May I Repeat Myself?

by Laurence on 5/26/2005 · 4 comments

On June 12, 2004, I published “Uzbekistan at a Crossroads” here on I warned at that time against a cutoff in aid to Uzbekistan, in this conclusion:

Because Uzbekistan’s economy is not dependent on US aid, America needs to carefully consider the consequences of any major change in policy. Neither Russia nor China can permit another Islamic state to appear in Central Asia. Needless to say, neither Russians nor Chinese see democracy as their top priority in Uzbekistan.

The choice facing Uzbekistan is not between Islam Karimov’s repression and American-style democracy. At this point, it is between Karimov’s authoritarian rule and something worse. This United States is the only major power simultaneously working to fight terrorism and support human rights in Central Asia. American efforts and aid programs have been aimed at eliminating the most flagrant violations, while promoting democracy, respect for human rights, and free markets.

Without financial aid from America, internal and regional pressures will tend towards a reversion to the greater repression of the Soviet system in order to fight terrorism in Uzbekistan—one that crushed threats to the social order at a much higher cost in human suffering.

Since I think that analysis has withstood the test of time, I’ll add that the the killings in Andijan unfortunately result in part from well-intentioned but misguided US policies and aid programs over the last year that have encouraged Islamist elements.

So here’s a suggestion for US policy change (NOT regime change) that I hope I can clip and paste a year from now in good conscience as a positive step: The US might now announce that it will no longer support any Islamist parties, individuals or organizations of any kind–whether peaceful or violent–and instead only support progressive, liberal, western-oriented reform based on Enlightenment principles. Such reform might be generously funded, provided those involved have nothing to do with Islamism.

The Karimov regime has remained in power because the choice available so far has been between bad and worse. Now is possibly an opportune time to permit the worse to be eliminated by the bad, in order to make room for something better in the future. Given American problems in Iraq, it is definitely not the time to encourage an Islamist rebellion that might set Central Asia ablaze, nor to depose Karimov for defending his country against Islamists.

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Nathan May 26, 2005 at 9:37 am

The pressures that led to this uprising had nothing to do with US aid, and most likely, next to nothing to do with Islamism. It’s the seeds of three years of aggressive attacks on how people make a living finally sprouting.

You’ve said it yourself. Uzbeks aren’t all that interested in building an Islamic state, and I think there’s an incredibly high burden of proof for those who want to seriously claim that a weeklong protest involving thousands of people was motivated by Islamist sentiment. Rather, the Andijon protest is part and parcel of the protests across the country that have gone on since November and the previous ones in Andijon that have been motivated by the government shutdown of large employers and bazaars. The Uzbek government can’t get a pass on putting down all dissent and resisting the need to reform its economy even if it does face a legitimate (but, come on, diminishing) security threat. We can’t allow them to play the Chinese trick of saying anyone who wants something different and happens to be Muslim is a violent terrorist bent on overthrowing the state.

I personally don’t think we should be supporting any parties. (I’m lucky though. We don’t.) We should be as viewpoint neutral as possible and resist giving anything but rhetorical and technical support to those who want democracy and economic reform. If they happen to be Muslim or think that Islam has a role in Uzbekistan, so be it so long as they don’t want to build an Islamic state.

Laurence, really, you don’t think that the between 500 and 1,000 people that were cut down were Islamists that Karimov was bravely defending the country against, do you or that we’re providing deliberate, direct support to Islamist organizations trying to overthrow the state? If so, you’ve got one hell of a mountain of evidence that I’d like to see.

david l May 26, 2005 at 8:36 pm

you seem to be entering the weird conspiracy camp perviously occupied only by a couple of clapped out KGB colonels. Do you also believe that Hizb ut-Tahrir was invented by the CIA…?

david_walther May 26, 2005 at 11:25 pm

..”The US might now announce that it will no longer support any Islamist parties, individuals or organizations of any kind…”

I think you’ve really found something here. In fact, I think you ought to write a letter to President Bush and let him know that we are supporting Islamist organizations, and maybe include a list of them, I’m sure he would really appreciate it!! Not only that, I’m sure he’ll be really shocked, since after all the whole foundation of his presidency is that thing called “the war on terrorism” (maybe you’ve heard of it) that devotes billions of dollars to fighting islamist organizations…

Therese May 27, 2005 at 4:32 am

Just want to throw this one into the mix – is Islam in politics necessarily always a bad thing? Many European nations have a long tradition of “Christian democrat” parties who’ve generally been a source of stability. One example is the Christian Democratic Union, who ushered West Germany into the post-war era, governing for nearly 30 years after World War II.

The strength of such parties is that they embody a clear set of traditional values around which a wide spectrum of the population can unify – perhaps even especially at a time of crisis.

It strikes me that in countries where Islam is and has been the main religion for hundreds of years, a moderate, traditional Islamic political movement could actually counter the extremists, by giving devout Muslims somewhere else to go.

The impulse to give political expression to one’s religious convictions seems quite a natural one to me. Religion plays some political role in most of the countries I’ve known.

Clearly there is a crisis in Islam in many parts of the world, and a crisis in the relationship between Islam and the non-Islamic world.

But I’m not convinced that the only possible political expression of Islam is Islamic fundamentalism, and I don’t think the solution is to exclude every Muslim who seeks, as the US president himself does, to place their religion in a political context.

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