Did You Know Muslims Are Still Scary?

by Joshua Foust on 2/9/2010 · 19 comments

Reuters is worried you might forget.

Long ignored as a myth whipped up by the authorities to justify political repression, a surge in radical Islam in the former Soviet region has become a reality for the West fighting an increasingly tough war in next-door Afghanistan.

Analysts say long-defunct groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are regaining force in the impoverished region where ethnic tensions have long simmered under the surface.

“They (militants) are preparing the ground for a long, sustained military campaign in Central Asia,” said Ahmed Rashid, a leading Pakistan-based expert on Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Let’s just say Ahmed Rashid isn’t exactly an authoritative voice on Uzbeks or the IMU and leave it at that. Now, beyond the clichés that pepper this piece of “analysis”—Central Asia is vast but only defined by its neighbors, the governments are strong but the region is fragile, people are flocking to Islamists but the Islamists have no real presence there. Reuters included everything it could.

A piece of cliché wouldn’t be all that objectionable, however. Reuters goes off the rails when it compares Central Asia to Yemen:

The trend is particularly alarming because of recent parallels with the situation in Yemen, where growing instability has led to fears it may become al Qaeda’s next hunting ground…

First alarm bells rang in Central Asia last year when Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz troops fought gangs they described as terrorist — around the time when the security situation in northern Afghanistan deteriorated sharply.

“It does not matter who exactly was behind those attacks. It still means instability, that something’s going on,” said one Western diplomat. “It is certainly something we are watching.”

Actually, it matters very much who is behind those attacks. Dealing with organized criminal networks, which are extensive and have varying levels of informal ties to different governments in the region, is a fundamentally different question than dealing with al Qaeda infiltrators trying to spark an Islamist revolution.

That Ahmed Rashid is still—a decade after he said the IMU would sweep across Central Asia—claiming the IMU poses even a vague threat to any of these countries is unsurprising; what is surprising is how readily otherwise steady news organizations fall for such pandering fear mongers. For example, this:

One Uzbek-language video, posted on YouTube, shows a desert training facility where dozens of children in black Taliban-style turbans, clutching AK-47s, learn how to shoot.

“Oh children of mujahideen! You are the future warriors of Allah!” says the narrator. Complete with Russian subtitles, it clearly targets the Russian speaking audience of Central Asia.

Was actually filmed in Pakistan. That they have to gather there for camps and film events should say something about the real threat they post to Central Asia proper, don’t you think?

Hizb-ut Tahrir and Violence
Gauging the “Threat” of Islamism in Central Asia
Does the IJU even exist?
A variation on the “angry Muslims” theme

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Laurence Jarvik February 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Maybe the IMU hasn’t taken over Central Asia precisely because the governments of the former Soviet republics a have ignored advice from so-called Western “experts”? Likewise, fundamentalist Islamist extremists seem to be doing somewhat better in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan–areas currently under US, NATO or EU occupation…

Just a thought.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 4:57 am

Just a counter-though: maybe the IMU did not took over because its capacity and social base have been systematically exaggerated by the regime to justify itself?

Zach February 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I liked this little line about Kyrgyzstan the most:

“In Kyrgyzstan, another potentially volatile nation, economic growth fell to 2.3 percent last year from 8.4 percent in 2008.”

First, what nation isn’t “potentially volatile?” Second, what does that even mean? Kyrgyzstan has one of the more vibrant civil societies in the neighborhood and is pretty stable and peaceful. Three – its GDP grew! Jesus, if the U.S. had 2.3% economic growth I might be able to move back home and get a job.

This piece started with this sentence:

“Central Asia is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.”

I thought this would be a trailer for the new Van Damme flick or something. To my disappointment it was just lazy scaremongering journalism. I’d rather have the Van Damme.

Toryalay Shirzay February 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Islamism has strong undercurrents in Central Asia and the only way you can know this is if you lived there for many years and had many personal relationships with them.A Westerner going to Tashkent and staying in hotels,attending public gatherings and speeches will never be able to accurately gauge this strong Islamic undercurrents and undertoes.Now that communism is not there to check Islam,central Asian governments understandably have to do it themselves because Islam is first and foremost a political phenomenon (it requires absolute submission or off with your head) and then a religion.What confuses most people in the East and the West is that Islam consists of Arab political ideology,rules of governance,behavior,Arab customs,habits and even Arab names and Arab religious feelings ,all these combined and passed for a religion. And so most people are fooled thinking this is only a religion just like any other.Far from it,Islam is political power enforced with the most extreme fear possible,the threat of beheading.
No one should be surprised to see Islamic videos made in Pakistan as Pakistan knows very well how to use Islam to achieve political and military power and they have perfected and demonstrated this craft in Afghanistan by taking over by proxy.Everybody must be aware that it remains the policy of Pakistan to take control of Central Asia through Islam even if it takes a hundred years.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 4:59 am

“and the only way you can know this is if you lived there for many years and had many personal relationships with them.”

