A variation on the “angry Muslims” theme

by Christian Bleuer on 1/26/2010 · 24 comments

Hi, my name is Christian Bleuer. You may know me from such blogs as Ghosts of Alexander and The Complex Terrain Lab. I’m now too busy to keep up with my own blog, and I want to write more on north of the Amu Darya issues. So I thought Registan.net would be a nice home for a while. I’ll throw out the occasional post here.

I’ll start with a 23-minute al Jazeera report slash short documentary titled “Breeding Extremism.” I can’t figure out how to embed here, so check it out on youtube.

It’s about the repressive policies/tactics that Central Asian governments used against anybody they think is going to use political Islam for any purpose. Old news for the readership here, I know.

What I thought worth mentioning is how similar the theme of this al Jazeera report is to the doom-sayers who have warned of the impending threat of “Islamic rage” in Central Asia. The latter would be (1) the Sovietologists who read far too much anti-religious Soviet literature and believed that it reflected reality; (2) the journalists and commentators of the post-Soviet era (i.e., Ahmed Rashid) who believed that the region-wide arrival of violent political Islam had merely been delayed and; (3) the current flock of “experts” and journalists who now see Central Asia as a possible career escape route when Afghanistan is left to fend for itself, and who are starting to sound the alarm about the possibility of violent Islamists movements threatening states in the region.

So how is this report similar?

Basically, al Jazeera has just moved the time-frame for the violent Islamist threat into the very near future. There are still extremist bogeymen… just around the corner rather than in the closet.

The al Jazeera version is one that says “repression breeds extremism, so stop repression.” [paraphrase] That sounds simple enough, but from the perspective of the current ruling elite, the threat from Islamists occurred once already in the past (peaking in 1991-2 in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), at a time of steadily improving social rights and liberalization rather than in an environment of increasing repression. The current strategy seems to be working for their purposes, as bad as it is. They’ll likely stick with it.

So we have both the political left and right speaking about a threat from Islamist extremists. But I’m less worried than both of these two generalized and stereotyped groups. I of course see the danger of the occasional attack, but I don’t think I see a larger threat to the state and/or to society emanating from Islamists.

Why? Their social base is just far to weak. They can’t distribute resources or privileges on a scale large enough to build a loyal following to a degree sufficient to challenge the state. They no longer enjoy the shock environment of the post-1991 era when there was a scramble by some to attempt a restructuring of government and society at a time when things were far more open. They have the most feeble foreign support that shows no signs of improving. There are numerous alternatives to Islamists when one seeks to fulfill their spirituals needs and duties. And the governments can point to violent episodes such as the Tajik civil war and Iraq as possible scenarios if one wishes to change their rulers.

Are there moral arguments that should be made? Absolutely. But will this immoral repression lead to any states in Central Asia being taken over by enraged Muslims? I really, really doubt it.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 22 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

I am currently a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 24 comments }

AJK January 26, 2010 at 9:14 am

You say their social base is far too weak, and I agree. But there’s the opportunity to change things, I think. If Islamicist groups can offer a better education, either in humanities or vocational, to go along with religious, then they’ll have a huge advantage on the state. They can’t offer much for the current generation, perhaps, but they can set up the next generation. So maybe not “around the corner” but certainly theoretically possible. It all depends on how you define “violent Islamist”

I wrote a bit on the education gap from another perspective here: http://www.registan.net/index.php/2009/10/26/fethullahcilar-education-and-the-future-of-central-asia/

Also, the first two blogs on my blogroll have gone defunct in order. I hope Yigal Schleifer is keeping his day job.

Laurence Jarvik January 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Christian,
Why has there been growth in Islamist fundamentalist extremism in Western democracies such as Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Germany, or the United States at the same time as it is taking place in countries such as Uzbekistan? Do you see any threat to Western countries from Islamist extremism? If so, could it be that the issue of government repression is a red herring? If not, how do you explain the Christmas bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit?

Grant January 27, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I would argue that it’s because there is a growth of young, politically aware men, often second generation Algerians or Pakistanis (etc) who are torn between the dominant Western culture and what their parents teach. Much like the left wing movements of the 60s through 80s they have a great deal of discontent, distrust for the democratic system to deal with it, and for an incredibly small minority (ALWAYS remember that) willingness to act violently to cause some change in society.

