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Editorial September 4, 2003
You’re Not The Same, Damnit!
By Fred Hiatt Browse author

A special eXile Guest Editorial

T he State Department last month designated Chechen rebel leaders Shamil Basayev and Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev as terrorists and put them on their international terrorist list. While there is some truth to this claim -- Basayev has admitted involvement in attacks on Russian civilians -- we must be careful not to confuse the Russian situation with America's war against terrorism.

As I wrote in the Washington Post during the Dubrovka theater hostage crisis last October, while the Chechen hostage taking was deplorable, attempts to compare Russia's "tragedy" to America's on September 11, 2001, are cynical, repugnant, and wrong. The fact is that only around 800 people were in the theater when it was seized, while on 9/11, thousands of Americans died and thousands more were traumatized.

Not only are the numbers different, but so is the actual worth of the people involved. The output value of each American who died or suffered on that day was somewhere between three and eight times that of the average Russian in Dubrovka. It follows that if an American is worth more, then it counts more when he dies, suffers, or feels fear. Therefore, to compare the tragedy of 9/11 to the "tragedy" of Dubrovka, Krylya and other acts of "terror" in Russia is wrong and sickening.

Moreover, Chechens are the underdog, and we Americans always root for the underdog. For example, we were the underdog against Iraq in both Gulf Wars, we were the underdog against Serbia in Kosovo, against Grenada, and so on. Who could have ever dreamed that America would have prevailed in Iraq twice, or that America would manage to seize the island-nation of Grenada, where all of the odds were stacked against us in our battle with evil-doers? Chechnya, on the other hand, is a classic case of the little guy fighting for freedom against its big, menacing neighbor. So we naturally identify with the Chechens--they are underdogs, like America, after all.

The argument that Chechnya's three-year experiment with sovereignty from 1996-1999 was a disaster is a Russian-manufactured myth. The fact is Chechnya was developing along the lines dictated by the IMF and such esteemed scholars as my friend Professor Michael McFaul. Indeed, Chechnya was a model of free trade. For example, when it came to trade in the thousands of kidnapped Russians, Chechens turned to the free hand of the market to settle on pricing, supply and demand. Market rationale dictated hostages be beheaded and the videotape sent back to Russian relatives, which encouraged prompt payment of ransom for other Russian hostages and slaves. As free-market capitalism goes it wasn't pretty, sure, but it was the free market in action, and that alone is worthy of our praise.

Chechnya was developing in another key area: rule of law. Chechnya set up a law, called "Sharia," that would have made Jefferson and Adams proud. Sharia is all about devolving power to the people at the local level, including, yes, the right to stone adulterers, which, while I don't condone it, is certainly no worse than the Russian proclivity for demeaning wet T-shirt contests.

The terrorists who attacked America, by contrast, attacked because they hate us. And they hate America because we are free. We do not rule any Islamic countries. These people are free to choose whichever despot they choose to represent them, we are merely there to preserve stability.

Our generosity and freedom threaten the Islamic extremists, who thrive on desperation and fear. They fear a future in which people in Islamic countries place bumper stickers on their cars taking a stand on a controversial issue such as school vouchers or their favorite alternative rock band, as free Americans do.

So how can Russians compare their war on supposed Chechen "terrorists" to America's war on terrorism? Really! How can they do such a thing! It's not right. It's not fair! Stop copying us. It's really just...I can't tell you how much it ticks me off.

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