The People


March 01, 2005

Brian Glyn Williams:

One-Question Interview

Brian Glyn Williams Photo

Brian Glyn Williams is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Civilization at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Prior to that he lectured in Middle Eastern-Balkan History at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London.

His research interests are: the conflict in Contemporary Islamic Eurasia (Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Macedonia); Nationalism and Identity in the Caucasus/Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan); Ottoman History (with emphasis on nationalism in the Balkans); and transnational jihadi Militant Movements and Al Qaeda terrorism.

His book The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation was published by Brill in 2001.

A: How can Western democracies validly criticize the responses of Putin to Islamic terrorism while at the same time invade Iraq? How is Iraq different from Chechnia?

A: While the Bush administration once criticized the Russian Federation for crimes against humanity in Chechnya (such as the widespread use of torture at the dreaded Chernokozovo 'filtration camp') such criticism might now seem sanctimonious in light of the US abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. And there is some validity to the accusation that the US and Coalition governments involved in 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' have lost some of their moral high ground as a result of such crimes against humanity. This is a most unfortunate development in light of the West's historic role as a defender of human rights around the globe.

But one must not take this relativism too far. There have been harsh prosecutions of those American soldiers involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the media in the West widely reported on these abuses, and the criticism of these crimes (and the war in Iraq in general) has been widespread in the West. In Russia, by contrast its almost unheard for Federal forces to be prosecuted for their wide spread and systematic crimes against Chechens. The once-independent Russian media has been muffled and rarely condemns the military's actions against the uniformly despised Chechen 'terror race.' And opposition to the ethnic war against the Chechens is best.

While the West is not without its sins, as best evidenced by the horrors of Abu Ghraib, it must not let the self-criticism stemming from such flagrant abuse of human rights free it from its moral obligation to condemn Russia for its brutal war crimes in Chechnya. The West must not forget that Russia's policies in Chechnya involve extra-judicial killing of Chechens, mass sweeps (zachistki) of Chechen villages, and the targeting of an entire people as a race of real or perceived terrorists. For all Vladimir Putin's efforts to conflate his country's war on the Chechen insurgents/terrorists with the West's war on Al Qaeda, the Chechens are not Al Qaeda nihilists and Russia is still far from creating the democratic, civil society (as imperfect as it is!) that we enjoy in the West.

For articles and photographs dealing with the Chechen insurgency, the role of Al Qaeda and trans-national jihadis in Chechnya, and the ethno-targeting of Chechens in the context of the global war on terror see Dr. Brian Glyn Williams' homepage at:

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I think what José Cervera wrote about this subject is one of the most cogent and poignant pieces of commentary about the plight of the Chechens. As Dr Williams says, the Chechens are not Al Qaeda nihilists, but they are pushed to such extremes that at times they feel they have nothing to lose.

Not to condone the taking hostage of schoolkids, but it is not good to harass human beings to the point of hopelessness:

Más allá de la última frontera.

Sorry, it is in Spanish.

Posted by: Alvaro de Campos at March 2, 2005 10:13 PM

¿When, in particular, did "the West" colonize this "high moral ground" that Dr. Williams posits to have been lost?

Posted by: Brian G. at March 11, 2005 11:56 AM

War on terrorism or fight for democracy? We can do both, otherwise Western democracies have to support Russians in Chechnya! Or be specific, which terrorism we want to fight...

Posted by: David at March 11, 2005 12:32 PM

> sorry for the error above: I wanted to say that we can't do both, i.e. war on (all) terrorism and be firm in our democratic principles.

Posted by: David at March 11, 2005 12:35 PM

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The Workshop

On March 11th 2005 the Atocha Workshop on Global Terrorism, hosted by the Safe Democracy Foundation, will create a repository of original thinking on Global Terrorism that will continue to be fed weekly in the form of a weblog by creative thinkers on the subject from around the world.

The launching event will take place at the Atocha Train Station on March 11th, 2005 at the restaurant Samarkanda. Here, in in an atmosphere that will encourage creative thinking, around 200 people will participate as policy proponents, webloggers or as public; all will be engaged in the discussion of the proposed policies.
Workshop Program and Agenda >>

The People

The Workshop will bring together journalists, politicians, activists and scholars in the fields of democratic advocacy and terrorism analysis (see full list). We are introducing them by means of One Question Interviews. Anyone can register to the Workshop and participate by asking them further questions, challenging their assumptions or proposing their own alternative ideas.

The Proposals

The general criteria for published ideas in the Atocha Workshop Weblog are that they be original, creative, potentially executable and most important that their implementation would likely lead to a more democratic world. The basic concept of the Worshop is that in politics, as in biology, diversity is needed to fight a threat. Political leaders, when confronted with the problem of global terrorism need a menu of possible responses. From the proceeds of the discussion on the weblog plus the physical event we will offer a series of Policy Proposals.
Read more >>>

The Topics

During the Creative Debates we will be working towards making Policy Proposals from the 12 topics that we have selected. These topics are only starting points.

The Atocha Workshop is sponsored by the Safe Democracy Foundation. (Formerly the Varsavsky Foundation)

With the support of

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