For threats, I personally doubt that we will see anything resembling insurgencies in the West, instead I find ‘home-grown terrorists’ much more likely, particularly in response to issues such as France’s attitude towards veils. With this you might see attacks that are quickly hyped and then forgotten by the media, but not much in the way of threats to the existence of the nations.

Toryalay Shirzay January 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm

What you say about Islamists being unable right now to take over any of the central Asian states is correct.However the Islamic virus has revived considerably since the breakup of the Soviet Union and many central Asians have once again been afflicted with this deadly islamic virus thanks to the great efforts and money from Saudi Arabia,Gulf oil sheiks,Iran and Pakistan.This fact poses a great danger to the current and future peace and prosperity of all central Asians and thus the governments in central Asia must do everything possible to kill this virus it destroys their societies.Also be aware that Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for Islamists and their supporters and thus it must be ignored as much as possible.

Laurence Jarvik January 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm

BTW, although filmmaker Michael Anderson handed me a Danmarks Radio business card when I met him in Tashkent years ago, he failed to mention this tidbit about Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s record in Denmark from the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/3182271.stm):

We went to Denmark, where Hizb Ut Tahrir has come to the attention of the police and the courts because of its anti-Semitic views. In March and April 2002, Hizb Ut Tahrir handed out leaflets in a square in Copenhagen, and at a mosque. The leaflet, which also appeared on the Danish groups internet site, makes threats against Jews, using a quote from the Koran urging Muslims to ‘kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have been turned you out.’ The leaflet also said, ‘The Jews are a people of slander…a treacherous people… they fabricate lies and twist words from their right context.’ And the leaflet describes suicide bombings in Israel as “legitimate” acts of “Martyrdom”.

KAREN-INGER BAST:
According to the Danish penal code, you are not allowed to threaten or to humiliate people with other ethnic backgrounds. And we thought that was exactly what the Hizb Ut Tahrir did towards the Jews.

KHAN:
Last October, Fadi Abdelatif, Hizb Ut Tahrir’s spokesman in Denmark, was found guilty of distributing racist propaganda. He had translated the leaflet from Arabic and had access to the groups web site. Abdelatif was given a sixty day suspended sentence.

BAST:
From my point of view, it is one of the worst cases we have had, because of the threats. In this case it was different, because there was this ‘kill them wherever you find them’. There was this concrete threat. So I asked the court to make the sixty days not suspended, so that he had to go to jail, but the court did not follow me.

KHAN:
The court rejected Abdelatif’s argument that he was merely quoting from the Koran, and the leaflet was an act of free speech. The court also did not accept that the leaflet was, as he argued, aimed solely at the Israeli state and not Jews generally. In particular, the court found that in “linking the quotes from the Koran to the subsequent description of Jews as a people characterised negatively…is an evident statement of a threat against Jews.”

The Danish magistrate described Hizb Ut Tahrir as secretive, but the case did expose something of the way the group is organised. The Danish police established that the web site on which the offending material was published was being hosted in the UK. That wasn’t relevant to their case so they didn’t pursue it any further.”

Turgai Sangar January 28, 2010 at 6:10 am

Well, as everyone knows seizing every possible and impossible occasion to cry ‘anti-semitism’ remains a prime tactic to cover the facts, e.g. http://www.ifamericansknew.org

Michael Hancock January 26, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Hey Christian! Welcome aboard, matey. Hope to be writing more myself — especially since you and Joshua will have Afghanistan CORNERED, yeah? Great welcome post.

Michael Hancock January 26, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I wrote a long comment on this on either its home page or another one hosting it — I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to post it here…. sigh. Craig Murray always makes me nervous, in any event.

Grant January 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I agree that repression alone won’t be enough to cause a large increase in support for militant political Islam, for that you would require massive failings on the part of the state as well. Additionally, the middle class of the ‘stans are for the most part still relatively small and therefore there aren’t many people to be radicalized as we would expect. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that fighting on ethnic/tribal grounds might also identify itself with a form of Islam.

