Monday, April 5, 2010

Moscow Bombing Follow-Up

A week ago today two female suicide bombers struck the Moscow subway system during the morning rush, killing 40 people. Here are a few news items of note from the past week of coverage:

The BBC posted a collection of eyewitness accounts from Moscow of the immediate aftermath of the bombings. Among the personal reactions to the attacks were criticisms of the Russian media, which didn’t go on the air with news reports about the bombings until several hours after the attacks. In fact many Muscovites first learned about the attacks from foreign rather than domestic media sources. The story is that the Russian channels held off on their coverage until they received word from the Kremlin on how to “properly” discuss the attacks.

And part of that discussion centers on what to call the bombers themselves. The term in common usage in the Russian media is шахидка (shakhidka), a Russianization and feminization of the Arabic word “shahid”, which is commonly translated into English as “martyr”, and that has Russia’s often outspoken ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, upset. Rogozin chafes at the use of the term “martyr” since it is a word that implies sacrifice in the service of a just cause. Rogozin said that the bombers were nothing more than terrorists and were certainly not serving a noble cause. “It’s wrong to assume that that a suicide terrorist, who sent dozens of innocent people to their deaths, can call themselves martyrs for their faith. They’re not martyrs, they’re murderers,” Rogozin said via Twitter as reported by Rogozin seems to prefer the term смертницы (smertnitsy), which is also sometimes used by the Russian media and can be roughly translated as “she-bombers”. While I can see Rogozin’s point, this line of thought reminds me of Fox News Channel’s decision a few years ago (following the lead of the Bush Administration) to refer to “suicide bombers” as “homicide bombers” instead – it’s worth nothing that the Bush Administration later dropped the whole “homicide bombers” thing, though Fox does still sometimes use the term.

Finally, one unexpected casualty of the dual suicide bombings may be Moscow’s gypsy taxicab industry. Since Soviet times, many Muscovites have earned a little extra money by using their private cars as unofficial (and unregulated) taxicabs. But following the subway bombings, some Moscow gypsy cabs started charging ten times the “normal” fare for a trip across the city as the subway system ground to a halt (and who says that Russia hasn’t taken to capitalism?) This has Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov outraged; he’s calling for strict regulation of the city’s taxicab industry. But that could be easier said than done, some transportation analysts say that Moscow does not have enough licensed cabs to efficiently move people around the city and that losing the gypsy cabs could cause even more transportation problems in Moscow, along with depriving thousands of people of a needed source of income.
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