Abdul-Khakim Sultygov's initial remarks to a February 19th gathering in New York of American and Russian journalists concerned the city 's response to the biggest snowstorm in years, one that dumped 19 inches of snow on Manhattan.
"Congratulations on your reaction to natural disaster," said Russia's special presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya.
New Yorkers' "festive spirit" during the blizzard, he said, "seemed rather Russian to me [and I] felt very much at home." Sultygov's official business, however, was to launch the photographic exhibition "Chechnya: International Terrorism and the Hard Road to Peace" at the Russian Consulate. But he clearly relished the opportunity to address the press about the critical issues facing both Chechnya and Russia, and by extension, the U.S. and the planet as a whole.
"It's very important for us to inform America about what exactly happened in Chechnya," Sultygov said, zeroing in on international terrorism and its consequences. These consequences, of course, "are very familiar to Americans," he said, adding that the lesson of Chechnya and the Russian Federation in the war against terrorism is of vital importance to America's own anti-terrorism campaign.
Sultygov maintained, in fact, that the primary goal of international terrorism was "to undermine the political system of our two countries," inevitably also undermining human rights, freedom, and world stability. This, he said, requires a coordinated response "based on the reaffirmation of the rule of law and all legal mechanisms" used to resolve world conflicts.
But being himself an ethnic, Muslim Chechen, Sultygov stressed the need to expand upon "the American tradition of political correctness" in the way international terrorism is frequently misidentified.
"The phrase 'Islamic terrorist' should be banned from everyday speech," Sultygov said., calling the term a "gift to terrorists." Indeed, members of all the great religious faiths participate in terrorism, he noted. "It's quite obvious that terrorism is a religion in itself."
Terrorists "are no closer to God than any of us," Sultygov suggested, adding that they abuse religion to make their despicable acts respectable, "when in fact they act like wild geese--with corresponding psychology."
Particularly reprehensible is the Islamic terrorists' misuse of the term "jihad," which is used by terrorists in calling for a "holy war," yet according to Sultygov, is a "great concept [concerning] the quest for truth-for which there is no beginning and no end. You can't look for truth by using force." Sultygov further cautioned against associating terrorists with any one nation or ethnic group. "They have no nationality or God," he said. "They're just rapists, bandits, and killers [and] we must ideologically disarm terrorists [or there can be no] longterm effect in the war against terrorism." But the "simplification of politics" is very dangerous, Sultygov contended, alluding to the Bush administration's attempt to link Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network with Saddam Hussein, when in reality, he said, there's no connection between Bin Laden and Iraq-or the rebels in Chechnya, for that matter.
Hussein, he said, is "a more sophisticated politician" than Bin Laden. "He has never aspired to world supremacy [and would not] willingly share power-least of all with someone like Osama Bin Laden."
But very dangerous, too, is "our ideological passivity," Sultygov said, which is "a huge contributing factor for the situation remaining the way it is." Here he accused the mass media of falsely portraying the nature of the terrorist movement:
"One danger in particular is reproducing what Bin Laden is saying verbatim," he said, referring to the media's dissemination of Al-Qaeda's ideology.
"Ideology is a weapon and we must remember this," said Sultygov, arguing that international terrorists, in the name of Islam, are really fighting Islam itself with ideology. "In Chechnya, every Muslim knows what international terrorism is all about-and it's worse than fascism: When Bin Laden calls it a jihad, and when we don't say no, we give him the right to represent the Muslim world. I'm a Muslim myself, and I ask, Who is he? God? A prophet? Why is he entrusted to speak for all Muslims? We're all aware our religion has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, and those who portray themselves as defending the faith belong in the system of criminal justice." For the first time in Chechnya's history, concluded Sultygov, the people are now being granted "the right to express the political will given to them by God." Pointing to the upcoming referendum on the republic's constitution and bills to elect a president and parliament, Sultygov predicted, "Terrorists in Chechnya in the future will be as unthinkable as fascists in Israel." The fight against international terrorism, he added, will continue to be "relentless and uncompromising" following the adoption of Chechnya's constitution-which will become a significant factor in the democratization of the entire Russian Federation.
"We will make an important contribution to democracy in Russia," he stated. "We are building a democratic country, which is a common dream--just as in the U.S."
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