Christian Bleuer January 27, 2010 at 8:12 pm

AJK,

I don’t see any Islamist/Islamicist groups having any success in this way. As for our Turkish friends and their schools, they are doing as good as a job of turning their students into “true believers” as the Jesuits did. Meaning not a good job at all. But a great education…

Laurence,

Not my area of specialty. I’ll leave that question to others.

Toryalay,

I guess we will have to just agree to disagree with each other. AS for Al Jazeera English. I just find them to be left of centre in a western sense. I don’t see their English channel as being Islamist. And I’m far from convinced that there Arabic channel is anything close to Islamist.

Michael,

[SECRET Indiana University code visible only to us]

Grant,

That actually happened in Tajikistan. But the Islamists (of a sort) discredited themselves by attaching to such a narrow base. It was the inability of Islamic solidarity in overcoming more important loyalties….

Toryalay Shirzay January 28, 2010 at 12:57 am

Christian
It will take you 25 more years of full time concentration to to be able to discern the nuances of Al Jazeera or to be able to correctly read between the lines of Islamists.This is especially true of anyone coming from the West.Nothing personal,it is just the reality on the ground.

Christian Bleuer January 28, 2010 at 1:35 am

Toryalay,

So everyone in the West should just give up and listen to people who live in or come from societies in the “non-West”? Problem is, the locals are saying different things and they disagree with each other. While you may feel that Al Jazeera has an Islamist agenda, there are others who speak Arabic and know Islam inside and out (yes, locals and people who have those 25 years) whose analysis differs from yours. And I agree with them. Nothing personal, it is just the reality on the ground.

Dafydd January 28, 2010 at 4:12 am

al Jazeera English is very heavily populated by ex BBC Arabic service people. With classic British timing much of the BBC Arabic service was disbanded in the 1990s.

I can see traces of BBC liberal leftism all over al Jazeera.

Turgai Sangar January 28, 2010 at 5:48 am

Well, at the end of the day Islam does not need an ‘Islamic revolution’ to come and grow back in Central Asia/Southern Eurasia. It is slowly trickling back into society the natural way, helped by the complete bankrupcy and failure of Communism, nationalism and neo-liberal Western capitalism with all the social rot that it brought.

The Toryalays and Laurences better get used to it.

@Grant, reg. “often second generation Algerians or Pakistanis who are torn between the dominant Western culture and what their parents teach”.

Yes, though I’d fine-tune that more as such: torn between the dominant Western culture and often its darker and more perverted sides they’ve been confronted with, the stagnating traditionalism of their parents, and transnational Islam.

Turgai Sangar January 28, 2010 at 5:48 am

Well, at the end of the day Islam does not need an ‘Islamic revolution’ to come and grow back in Central Asia/Southern Eurasia. It is slowly trickling back into society the natural way, helped by the complete bankrupcy and failure of Communism, nationalism and neo-liberal Western capitalism with all the social rot that it brought.

The Toryalays and Laurences better get used to it.

@Grant, reg. “often second generation Algerians or Pakistanis who are torn between the dominant Western culture and what their parents teach”.

Yes, though I’d fine-tune that more as such: torn between the dominant Western culture and often its darker and more perverted sides they’ve been confronted with, the stagnating traditionalism of their parents, and transnational Islam.

Laurence Jarvik January 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

Grant,

A threat doesn’t have to result in a revolution or insurrection, it could be a reign of terror that saps blood and treasure…which since 9/11 would be the case in the US.

Turgai,

Your “natural way” is getting a help from Iranian and Saudi Arabian despots with their own geopolitical designs, as well as enablers in the West (especially the UK and US). Such beliefs in historical inevitability are not new. When I was going to school people in my university taught that the “natural” evolution of societies under the laws of history was towards socialism. This explained such phenomena as the Sandinistas and Vietcong. The job of America was to get used to it. I believed them. And I was wrong to do so, since it turned out that “natural” development was reversed by the Reagan administration. Likewise, a “natural” evolution of societies towards “Islamism” could be reversed by strong leadership. My guess at this point such resistance is more likely to come from China and Russia…but I wouldn’t give up on the US, in the long run. And I wouldn’t bet on a return to the Dark Ages, despite how it looks today.

