OPINION

Collateral damage?

The occupation of a Moscow theater by Chechen extremists and the murderous intervention of Russian forces pose all the basic questions concerning the difference between terrorism and the state violence marshaled to fight it. …The Moscow incident resembles the September 11 attack on New York in that they both threatened the stability of the system. The latter, with its unusually high death toll, was more of a blow to the image of the invulnerable state than to social stability, as the chances of it happening again are very slim. But attacks such as the one in Moscow are more likely to recur and so jar the smooth flow of our everyday life. In this case, the Russian state found itself facing a risk even greater than the challenge to its political sovereignty in Chechnya: a challenge to its ability to impose order. And because, whether we like it or not, the reinforcement of this ability outweighs the value of some human lives, the Russian government had no option but to intervene. Seen from this point of view, the use of poisonous gas and the subsequent hecatomb of hostages reinforce the image of state dominance much more than a simple negotiation would have done. The state showed that it will not hesitate to use immeasurable violence, even to sacrifice its own people. As a matter of power and dominance, state violence can equal or even surpass terrorist brutality. In critical moments, both sides regard human beings as a greater or smaller mass. And perhaps there is no other way.