Baran, Starr, and Cornell on Islamic Radicalism in Central Asia

by Laurence on 7/18/2006 · 14 comments

Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies’ Central Asia-Caucasus Institute has published a new monograph on the aftermath of Andijon: ISLAMIC RADICALISM IN CENTRAL ASIA AND THE CAUCASUS: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE EU.

Paid for by the government of Finland, addressed to the members of the EU, the authors offer an alternative analysis of the Islamist threat in Central Asia, calling upon the West to improve human intelligence, work with regional governments to bolster moderates and secularists against Islamists, and look upon Turkey as a model. The bottom-line recommendation:

On dealing with religious radicalism and government repression, the EU may find it useful to look at the Turkish example, which is relevant to understanding the tension between trying to create a modern and open democratic system and dealing with the threat of fundamentalist and militant Islamic political ideology. Eurasia’s Muslim majorities countries that want to maintain their secular regime, will not listen to naïve suggestions from Western countries that have never dealt with the holistic nature of Islam.

They will, however, listen to advice on creating the right legal and constitutional safety nets so that radical groups, or ‘sleeper cells’, cannot take over secular systems.

To this end, the EU should engage Turkey as it addresses issues of radical Islam in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Besides underscoring a common interest between Turkey and the EU, this would bring benefit in the form of better focused initiatives on the EU’s part, and even possibly to initiatives that are coordinated between the EU and Turkey.

There is an interesting section describing a number of Islamist extremist organizations active in Central Asia, including Akriyama, which has been held responsible for instigating the Andijon violence in May, 2005. This report ought to be required reading for anyone following events in Central Asia. It contains many interesting facts.

However, I think the analysis is a bit outdated. The region has tried the “Turkish model” with little success in the past, felt betrayed by the US and EU over Andijon, so the “Russian path” remains the most likely short-term strategy for combatting Islamic radicalism. If and when US-EU-Russian relations improve and the nations agree to cooperatevis-a-vis the Islamists in the region, then US-EU-Central Asian relations are likely to improve as well…

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Alexander July 19, 2006 at 12:50 am

There’s plenty of Islamic radicalism within the EU – we don’t have to go to Central Asia to find it. The Turkish example is indeed interesting, and shows how a fairly radical (though never terrorist) Islamic movement can metamorphose into a fairly moderate parliamentary party – the AK party (although some remain suspicious of their long-term motives). This is balls though: “Eurasia’s Muslim majorities countries that want to maintain their secular regime will not listen to naïve suggestions from Western countries that have never dealt with the holistic nature of Islam”. That may be what they SAY, but it’s just an excuse. What does “holistic” mean in this sense anyway – the idea that all aspects of life for Muslims are and have been governed by religion? That most Muslims think an Islamic state is necessary to uphold this? That if you allow people to go to the mosque on Fridays and neglect to pull their fingernails out if they grow beards, before you know where you are they’ll be demanding a revival of the Caliphate? Give me a break. It’s certainly what the fundamentalists want, but it is by no means an inevitable condition of being a Muslim. And there are more Islamic radicals in Bobigny and Bolton than in Andijan.

Nick July 19, 2006 at 2:05 am

If by ‘Turkish example the authors mean the derin devlet (lit. ‘deep state’) then I’m sure the Central Asian states will be very eager to adopt that model of government.

As much as the concept of separating mosque and state is to be lauded, the lengths to which the derin devlet goes to maintain that distinction cross the boundary of acceptability into censorship, legal harassment and police/military/security brutality.

Mata Hari July 19, 2006 at 4:40 am

I think what the authors are practically offering is the revival of “Jadidism”, namely the counterpositioning of the moderate (state-controlled) Islam against more radical and conservative forms, mostly coming from Saudi Arabia. It is no coincidence since Saudis were generous to pour millions of dollars to build mosques in CA and with that demanded rooting their version of more radical Islam.

The timing of this report is interesting. Here Baran, Starr are trying to promote (indirectly) the idea of a secular Turkey as a “worthy” member of the EU. Propping up of Turkey’s image in yet another EU accession talks.

Secondly, I think the aim of this report is to bring attention back to Turkey as a bridge state and a mediator between East and West. Sorry to say, but Central Asians are VERY wary of the Turksish model and, it is highly unlikely that much richer Kazakhstan would follow Turkey’s model.

Thirdly, the most important to remember is that, ironically, but Turkey is viewed in Central Asia as too religous!!! Central Asia is way too secular, no comparison to Turkey, at least I can speak for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and even Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. For instance, Turks shock Kazakhs by wearing hijabs, which is quite unusual unless you are in remote villages somewhere in Namangon.

Dolkun July 19, 2006 at 4:47 am

Apropos of nothing, I was amazed to hear that Kyrgyz in the south use “Namangantzi” to mean gay, as in if you see two guys holding hands, they’re Namangantzi! I asked an Uzbek friend about this and he said it’s because people from Namangan have a very soft accent.