Turgai Sangar January 29, 2010 at 4:01 am

Lavrenti:

I found your comment interesting in the sense that you seem to reveal that you are one of these former left-wingers who compensates for his disappointments and frustrations with the seventies movement with rabiate Islam-bashing (a stillborn cause that is). There’s scores of these in Europe too.

“Your “natural way” is getting a help from Iranian and Saudi Arabian despots with their own geopolitical designs”

This line of thinking is rooted in the fact that the Afghan anti-Communist resistance of the eighties received Saudi and (to a lesser extent) Iranian support and that Iran partly supports the Lebanese Hizbollah (a legitimate defense force against the Zionist death squads) but you can not apply the same to Southern Eurasia today.

Despite the regional regimes’ eagerness to label every form and every expression of non-official Islam as ‘Wahhabism’ and, in the best Stalinist tradition, see the hand of foreign agents behind every sneeze, the following and impact of Saudi-style Wahhabism (as wellas of Iranian Khomeinism) in the region is close to nil.

Despite all the pundit talk at the time, I don’t even think that the Iranian government even seriously considered to ‘export’ its Khomeinist model of governance to the former USSR.

Laurence, you’re an intelligent person. Do you *seriously* suggest than that brave Islamic revival movements like Hizb Ut-Tahrir and Tabligh, to name but two examples, are funded by Saudi Arabia, Iran or any other state? Well, let me tell you: you’re wrong. 😉

“My guess at this point such resistance is more likely to come from China and Russia…but I wouldn’t give up on the US, in the long run.”

Despite diplomatic lip service about a common interest to fight ‘terrorism’ and keep Islam in check, Russia, China and the Anglo-American axis are increasingly involved in covert and proxy warfare with each other in Eurasia and Africa. They will eventually destroy or at least weaken each other.

“And I wouldn’t bet on a return to the Dark Ages, despite how it looks today.”

There’s no need to bet anything post-factum because the Dark Ages in Uzbekistan and other parts of Southern Eurasia are already back: Karimov’s regime, as well as the impoverishment and social degeneration and unraveling that fell upon the region in the nineties (unless you call that ‘enlightment’ of course).

Grant January 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm

It’s true that overreactions can produce unpleasant results, but as internment of Japanese in WWII and the McCarthy hearings taught us, hypes fade. It isn’t pleasant, it isn’t fair, but as years go by people start to question things and whether harsh measures are really necessary.

Laurence Jarvik January 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

Turai,

You say I’m wrong. But how can you be sure? If the Tabligh and Hizb-ut-Tahrir were to publish audited financial statements on the Web detailing sources of financing, you could state with confidence where the money is coming from. Since there is secrecy about finances at this point, nobody outside those organizations knows for sure. Not you. Not me.

However, they enjoy open and public support from Saudis and Iranians, as well as other Gulf despots including owners of Al Jazeera who give air time and money to the likes of Michael Andersen. And, given the nature of such regimes, this couldn’t take place without approval from mullahs, kings or princes involved. So I’ll stand by my view based on public information, not Stalinist propaganda.

I agree that Russia, China and the US are currently still jockeying for advantage against one another. This was true until 1941, in the case of WWII. Hitler had come to power in 1933. In the end, however, they overcame differences to eliminate an overarching threat. Then, during the Cold War, the jockeying resumed.

Russia, China, and the US won’t destroy each other. It may not happen soon, but the logic of events is such that they will be forced by circumstance to band together to destroy the threat of Islamism, as they destroyed Hitlerism, the British Empire (remember that?), and Marxist-Leninism. Whether it means a re-partition of Iran, or something else, only time will tell…

Turgai Sangar January 30, 2010 at 8:31 am

“If the Tabligh and Hizb-ut-Tahrir were to publish audited financial statements on the Web detailing sources of financing, you could state with confidence where the money is coming from.”

Suggest this to Deloitte & Touche. 😉 Other that that, the Hizb is largely funded through contributions of the members themselves. It’s not because scores of liberal and secular NGOs in the region merely follow the donor money (I think we agree on that one), that there are not people who are sincerely involved in and convinced of a just cause without being paid agents, you know.

The Hizb is a relatively low-budget thing, having no military wing and no heavy logistic infrastructure but working mainly through media, portals and a peer-to-peer approach. It takes a lot of courage and personal risk (and, thus, a lot of anger, often after first-hand experiences, at the rogue regimes and the international double standards or outright complicity) to be part of the Hizb and other Islamic liberation movements.

