JUST as barely a fortnight ago, a terrorist attack took place next to the Westminster parliamentary complex in London, a new wave of terrorism once again seems to be sweeping the world, raking up casualties along the way. There was the suicide bombing in the subway train of St Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, in which more than a dozen people died. Then just a few days later, simultaneous attacks occurred in both Sweden and Egypt, piling up even more horrible casualties.
To focus on Russia’s terrorism concerns, the St Petersburg bombing was by far not the first instance of despicable terrorist acts aimed at Russia. Ever since the beginning of this century, quite a few such horrendous undertakings, such as the infamous hostaging of audience members by Chechnya armed elements at the famous Bolshoi Theater, were known beyond Russia. The crucial difference between terrorism and your run-of-the-mill violent crimes, even serial ones, lies in the fact that the former is usually grounded on some sort of political demands which could not be obtained through the normal political channels. Such demands may be shrouded in religion, race or culture, but they are basically demands to be forcibly obtained by the perpetrators. And in this regard, Russia faces at least three interrelated sources of terrorism challenges.
The first lies in the fact that Russia is a federation made up of not only the majority Russians but also of dozens of national minorities. Many of the latter live in semi-autonomous “republics” which are scattered all over Russia. As the former Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, many Soviet constituent republics declared independence to form their own sovereign nations. Examples can be found in the various Central Asian republics nowadays with “-stan” suffixes (with the notable exceptions of Afghanistan and Pakistan). Some elements in the autonomous “republics” of Russia, seeing their hitherto neighbors or even “blood brothers” able to stand as independent countries, were inexplicably tempted to do the same. The aforementioned Chechnya separatists are one such example. Almost since not long after the Soviet dissolution, protracted armed conflicts have been taking place between government troops and these ubiquitous separatists. When the latter could not match the overwhelming superiority of the Russian military, they often reverted to terrorist attacks to create the kind of psychological and physical trauma that worry most ordinary folk.
Another source of terrorism concerns may be said to be transnational in nature. There are quite a number of nationalities in central and west Asia which, although they may or may not be related by blood or common ancestry, nevertheless share similar Turkic languages and a common religion. Some nationalistic elements in these vast expanses of land have taken to subscribing to the formation of a great caliphate (a theocracy fusing politics, religion and society) loosely termed Turkestan, spanning (in their mind) an area from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region in the east, through the various “-stans” mentioned above, incorporating a number of Russian autonomous “republics,” and reaching modern-day Turkey in the west. Superpowers Russia and China are understandably upset about this sort of nationalistic fantasy and try their best to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some Turkestan activists thus have also taken to terrorism to further their religio-political aims. The alleged perpetrator of the St. Petersburg subway bombing, for example, was a Russian citizen of Central Asian origin.
Understandably, as the modern national manifestation of the Turkic populations, Turkey’s attitude toward “Turkestan” is of paramount importance. No one seriously doubts Turkey’s staunch and unequivocal anti-terrorism stance, as Turkey itself has become the victim of multiple terrorist attacks in the last year alone. Istanbul airport was bombed to worldwide shock. A frontier-land wedding was interrupted by a shooting massacre, and even the Russian ambassador was publicly gunned down by a seemingly radicalized Turkish security officer. But Turkey must redouble its commitment to the tried and tested path of unwavering secularism, and not let religious radicalism creep back into the mainstream of its politics, culture and society.
Russia’s third source of terrorism challenge is quite similar to that faced by the Western countries, in the worldwide effort to combat the Islamic State terrorist organizations in the Middle East. Terrorist attacks occur from time to time in these “participating” countries, often “inspired” by IS. In contrast to Al Qaeda from whence it sprung, IS seemingly does not so much “order” as “inspire” such attacks. “Lone wolves,” or small cells of like-minded “budding” terrorists, are often the perpetrators nowadays, in contrast to “professional” terrorists of yesteryears. And IS has a thousand and one connections to the aforementioned domestic nationalistic aspirations and the Turkestan dream, fanning and succoring these movements, sometimes working together to wreak havoc.
It is therefore perhaps high time that at least the superpowers of the world, if not all civilized nations, work hard and smart together to root out these cruel acts of terrorism.