Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Central Asia's Muslims: Running to Extremists, or from Dictators?

Once again, the regime of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is under fire for human rights abuses.

In the past, one example of what has allegedly occurred to prisoners in the custody of President Karimov's security forces would be the fate of one Muzafar Avazov, arrested for his involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is either a vangaurd pan-Islamist political party, or an Islamic terrorist group, depending on whom you ask. Mr. Avazov died in 2002 while in custody, with extensive burns and bruises on his body; the burns were said by authorities to be a result of boiling tea thrown on him during a prison fight, though alternate explanations exist. According to the UN High Commission on Human Rights:

The Special Rapporteur recalled that an expert forensic examination based on the photographs of Mr. Avazov’s body had been carried out by a professor of forensic medicine and science at the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) which had concluded, inter alia, that "[t]he pattern of scalding shows a well-demarcated line on the lower chest/abdomen, which could well indicate the forceful application of hot water whilst the person is within some kind of bath or similar vessel. Such scalding does not have the splash pattern that is associated with random application as one would expect with accidental scalding".

Boiling people alive...

From Islam Karimov & Co are the ones radicalising Central Asia, January 18, 2010:

Michael Andersen is a political scientist and journalist who has spent many years in Central Asia.

From Wednesday 20 January, and for the next week, the television channel Aljazeera English is showing his film '(The Myth of) Religious Extremism in Central Asia'. Fergana.ru interviews Michael Andersen about his project.

- Why did you decide to make this film?

- For many years, I have observed how the dictators in Central Asia are using this 'threat' from this so-called 'extremism' to oppress anybody who disagrees with them. Just by labelling them 'extremists' or 'terrorists'.

And how Western politicians are 'buying' the propaganda of people like the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

That is why I decided to make the film and call it 'The Myth of Religious Extremism in Central Asia'.

- You call it a 'myth' - does that mean that you do not believe that extremism is a threat to Central Asia?

- It is not as simple as that.

Earlier extremism was not a threat – but now it is – thanks to people like Mr. Karimov.

Back in the 1990s, when the leaders in Central Asia started warning against this so-called 'extremism' and 'radicalism', the threat was very very limited.

As your readers will know, historically, the kind of Islam that exists in Central Asia is a very moderate type of Islam.

But Karimov and others used the image of Islamic extremism to scare the local population into submission: such as 'only I can protect you against these dangerous Islamist terrorists - so in the name of stability, democracy must wait'.

He could have added 'and anybody who dares criticize me is a traitor or an extremist and will be thrown into prison, tortured etc'.

After the 11, September 2001, the West either naive – or cynical – enough to 'buy' this kind of propaganda about a 'threat' from extremism in Central Asia.

So, at first – when the regimes started warning against it – 'extremism' in Central Asia was mostly a myth.

- But what is the situation today?

- Today - as a direct consequence of the regimes' oppression and their failed economic and social policies - the threat from extremism is growing.

The regimes have turned their own prophesies into truth.

As many expert analyses have showed, organisations like Hizb-ut-Tahrir are getting more members all the time.

And more importantly, still more people sympathize with what they propose – even though they are not members of any of these organisations.

Al-Jazeera... hardly an unimpeachable source, but are they really any worse than our own lamestream media?

So, what is really going on? And, will the world find out?

With a reputation for boiling its enemies alive, the regime seems particularly intimidating as its security services call journalists in for "interviews". From Uzbek secret services collect the records about independent journalists, dated January 15, 2010:

The Tashkent Public Prosecutor's office conducted the series of interrogations of several independent journalists, working in Uzbekistan. On January 7 five of them – Vasiliy Markov, Sid Yanyshev, Abdumalik Boboev, Khusniddin Kutbiddinov and Marina Kozlova (that cooperated with various foreign mass media) were called for "an interview" with Bakhrom Nurmatov, the assistant Public Prosecutor of Tashkent. Vasiliy Markov and Abdumalik Boboev refused to show up without official notice; the rest of journalists met Mr. Nurmatov.

Each of the journalists was presented their own detailed record with articles, bio and other documents. Mr. Nurmatov informed that these documents were delivered from National Security Service (NSS) and Uzbek Foreign Affairs Ministry.

According to Khusniddin Kutbiddinov, Bakhrom Nurmatov named four or five author pseudonyms from the opposition websites. He inquired if the journalist was working for such websites as Turonzamin, Ferghana.Ru, Centrasia. Nurmatov also asked about money transfers from abroad, his relations with the family of convicted journalist Dilmurod Sayid, cooperation with Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Ezgulik. Bakhrom Nurmatov was also concerned if Kutbiddinov ever provided negative information about Uzbekistan.

I can imagine the response from the journalists, as they gaze at the steam from President Karimov's Uzbek version of the "Turkish" bath:

"Negative information about Uzbekistan? From me??"

Regardless of the truth about Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the bottom line is that with friends like these, it is no wonder we have so many enemies.

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