Alexander July 19, 2006 at 8:53 am

In this, as in most of their other papers, there’s a singular lack of sources (only twenty-five notes for a fifty-seven page article). Many of the most controversial assertions and assumptions are entirely unrefeferences. The association of “State Islam” in Uzbekistan in particular with brutal, corrupt and economically failing regimes means that pinning your hopes on this as the best means of defeating the extremists is a risky strategy. To characterise it as being the same as the structures which existed under the Khanates shows a total lack of understanding of where the ulama have traditionally derived their authority from: indeed, in their insistence that Islam has always been dependent on the state in Central Asia they recall the idiotic assumptions which lead the Russians to the policy “Ignorirovanie” in 1867-1917. More specifically, if members of the Tabligh Jamaat are “at risk of supporting or joining terrorist groups”, then I suppose we’d better arrest the Pakistan cricket team, currently touring England, who have been considerably influenced by the Tabligh through the former opening batsman Saeed Anwar, who joined it after his daughter died. I daresay members of evangelical churches in America are also “at risk of supporting or joining terrorist groups” by these sloppy criteria, but they don’t seem to be subject to this sort of paranoia. They do not even address the suggestion (made most recently in Murray’s book) that there was something distinctly fishy about the March 2004 attacks in Uzbekistan, or that the so-called “Islamic Jihad Group” has actually been invented by the SNB. Whatever one’s opinion, given the long Soviet traditions of agent provocateur activity and invented “enemies of the state” this view at least deserved some consideration. Their description of the prelude to the Andijan massacre is wholly tendentious and is not borne out by the film footage released by the Uzbek Government itself. Uzbekistan was already looking for an excuse to boot the Americans out, the muted criticism after Andijan gave them that. Khodjend is not an “Uzbek City” – I’ve been there, most people speak Tajik, something borne out in early censuses. Whilst there’s nothing too objectionable in the recommendations they make, the preceding discussion is mendacious, poorly-referenced, often inaccurate, and gives us no real sense of just how strong Islamic extremism in Central Asia really is – the authors clearly don’t know, but it suits their agenda to exaggerate it. Quite how two such pathetic shysters got jobs in a reputable University like Johns Hopkins is beyond me.

Alexander July 19, 2006 at 8:55 am

And when I say two, I mean Starr and Cornell. I don’t know anything about Baran

Mata Hari July 19, 2006 at 9:16 am

To Alexander: Interesting analysis. You highlighted the most important problem, the lack of referencing and valid sources. I don’t want to tag them, but Starr, and Cornell are becoming notoriously famous as billboard researchers… or correctly to say lobbyists. As for Baran, you should listen to one of her lectures. She was writing about oil, and now she is writing about religious fundemetalism. Right why now, since oil and fundementalism is “the same”??? There is no logic, but sheer opportunism. Nothing is worse than a convert, not necessarrily religious, but she wants to be more American than she is a Turk.

Nick July 20, 2006 at 3:41 am

Yes, this report certainly raises one’s eyebrow. Alexander, I note you referred to Craig Murray’s book. In contrast to these authors, who state that ‘the link between drug trafficking and religious extremism is proven doubt’ (p53), Murray argues that the real link is between Rachid Dostum and the Uzbek government.

Moreover, the collapse of the Taliban regime, who at different times wavered between increrasing or reducing opium production, means that this kind of analysis is somewhat out of date. Again, Cornell et al make a bold statement with no refrence to back it up.

Frankly, if I had the cojones and the wherewithal (and not least the moral sense of gnat), I’d be a drug trafficker, regardless of my religious beliefs. Why? because there’s a sh*tload of money in it!

Nick July 20, 2006 at 3:48 am

Oops, misquotation; it should read: ‘the link between drug trafficking and religious extremism is proven beyond doubt’.

Alexander July 20, 2006 at 4:01 am

I know – proven by whom, I wonder? I don’t think that was referenced. The link between Dostum and the Uzbek government requires further investigation in my view – I’m not sure Murray’s case is proven either, but they should at least have mentioned it. However, we’re looking in the wrong place if we want a balanced analysis of Security threats in CA.

Alexander July 20, 2006 at 4:05 am

And, of course, the two are not mutually exclusive.

David July 20, 2006 at 3:36 pm

The Turkish thing is just Baran’s usual stuff (she’s of Turkish background). Its not thought through, and doesn’t take account of CA governments’ paranoia about Turkish schools, politicians etc, as far too Islamist for their taste. Its just one of many unsupported assertions that would take an age to challenge. Baran is not known for her wide range of references – indeed none of the authors seems to have any research in Osh, say, or Andijan. They go to conferences, and that’s about it. The stuff on HT and the IMU is particularly weak. The Makarenko reference seems to show how little research they have done. The don’t cite the main works on HT, or on the IMU. Sadly, this will feed through to US policy-makers, I suppose, – Baran is close to the neocon circuit – but why the Finns are funding it is beyond me. Presumably they don’t know any better.

behrang August 18, 2006 at 9:18 pm

kose sher

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