Doku Umarov: Russia’s Osama bin Laden

“God willing, we will make this a year of blood and tears,” was the hostile threat from Caucasus Emirate Emir Doku Umarov in last week’s release of a homemade video claiming responsibility for the Moscow airport bombing on Jan. 24.

The Domodedovo airport explosion resulted in the death of 36 innocent bystanders, as well as injuring over 100 others.

This extremist group, regarded as an Islamic terrorist association by the Russian government, has made headlines in the past for the 2010 Metro Station bombing in Moscow, as well as a fatal train derailment the year before. As such, Umarov’s warning of an escalation in violence is not to be taken lightly.

However, his comments must be taken within the context of Russia’s relations with Chechnya, a contentious area in the North Caucasus mountain range which has been warring with Russia for independence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Len Friesen, professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University, commented that our perceptions of actions taken by rebels like Umarov are seen through a narrowly defined lens of terrorism.

“If you’re a Chechen,” he said, “then your definition of terror will likely include states … that can drop bombs that you have no defence against whatsoever, that leave you utterly vulnerable to their whims.”

These recent events call to mind the series of threats issued through video by Osama bin Laden since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Both the Russian and American “war on terror” have been propelled through the use of media by government to present a very specific agenda to the public and to create an understanding of current events that is highly limited and often ignorant of external viewpoints.

“The arguments that the Russians use consistently,” Friesen noted, referring to questionable suppression tactics of Chechen uprisings, “is that it’s the exact equivalent of what the Americans are seeking to do in response to the events of 2001, and it provides all the justification the Russians need.”

When the world is presented with an angle that very much simplifies complex historical situations into an argument of democracy versus terrorism, it becomes difficult to retain an open mind. With the media being used repeatedly as a fear tactic by both governments and non-governmental groups, Herbert Pimlott, professor of communications at WLU, believes it is imperative that audiences formulate opinions based on a broader knowledge base.

“New media tried to provide an unmediated window into the world, but even a window pane gets dirty,” he remarked. “We only get to see part of the picture.”
Greater exposure to uncensored media also comes with a greater urgency and panic surrounding events such as suicide bombings.

It becomes more difficult to grasp what information and description is valid, and what should be disregarded. “When we use terms that get very emotive,” Pimlott concluded, “it may shut down debate, it may shut down understanding of what the hell’s going on.”

While Pimlott remains faithful that the Russian people have been conditioned to “read between the lines” of media outlets, his optimistic view is not shared by all.
“[Russia] will persevere, even if they have to devastate that landscape in order to accomplish it,” Friesen concluded dismally.

“It’s hard to imagine a very good outcome to this.”

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