Tragically, September is a time of national mourning for both Russia and the United States. The world still grieves last September’s deadly school siege in the Russian city of Beslan as it does the horror of the September 11 attacks. Both tragedies were the result of heinous and ruthless acts of terrorism against defenseless innocents. As we remember these awful events, we should remind ourselves how much must yet be done to fight terrorism and how damaging double standards can be to our cooperation.
Masterminded by the internationally recognized terrorist Shamil Basayev, the Beslan massacre left hundreds of schoolchildren and their parents and teachers dead. It is still an open wound for the people of Russia, and as we approach the first anniversary of those terrible days, the enormity of the crime is still overwhelming. In a heartbeat, terrorists took precious young lives and dreams. The horror they created also changed the lives of the survivors and witnesses forever.
Expressions of sympathy, words of solidarity, and offers of help from the governments and people of the United States, Europe, and other nations were and remain important to overcoming our pain. It is human nature to cling together when disaster strikes, something particularly evident when people of different nationalities who have lost their loved ones to terrorism form a special bond in sorrow.
I fervently hope that governments too will stand shoulder to shoulder against the global scourge of terrorism and will be consistent in their efforts to succeed. The first step is to live by the internationally established principles that rule out any justification for terrorism and prohibit harboring terrorist organizations and providing support in whatever form to terrorist activity.
The leaderships of Russia and the United States have repeatedly confirmed their commitment to those principles. Together with the other G8 leaders they rejected terrorism at the Gleneagles summit and called for extended cooperation. But this work is far from complete. A new major step forward is expected from the forthcoming summit — 2005 in New York.
The savage violence by notorious terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Shamil Basayev and others has placed them on U.N., U.S. and other terrorist lists as targets of joint action. But they are still at-large and capable of causing more suffering. They continue to seek more public attention through new shocking atrocities like those in Budenovsk, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Madrid, Beslan and, very recently, in London and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Yet, even in the age of the information revolution, the terrorists cannot do it by themselves — they depend on media coverage to reach people worldwide. That is why providing media access to terrorists is tantamount to encouraging new devastating attacks against innocent people. And it is for this reason that Russia strongly protested an ABC News program in July featuring an interview with Shamil Basayev. This cold blooded killer of women and children was given a platform to justify his murderous campaign and threaten new terrorist acts.
Contrary to what some might argue, broadcasting an interview like this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or allowing the public to make its own judgment. Providing a nationwide forum to a terrorist leader outlawed by the international community violates every standard of responsible journalism and basic human values.
After September 11 and Beslan it has become obvious that Osama bin Laden, Shamil Basayev are creatures of the same breed. Double standards in identifying terrorism and terrorists hamper our progress in fighting them together. By double standards I also mean overlooking actions, such as providing shelter to terrorists and their accomplices. Terrorists are terrorists because of their actions — their demonstrated willingness to kill and maim civilians — not their motives. Calling one group of these killers “terrorists” without doing the same for others allows their ends to justify their means.
The time has come to establish once and for all a single standard when it comes to fighting terrorism in all its forms, under whatever banner. Any publicity or legitimacy for terrorists undermines unity and trust among members of the global anti-terrorist coalition, and, in effect, invites more terror in other places. To prevail we must display unwavering resolve to destroy terrorists and their hideouts.
I believe that Russia and the United States must take the lead in translating political will into practical efforts to foster genuine international counterterrorist cooperation. We should do so in the name of the enormous sacrifices our countries have made to uproot the evil. Observing the first anniversary of Beslan and the fourth anniversary of September 11, we have to ensure that the memory of the victims guides us in our common struggle against terror.
Yuri Ushakov is ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States.