By Youssef M. Ibrahim
Nothing, not a single justification, reason, excuse, religious edict or sheik, can explain the murder of more than 300 innocent Russian hostages, including 156 children, in the southern town of Beslan last week by so-called Chechen "Islamist freedom fighters."
No religion or political cause sanctifies killing innocent children. I cannot imagine a mother or father of any nationality watching girls and boys running with blood smearing their bodies, tears streaming down their cheeks and fear soiling their innocence without shedding tears.
This sight will haunt us all.
Far graver for this whole region, is that, according to Lev Dzugayev, a Russian government spokesman, 10 of the estimated 30 hostage-takers who perpetrated this heinous crime were Arabs.
At last count, these criminals, acting in the name of Islam, took more than 1,000 hostages, killed 326 and put 448 in hospitals, of whom 69 are in such serious condition that many may be dead by the time you read this column. Distressingly, this massacre will carry a big tag that says "Muslims have done this" - more so as not a single Arab leader of any renown leaped immediately to condemn the crime in front of cameras, microphones and the world media.
Worse, some religious fanatical sheiks have been spinning their wheels trying to "justify" the unspeakable.
The damage worldwide
Hear this: For a long, long time to come, 144 million Russians will never forget or forgive. Several billion folks around the world won't either. Once again, a bunch of crazy fanatics led by Wahhabi, regressive Islamic thinking have succeeded in tainting the majority of Muslims who are reasonable, decent human beings.
So, the question is, why hasn't any Arab "lion-ruler" or, for that matter, any Arab civic groups spoken out against this horror, forcefully, clearly and bluntly? Should not those Arab leaders or at least their Mickey Mouse parliaments here and there come out and be counted?
Where, for instance, is the voice of Amr Moussa, the elegant, articulate and charismatic secretary-general of the Arab League? Why can he ferociously attack Israel when it kills Palestinians but remain mute when people claiming to be Muslims commit genocide in Russia, the Arabs' friend? Why did he choose not to speak out? I know Mr. Moussa. He is an honorable Arab leader. So this is not like him. Playing it safe, Amr, is not a good strategy on this one.
A question to the other "excellencies": What are you waiting for to denounce this act of wanton murder? This is not merely your obligation as Muslim leaders, but a message that murder in the name of religion is not acceptable. It should be followed by profuse condolences and organized protest by those parliaments you carry in your pockets to express deepest regrets to the Russian people.
Action against fanatics
The Russians were allies of the Arabs. Not now. The consequences can be very grave. To get the Russians back, the least that can be done is for somnolent Arab rulers, particularly those of Saudi Arabia and Qatar - whose Wahhabi religious leaders are responsible for indoctrinating many of these criminals in Chechnya (news - web sites) - to stop fanatical sheiks from spreading the message that what happened in Russia was a jihad, a holy war.
I say so because during the past few days, I was stunned to hear people interviewed on the TV networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, trying in one way or another to "explain" what happened.
Arab people and leaders, indeed all Muslims, must understand that those pictures from Russia broadcast worldwide have overtaken the images of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and those of Israelis killing Palestinians and bulldozing their homes.
This is wake-up time. The images from Beslan will have a very long shelf life. Murdering thugs shooting bullets at little girls and boys as they try to escape is searing imagery that is burned deep into human memories.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) denounced the siege as "an attack on our country." Actually, it was an attack on everything that represents civilization, including Islam. Muslim leaders should say so.
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former senior Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and energy editor of The Wall Street Journal, is managing director of a political risk-assessment group.