alive. When Hadji learned this and that Shamyl had captured and was holding hostage his mother, two wives and six children, including his 18 year old son, he knew that he could not organize enough men to overcome Shamyl and bring back his family safely. So he decided on the strategy of turning himself over to the Russians hoping to negotiate with them. He would assist them in crushing Shamyl in exchange for them returning Chechens prisoners for his family’s safe release. The Russians treated him with respect but the bureaucracy was slow; and when Haji received a letter from his son dictated by Shamyl to the effect that if Hadji did not return by a certain date he would kill his son or blind him, Hadji decided to return to Chechnya to do what he could to save his family. He didn’t succeed but died heroically.
During all of these events, the Tsar Nicholas I in January, 1852, ordered a raid on the Chechens and a continuation of his scorched-earth policy, that is, the cutting down of the forests and orchards, the plunder and destruction of shelters for man and beasts, the burning of crops and hay and the killing of farm animals. The Russians entered Chechnya and soon encountered the Chechens, who after some action faded into the forests. The Russians pursued them and came upon an aoul, or Tartar village, and proceeded to destroy it. Tolstoy describes the aftermath.
“The aoul which had been destroyed was that in which Hadji Murad had spent the night before he went over to the Russians. Sado and his family had left the aoul on the approach of the Russian detachment, and when he returned he found his saklya [Caucasian house] in ruins—the roof fallen in, the door and posts supporting the penthouse burned, and the interior filthy. His son, the handsome bright-eyed boy who had gazed with such ecstasy at Hadji Murad, was brought dead to the mosque on a horse covered with a burka: he had been stabbed in the back with a bayonet. The dignified woman who had served Hadji Murad when he was at the house now stood over her son’s body, her smock torn in front, her withered old breasts exposed, her hair down, and she dug her nails into her face till it bled, and wailed incessantly. Sado, taking a pick-axe and spade, had gone with his relatives to dig a grave for his son. The old grandfather sat by the wall of the ruined saklya cutting a stick and gazing stolidly in front of him. He had only just returned from the apiary. The two stacks of hay there had been burnt, the apricot and cherry trees he had planted and reared were broken and scorched, and worse still all the beehives had been burnt. The wailing of the women and little children, who cried with their mothers, mingled with the lowing of the hungry cattle for whom there was no food. The bigger children, instead of playing, followed their elders with frightened eyes. The fountain was polluted, evidently on purpose, so that the water could not be used. The mosque was polluted in the same way, and the Mullah and his assistants were cleaning it out. No one spoke of hatred of the Russians. The feeling experienced by all Chechens, from the youngest to the oldest, was stronger than hate. It was not hatred, for they did not regard those Russian dogs as human beings, but it was such a repulsion, disgust, and perplexity at the senseless cruelty of these creatures, that the desire to exterminate them—like the desire to exterminate rats, poisonous spiders, or wolves—was as natural an instinct as that of self-preservation.”
Under Stalin, the Chechens for their collaboration with the Germans were resettled; that is, removed forcibly from their homeland, a usurpation similar to that committed against the Cherokees. So, 150 years has done little to diminish the more than hatred the Chechens have for the Russians. It would take more than hatred for a people to bomb to bits a school housing 300 children or a subway.
How long Bush’s war? The answer is how much hatred—or that feeling that is a primal antagonism and a more enduring hostility than hatred—the West and this nation have engendered and provoked in the minds and memories of the peoples of Iraq and the Muslim world by their economic, social and military policies and the hegemonic implementation thereof. How can the Arabs forget Shock and Awe and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, not to mention the daily killings of their peoples since this senseless war began? And forget the West’s hitherto crusading conquests and subsequent cruel exploitation of much of Allah’s Kingdom? Bush has sent this nation’s youth to a place where they are reaping the whirlwinds of the West’s sins, recent and those of times long ago and during the interim.