Well Toryalai, I think that applies to yours truly and several others here. As for you, by contrast, I doubt if you ever set foot in Uzb and other parts of Southern Eurasia.

dave February 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm

sometimes their language sounds like a wishful thinking.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

If that means that the Karimovs end as brutally as they ruled, it’s many peoples’ wish.

Laurence Jarvik February 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm

FYI, here’s a link to an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal about the Afghan National Army now turning to Soviet-trained officers for help:


Turgai February 10, 2010 at 4:37 am

Thanks. Interesting indeed, especially if one remembers that the Soviets also bit the dust in Af’stan. 😉

reader February 9, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Here and there we are seeing reports popping up about the wildfire spread of extremism to former Soviet Republics, Gulnora gets a job in Spain, and Korea’s President will represent US interest in giving US military access to Navoiy “International” base…what’s going on?



Laurence Jarvik February 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm


That is indeed an interesting item about the Korean President serving as substitute US Ambassador…sort of looks like an end run around the US State Department, somehow. Where’s Hillary? Anyhow, IMHO, if I were the Uzbek government, I’d insist on a state visit from President Obama himself for the ribbon-cutting, plus cash in advance without strings, plus no more insults, before opening another US base…

Laurence Jarvik February 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm


As far as Gulnara in Spain, when I was in Tashkent, they were very big on Tamerlane’s letter to the King of Spain, in which they formed an alliance against the Ottoman Sultan–who was subsequently captured and killed. The idea was that it formed a historical precedent for Uzbekistan’s relationship with the EU vis-a-vis Al Qaeda, Wahabism, etc…. So, I’d read a lot into it, actually.

Perhaps history is repeating itself?

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 4:36 am

🙂 lol Yes, just like Gulnara’s post with the UN in Geneva was a repetition of the Holy Alliance between Timur and the crack crossbow squads of Wilhelm Tell against the Imminent Evil Wahhabi-Salafi Takeover of the Alps maybe?

Unless it had more something to do with the vicinity of the family’s bank accounts or with the fact that she moved from her previous post in the Moscow embassy because the relations between Greater Muscovy and Tashkent are no longer what they used to be? Just suggesting.

Fancy fantasies about historical alliances aside: Spain presides the EU for the first half of 2010 so for Gulnara it is a good position to rally European support for an eventual takeover in Uzbekistan or , alternatively, to carve out presidency a European safe haven in case she has to flee?

“they formed an alliance against the Ottoman Sultan–who was subsequently captured and killed.”

Which one lived longer in the end: the Ottoman or the Timurid empire? 😉

Laurence Jarvik February 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Here’s an amusing account of the presentation of a gift giraffe from the King of Spain to Tamerlane in 1404, as published in Saudi Aramco World, of all places:


If King Juan Carlos gives Gulnara a giraffe for the Tashkent zoo–then we’ll know…

Joshua Foust February 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Alright Lawrence, let’s ease off the serial comments. Take your time and assemble everything into one post.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 4:55 am

No giraffe in sight but what GooGoosha did got from Spain instead is that other king of muzak: Julio Iglesias. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNklenHemR0

Toryalay Shirzay February 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Thank you Laurence for the link regarding The Spanish embassy journey to the Timor Lang’s capital Samarqand.Even today the Uzbek government is not too keen about embracing Turkey.It seems the Uzbeks know something about geopolitics many miss.And the fact that the Uzbek establishment is not fooled by Arabs and other Muslims and Islamic nonsense is very good reason to give them credit.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 5:18 am

Toryalai, the Uzbek regime is not keen about embracing anyone, safe for ever-switching and ever-opportunistic alliances whereby it’s parasitic ‘elite’ is not thàt ‘independent’ and ‘patriotic’ when it comes to grab the $ and €… This strategy indeed long ensured the regime’s survival but will also cause its downfall in the end.

Turgai February 10, 2010 at 5:07 am

“Let’s just say Ahmed Rashid isn’t exactly an authoritative voice on Uzbeks or the IMU and leave it at that.”

Rashid is a good journalist as far as Pakistan and partly Afghanistan are concerned. Once he crosses the Panj-Amudarya, you clearly feel he’s out of his element. For one, I don’t even think he speaks Russian.

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