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Western Press Review: Riyadh And Chechnya Bombings, Ethiopia's 'Forgotten' Famine, And Ethics In The Press

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the discussion in the Western press today returns to the issue of terrorism, in the wake of a 12 May bomb blast in Saudi Arabia that killed at least 29 and injured 200 others. The attack came hours ahead of a visit to Riyadh by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Another bomb blast targeting an administrative compound took place on 12 May in Znamenskoye, Chechnya, killing 54 and injuring 200 others.

Other topics addressed today include Ethiopia's "forgotten famine" and the advocacy, and practice, of journalistic ethics around the world.


A "New York Times" editorial says that following the 12 May bombings in Riyadh, Saudi authorities must move quickly to arrest the individuals and groups directly responsible for the attack.

"That is the obvious first step," the paper writes. But the Saudi government's next step "must be internal reforms that will reduce [the] population of unemployed, angry, disenfranchised young people who connect the United States with a government [in Riyadh] that ignores their problems."

The editorial goes on to say that in some ways, the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States were as much about Saudi Arabia as they were about America. "The United States is a supporting player in the terrorists' own internal political drama, which centers on fundamentalist religion, a grandiose vision of their own role in world affairs [and] anger at the Saudi government's alliance with non-Muslim Western nations."

The U.S. administration hopes to replace this paradigm "with a new one, involving democracy, economic opportunity, and liberty. It would begin with a new era in Iraq, the road to peace in Israel and increasing democratization in other Arab nations." This vision is now the best chance for a way "toward a future in which suicide attacks on innocent civilians will be understood by Muslims around the world not as a form of political protest, but as utter insanity."


Writing in "The Times" of London, columnist Simon Jenkins says the bombings this week of an expatriate workers' compound in Riyadh makes clear that the greatest danger comes "not from rogue nations or weapons of mass destruction, but from murderous gangs with dynamite and cars.... [These] gangs cannot be eradicated," he says. Their criminal acts "should be met by the art of intelligence and the science of security, not by the crass hand of 'regime change.' "

Some sources have already claimed links between the Riyadh attacks and the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden. If the connection proves true, says Jenkins, "we might reasonably ask for an inquiry into why two colossally expensive and destructive wars were fought by the West" in Afghanistan and Iraq, if they simply "left unscathed" the group responsible.

Jenkins writes: "If the money and energy devoted to waging war had gone into diplomacy, espionage, and policing, it is at least arguable that whoever in Saudi Arabia knew about the Riyadh conspiracy might have stopped it. What the latest bombs suggest is that the wars changed nothing. They were a sideshow, a diversion of effort, probably choking the intelligence networks that might have kept tabs on the perpetrators of these [latest] crimes."


"The Washington Post's" Jim Hoagland says one thing is becoming clear about Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups: "They kill Americans and others when Israel makes serious efforts to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, and when Israel makes no such efforts. They kill Americans and others when Washington stations troops in Saudi Arabia, and when it begins to withdraw them." They kill when U.S. administrations "avoid confronting Saddam Hussein, and when [U.S. President] George W. Bush deposes the Iraqi dictator."

In short, these groups kill "whenever they can."

This indiscriminate violence "makes no sense in the rational, secular political universe that Western nations and much of the developing world have jointly constructed, out of centuries of nation-building, decolonization, and free global trade."

So many observers seek out "explanations that would bring the killers and their motives back into our comprehension." But Hoagland says the terrorists' target is the entire "secular political universe." They seek to create a single extremist theocracy, and are "intent on destruction, not change."

"Road maps" for Middle East peace are drafted with "the implicit assumption that rewarding Palestinian nationalism with a state will quell the holy bombers and their allies." But Hoagland says the creation of a Palestinian state "is in the long-term interests of Palestinians and Israelis. Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi bases makes sense now. These steps should be taken because they are right, not out of any misplaced hope that they will appease the bombers."


In "The New York Times," Nicholas Kristof writes from Boricha, Ethiopia, on the nation's "forgotten famine." Kristof says the looming crisis "has not yet registered on the world's conscience," although it affects 12 million people, compared to the 10 million affected by the country's 1984-85 famine.

"We've all been distracted by Iraq," he says. "[But] an incipient famine in the Horn of Africa has been drastically worsening just in the last few weeks. It has garnered almost no attention in the West, partly because it's not generally realized that people are already dying here in significant numbers. But they are. And unless the West mobilizes further assistance immediately to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, the toll could be catastrophic."

He says Ethiopians are concerned that "with attention diverted by Iraq, Africa will be forgotten. It's a legitimate fear: In the 1990s, aid was diverted to the former Yugoslavia and away from much needier parts of Africa." Kristof asks, "[As] long as the United States is willing to send hundreds of thousands of troops to help Iraqis, what about offering much more modest assistance to save the children dying here?"