“Whether it means a re-partition of Iran, or something else, only time will tell…”

It seems that you would like that to happen (of course, a bevvy of criminal ethnic baronies à la Kosovo is easier to control). Or am I wrong?

“It may not happen soon, but the logic of events is such that they will be forced by circumstance to band together to destroy the threat of Islamism”

That would already have happened.

This being said, at the end of the day, I believe that Karimov’s downfall will not be engineerde by the Hizb and other ‘angry Muslims’ but by Russia. Like many African dictators did before them, Karimov and his wicked spawn can buy time by savvily using the jockeying between the pwoers but can not continue his little game unpunished forever.

“including owners of Al Jazeera who give air time and money to the likes of Michael Andersen. And, given the nature of such regimes, this couldn’t take place without approval from mullahs, kings or princes involved.”

Of course it’s irritating that not every media outlet toes the Fox News and Jihadwatch.org line, especially against the as obvious as embarassing background of eight years of disastrous neocon-Zionist rule.

“In the end, however, they overcame differences to eliminate an overarching threat.”

I don’t think that you can compare both phases of history. The temporary Anglo-American and Soviet alliance against the Third Reich and Japan was one of competing imperialisms, whereas today’s creaky alliance against ‘Islamic terrorism’ is one centered around a pretext to expand or consolidate neo-imperial spheres (the ever-present ‘terrorist threat’ as an prime alibi to set up bases, send military advisors, get into arms markets, etc… ) as well as to subjugate and further exploit the resource-rich Islamic world.

See, at the end of the day, those who want to flight Islam really don’t care about ‘democracy’, ‘liberation’, ‘enlightment’ or whatever hypocrite bollocks they may come up with (the naïve liberals who are being manipulated do believe that, but not teh key figures). It’s about enslaving and internalising subjugation. It would honour you and the likes of you if you could just admit that.

Turgai Sangar January 30, 2010 at 8:38 am

“However, they (HT) enjoy open and public support from Saudis and Iranians”

Do get that that from here (cf. Chapter ‘What the US does not know’)?
http://www.heritage.org/research/russiaandeurasia/BG1656.cfm

Toryalay Shirzay January 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

‘”Islamic liberation” Turgai??? the majority of women in islamic countries will never agree with you as they are enslaved by the very ideas and customs of the Arab-islam.How can you consider islamic ideas and practices which are based on sheer lies to be enlightening?You are sitting somewhere in Britain or Europe and enjoy the freedom which they don’t deny you and yet you belittle them and continue to cling to ideas coming from the land of lies and falsehood.what gives??

Turgai Sangar January 31, 2010 at 8:04 am

HA! I was wondering why it took so long… The ever-present concern about the predicament of ‘the women’ in ‘the Islamic world’, or the last alibi of the Islam-haters and the neocons and one of the worst case of hypocrisy ever. I find it always most revealing to hear the silence of the very same indignated gender crusaders when it comes to the exploitation of women from the slums of Manilla or the sex-traffic from Ukraine, to name but two examples.

I could get into a long diatribe on that issue, yet will suggest one thing to you and others if interested: ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?’
http://www.smi.uib.no/seminars/pensum/abu-lughod.pdf

Safe in Britain or Europe… I will not paste my cv here, but believe me, dosym: I have experienced the nature of Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s regimes, seen what happened to the Muslims in Bosnia, and I’ve also seen the hypocrisy and double standards of ‘the international community’ in all those cases all first hand, and the situation in Southern Eurasia is much more my personall business than you can imagine (btw, the message is also for Noah Tucker who once implicitly called me a coward which is hard to digest). Hence, Toryalay, I don’t have any street credibility lectures to get.

Toryalay Shirzay January 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Christian, you sound very familiar as i know a few other Westerners who have spent a little time in moslem lands and have become infatuated with stuff there.You havn’t interacted with those who have many decades of learning and real experience although you have interacted with many who do not have much depth.The majority of moslems don’t even read a book much less credible works of scholarship.Thus i stand by my assertion that need far more understanding and depth before you can clearly discern the nuances of the islamic world.

Previous post:

Next post: