Harris on Uzbekistan

by Nathan Hamm on 5/18/2005 · 3 comments

Lee Harris comments on the policy choices the US faces in the wake of the Andijon massacre over at Tech Central Station. He says there is a tension between choosing to fight Islamic extremism and choosing to support democracy. I disagree. The two largely go hand in hand.

Harris may have come to this conclusion because he has a funny understanding of what happened in Andijon last week.

The Uzbek uprising was, from all appearances, a spontaneous and popular one, a genuine manifestation of the people’s will. Yet the Uzbek uprising was sparked off by a people whose sympathies lie not with the United States, but with Islamic extremists and militants. The uprising itself, according to reports, began with an attack on a prison where 23 Muslim businessmen were being held for trial as terrorists — an attack that ended not only in freeing the 23 Muslim businessmen, but everyone else who was being held in the same prison. [Emphasis added]

Really now? I guess if one stumbled into the story on the morning of the 13th (and not learning about the arrests of protesters on the 12th), tore it completely out of the context of the history of unrest in Andijon and the rest of the country, didn’t check out the history of Akramiya (which includes the former chief mufti of Uzbekistan’s opinion that they aren’t militant or political, but are unorthodox), and diregarded what statements of local protesters, this makes a lot of sense..

The choice isn’t as “brutal” as Harris thinks. Sure, the attack on the prison may have been the work of Islamic militants. It also could have been the work of the powerful families in Andijon who have come under fire from the government recently. Either way, to color unrest across the entire country as being motivated by Islam is not just wrong, but flat out lazy.

American policy certainly can be improved, but not by the advice of those who are quick to condemn Uzbeks who take to the streets in protest as enemies of civilization.

Uzbeks deserve much better than the advice TCS has to offer.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 3 comments }

praktike May 18, 2005 at 2:46 pm

I agree with your critique of Harris, but what the heck is this about?

Nathan May 18, 2005 at 2:55 pm

Beats me. It certainly has more info than earlier reports I’d read to this effect.

Juan June 13, 2005 at 8:54 pm

Harris assumes the role of a gadfly/extremist provocateur, but he raises some good questions even if you dislike his answers. Basically, the U.S. has, since the Cold War, bitten off more than it can chew in foreign affairs. The notion that we can police the world and convert everyone (by force, if need be)to the American Way of Life is a recipe for catastrophic imperial over-reach. The crusading zeal of a Thomas Friedman column is scarier than what Harris dishes up.

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