“Evil exists, and horror is always right beside you.” That was the response of Sergey Kuznetsov, author of the novel Butterfly Skin, to the suicide bombings that killed at least 38 people in the Moscow subway yesterday. Once again, we are reminded of the undeniable reality of evil, even in the midst of moral confusion.
The suicide bombings, carried out by two female terrorists with at least two female accomplices, set off fears in Russia of a return to the “black widow” terror attacks that held much of Russia in fear earlier this decade.
The bombings were carefully orchestrated, with the attacks focused on two of Moscow’s most iconic subway stations just as they were filled with maximum crowds. At least 38 were reported killed, with another 67 hospitalized. Ominously, the attacks seemed to be a sign of more to come.
As The New York Times reported, Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov, threatened last month to direct terror attacks within Moscow. “If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, somewhere far off in the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes,” Umarov said.
The Monday attacks were blamed on terror cells associated with Islamic insurgents in the Caucasus region, where anger against Moscow brews among groups including a recently united Islamic front. Formerly, most of these terror attacks had been spawned in neighboring Chechnya, though Russian authorities downplayed direct Chechnyan involvement.
Paul Quinn Judge, a specialist with the International Crisis Group, told The Wall Street Journal that the struggle in the Caucasus region had been transformed in recent years. “Go back … even to the early 2000s and this was still a war being fought for independence by an armed force that was in its majority secular. Now we have a religious war being fought for a caliphate.”
The recent use of female suicide bombers can be traced back to 1985, when a 16-year-old girl drove a truck filled with explosives into an Israeli army convoy. The New York Times reminded its readers that Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a female member of the “Birds of Paradise” in 1991. That group is associated with the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Earlier this decade, female suicide bombers, known in Moscow as “black widows,” carried out at least 16 bombings in Russia.
The specter of spreading terror attacks has the Russian capital in a sense of shock and fear, leading to political speculation about the response of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who staked his reputation on dealing with the earlier round of terror attacks from Chechnya. But, at a deeper level, the attacks have reminded Russians - and especially citizens of Moscow - of the long legacy of terrorism that has afflicted that city since the days of the Tsars.
The statement by Sergey Kuznetsov was deeply rooted in his own memories. “Evil exists, and horror is always right beside you.”
He added, “Tomorrow, we will wake up and live with these truths. At least, until we forget them again, as we have many times before.”
Kuznetsov’s statement reflects the deep moral pessimism that characterizes so much Russian literature, philosophy, and experience. But his words also point to an even deeper biblical foundation. Evil does exist. While the situation in the Caucasus region and Chechnya reflect complex moral and political challenges - and anger against Moscow’s military repression - terror attacks upon noncombatants in Moscow subway stations are evil, nothing less. And the truth is that evil lurks far closer than we wish to admit.
The Bible reminds us that evil lurks in the human heart - and not just in the Caucasus region, Chechnya, or Moscow. Evil is far closer to us than we often allow ourselves to remember. One of the most insidious aspects of evil is its ability to insinuate itself within us so silently, until it bursts forth in the form of a “black widow” or a child abuser.
The terror attacks in Moscow may or may not be a harbinger of more to come. Terror only breeds more terror, and recent history demonstrates the never-ending cycle of evil that such attacks incite.
But this much is clear - evil is real. It should not take scores of dead bodies in a Moscow subway station to remind us of that, but we all too often forget.