Kimmage Doesn’t Get It

by Laurence on 11/1/2004 · 3 comments

At least, that’s what comes through in his latest RFE/RL report on “persecution” of Muslim leaders on EurasiaNet .

I can’t talk about Turkmenistan, but do think Kimmage is playing a rhetorical trick by comparing Karimov and Turkmenbashi in the same article.

There is no comparison. There is no cult of personality in Uzbekistan. There are no big statues of Karimov, for example. Books are not seized at the airport. Education continues much as before. Travel is much freer. Relations with Russia are much better.

But that is not the point. Kimmage wants to accuse both of anti-Islamism, to attack them as intolerant of Islam, in order to undermine them.

Is Karimov really more intolerant of Islam than President Bush? Kimmage doesn’t dare ask that question.

Both have been accused of persecuting Muslims, by extremists and Human Rights NGOs. Both have been accused of being at war against Islam, both have been accused of serving the Jews, both have arrested thousands of Islamic extemists, both have been accused of torture, etc.

What is so interesting about Kimmage’s propaganda line, is that it does not change no matter what happens.

For example, in Hedrick Smith’s “The New Russians” I found a description of the persecution of Erk and Birlik, that went on to say that because of Karimov’s repression, his government was on the verge of collapse–and this was published in 1991 when George Bush 41 was President!

Smith charged that Karimov’s repression of Islamism is the cause of popular discontent, the same charge made 13 years later by Kimmage. Wrong then, wrong today.

Kimmage writes as if the Taliban and Bin Laden and the World Trade Center and Beslan and Nord Ost and Madrid and the Bali bombings never happened.

Did Clinton and Bush’s repression of Islamism cause the World Trade Center and Pentagon to be attacked? Think carefully, Daniel Kimmage.

If not, then you can’t blame Karimov along these lines, either…

Yes, Karimov is an authoritarian, and that is bad. Yes, democracy would be better for Uzbekistan. But how to get to democracy is subject to debate. Perhaps Erk and Human Rights Watch are wrong, and Bush and Karimov are right?

Modernism and secularism, combined with a respect for Central Asian religious traditions, and a tolerance for Islamic rituals, are acutally far more popular in Uzbekistan than religious extremism.

With the right incentives, Uzbekistan can become more democratic, free, and open. Defending Islamic extremism at RFE/RL is not the way to help Uzbekistan become more democratic. The more people like Kimmage side with extremists, the more people like Kimmage echo claims from partisan NGOs like Human Rights Watch–which has called the Bush administration torturers, too, by the way– the less America’s influence in Uzbekistan will be.

Crushing extremists allows peaceful democratic parties to contest elections without fear, and helps democratic reform. That is one reason why Putin, Blair, Bush, and Karimov are now allies.

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Nathan November 1, 2004 at 10:43 am

I actually think that he’s making a very, very important point. He is arguing that each of these cases was pursued for different reasons germane to the fears of the local governments. He may not say it explicitly, but I understand that to mean that the arrest of these figures in their respective countries has less to do with their particular faith than with the nature of the threat they represent. I think that case would be much more strongly made if Kimmage spent some time showing how the same dynamic works with the arrest and harassment of Christian leaders in Uzbekistan though.

That being said, the way he states his last paragraph does serve to minimize the threat of militant Islam. I think those are tough rhetorical waters and ones that I hate wading into. I honestly believe that the threat is not as large as the Uzbek government would have us believe, but that it most definitely does exist. It can be exceedingly difficult to find the proper balance.

Laurence November 1, 2004 at 10:59 am

Except I think they hassle Christians to show they are not anti-Muslim–especially when it comes to proselytizing, which is prohibited, and bothers religious Muslims. So Christians are being bothered as a favor to Muslims, in effect.

And I don’t buy that the extremist threat is minimal in Uzbekistan. Minimal public support, I agree. But a small group of fanatics can do enormous harm–look at the WorldTrade Center, and our own Patriot Act in response. We jailed thousands of Muslims in America after 9/11, and many are still in detention at Guantanamo Bay, not because they are Muslim, rather as suspected terrorists or supporters of terrorism…

Laurence November 1, 2004 at 11:13 am

BTW, what exactly is the threat Kimmage believes “Alo Eshonkhujaev’ poses to Karimov, if not possession of weapons and sedition?

Why was he framed, supposedly?

When I was in Uzbekistan, I told an American diplomat that I guessed half the prisoners in Uzbek jails were innnocent, from reading the press. No, I was informed, most of them probably are guilty, but that is no reason to torture them. Which is why the US government’s human rights officer investigates every report of a death in custody–even of sworn enemies of the United States…

That comment stuck with me. And I haven’t trusted most NGO reports since.

RFE/RL has correspondents in Tashkent. Why not assign a local reporter to investigate the truth or falsity of the charges, based on fresh reporting? I doubt that Daniel Kimmage, sitting in Washington or Prague, or wherever RFE/RL has him, has any first-hand knowledge of the Uzbek case, and is relying on NGO reports. That is the sort of “outsourcing” John Kerry says got us into trouble before.

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