So far, he says, "the United States and Europe have responded reasonably well," sending bags of wheat to famine-stricken areas. "But the needs are growing much faster than the supplies, and children are dying in the meantime."

The world "must act at once," he says.


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," John Hughes of the "Desert News" in Salt Lake City, Utah, discusses journalistic ethics in light of a meeting convened last week by the nonprofit International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in New York.

Hughes says much discussion centered "on two grave current lapses" in ethical journalism within the United States. The first was perpetrated by "New York Times" correspondent Jayson Blair, who fabricated interviews and facts in his reporting. The second lapse involved the sale of false information about a kidnapping case by two U.S. newspaper reporters to the "National Enquirer," a sensationalist U.S. tabloid. Hughes says all journalists everywhere are in danger of being tainted "by unethical journalistic behavior."

Hughes goes on to discuss "[the] challenges confronting journalists in Afghanistan, as they struggle to produce a respectable [press]. The most common ethical violations are plagiarism, conflict of interest and nepotism, failure to distinguish opinion from fact, reliance solely on government sources, self-censorship of power, abuse by warlords and officials, and corruption at all levels of government and society."

Such challenges will also affect Iraq as it seeks "to establish a free press, which [many] believe to be the cornerstone of democracy."

In the United States, a free press already exists. "In other countries, journalists are still fighting for this, sometimes at terrible cost, even the loss of their lives. That's why the defiling of it in the U.S. by such tawdry ethical lapses is particularly unworthy."


Most German papers today discuss the car bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia on 12 May that killed at least 29 people and injured hundreds of others at three residential compounds.

In the aftermath of attacks in Riyadh, Stefan Kornelius writes in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that terrorism "cannot be conquered from without." He says terrorists aim to destabilize the West and are determined to establish an Islamic world that rejects the secular and the modern. This desire is so deep-rooted that it is impossible to deter its pursuit through a global alliance or through a war against Iraq "that only appears to be directed against Al-Qaeda."

Political terrorism is a phenomenon that will not be ended by the methods of the non-Islamic world.

The attacks in Riyadh points to the crux of the problem, he says: Al-Qaeda cannot be destroyed from outside. Militant Islamism will cease to exist when Islamic society frees itself from its bonds. This is a lofty goal, he says, in part because an antiterrorism movement in the Arab world cannot develop as long as anti-Americanism looms larger in people's minds than the murders occurring within society.

Repression will never solve the problem. Moreover, says Kornelius, the Americans are approaching the problem in the wrong way. Terror is rife in Saudi Arabia, the land of terrorist origins, where hatred against Americans is at its height.

"The United States has no political strategy for how to defuse this political bomb," he says. Saudi Arabia is waiting for liberation from autocratic rule to enable them to also cast off fundamentalism. The democratization of the Middle East should therefore begin in Riyadh, if Washington wishes to free itself from this militant threat.


Jacques Schuster in "Die Welt" says this is a strong wake-up call not only for the United States: "So far the Germans have still not become sufficiently aware," he says.

Washington declared war against terrorism immediately after 11 September and this, says Schuster, "does not only apply to the United States but to Europe" as a whole. The order of the day is "to defend our nation against the unknown, the uncertain, the invisible, and the unexpected."

For the West, he says, it is imperative to fight terrorism in "the deepest caves in the Hindu Kush, to prevent rogue states from collaborating with terrorists and to do everything possible to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands."


The 12 May truck bombing of an administrative security building in Znamenskoye, Chechnya, suggests the breakaway republic's separatist struggle is entering "a new phase," characterized increasingly by suicide missions. Writing in "Eurasia View," Mike Redman says this tactical shift may indicate the growing influence of Islamic militants in the Chechen struggle for independence.

He points out that the three biggest attacks by separatists since last October -- the explosions in Znamenskoye and at the pro-Moscow administration building in Grozny, and the Moscow theater hostage crisis -- "all employed so-called smertniki units, or suicide fighters." Some security analysts believe the suicide missions suggest "that separatist forces are increasingly Islamicized."

Redman says, "Russian, U.S., and European officials have long worried that international terrorist groups and Islamic militants would become attracted to the turbulent Caucasus. [In] addition to Chechnya, international attention has focused [on] Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, which borders Chechnya and has been utilized as a safe haven by Chechen militants."

He writes: "Despite the security audit launched by [Russian] authorities in the wake of the December 2002 attack in Grozny, militants are clearly still able to take advantage of the low morale and poor pay among security forces in order to gain access to their targets.

"With this fact in mind," Redman says, "it could be only a matter of time before Chechen separatists start mounting attacks against targets across southern Russia."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)