Other writing, elsewhere

by Joshua Foust on 7/16/2010 · 7 comments

Over at Current Intelligence, I have an essay discussing whether Uzbeks are scary the world over:

We’ve discussed before the weird tendency to blame all Uzbeks for a few dozen Uzbek crazies in the mountains of Pakistan. But in the Norway case, it was the Uzbek of the group that was informing the police about what they were planning (in a bit of a cheeky move, the Norwegian police are charging the Uzbek anyway, for planning to commit terror before he turned informant). It remains unclear just how close these three were to committing an attack of some sort, just as it’s unclear (to me at least) where the line is drawn between conspiracy to do something and thought crime.

But what of the Uighur? The Chechens? Are they worthy of our fear? Probably not. Seventeen Uighurs were held at Guantanamo Bay after an American court declared them innocent of all terror charges; despite that, American pundits like Newt Gingrich accused them of terrorism, following al Qaeda, and being scary Islamists anyway (many condemned Gingrich’s rant as baseless racism). The Norwegian Uighur stands accused of committing terrorism, though. Famous Islamist terrorism researchers like Thomas Hegghammer have speculated about why Norway might be a target, but even he admits most of his ideas aren’t very satisfactory.

Slightly outside our focus here, but still relevant, I think, to what we look at. Much more immediately relevant to what we discuss is an interview I gave tonight to BBC Radio4’s The World Tonight, discussing U.S. plans for the latest local defense forces concept. Audio can be found here, about 35 minutes in. I’m VERY happy with the quality of Skype.

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– 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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Prithvi July 16, 2010 at 9:26 pm

It seems in these cases that their Uzbek nationality is incidental. It’s not as if Uzbeks are going around committing political violence on behalf of Uzbek ethnic or cultural identity. These are radical Islamists who see themselves as Muslims first and foremost.

As for discrimination…I can see how in Iraq or Afghanistan how locals might be driven to arms after been slighted or abused, but this didn’t necessarily mean that they were radicalized Islamists so much as prickly townies bristling at offensive outsiders (pardon this crude generalization.)

I would think that Islamic terrorists in Europe see their actions in an ideological prism rather than as a personal reaction to discrimination or resentment at a lack of assimilation or opportunities. It wasn’t they themselves who were affronted, but their worldviews/

reader July 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Regarding the US, such stereotyping is a form of racism to lump everyone together, no doubt. During the 1980s when our NATO ally the UK experienced terrorist attacks, nobody started keeping track of people named Sullivan, Kennedy, or O’Neil. In fact, could you imagine a Congress person of non-Western European descent getting by with shenanigans (Gaelic pun intended!) like Peter King of NY has?

Matthew July 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

The situation with the Muslim community in Norway may not be as bad as in France and Germany, but that doesn’t make the local problems any less real and concerning to those who experience them. There are certainly integration problems in the country, especially in Oslo. While out-and-out discrimination isn’t as common, there’s a large divide between Europeans and Muslims, especially those who recently immigrated to Norway (the born-and-raised Norwegian-Muslims are thankfully much more integrated into Norwegian society). The recently arrived Muslim immigrants in Oslo are primarily in low service positions – janitors, 7-Eleven clerks, taxi-drivers – and they mostly live in one part of Oslo called Grønland, where nowadays it seems very few whites live. There’s no overt hostility towards the Muslim community, but there is very clearly a sense of “us” and “them” in Oslo. Also, the recently-immigrated Muslim often start to adopt a more Norwegian/Western way in clothing, lifestyles, and relationships. This can create problems among the older immigrant generations, as well as those more devout in their faith, and there are always newspaper reports about problems at home for some Muslims girls who live like Norwegian girls, as well as harassment of western-dressed women and gays around Grønland. This has become so common that the Oslo city government now tries to send “Morality police” around to stop such behavior and remind people that, as many Norwegians would say, they and their children are now living in a very free country where they are allowed to do whatever they want and such “oppression” is not allowed. For those who are against this policy, primary older Muslims in Grønland, it is instead seen as the Norwegian government actively supporting the erosion of important spiritual and moral values among “our” youth. Combine these domestic problems with Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and there’s plenty enough reason for those who want to attack the US and UK to go after Norway as well. As Thomas Hegghammer said (and you surprisingly wrote off), it was a likely a combination of things, and no one single issue, that placed Norway on the hit list, as well as it’s “soft-target” status when compared to the US or the UK (just walk down Oslo’s main street, Karl Johan, on a summer afternoon – tons of people with basically no police or security).

Beyond that, I’m sorry to see that the stereotyping-firebrands have such a strong presence on the internet that your article seems immediately directed at them. Very few people I know think Uzbeks are bad because one Uzbek guy did something, or Uyghyrs are scary because several were arrested. But then, the people I know don’t watch Fox News and consider individuals to be well, individuals, with the extreme actions of one in no way representing an entire group. Fortunately the Norwegian media is less bombastic and sensational than the US media, and there has been none of the angry, anti-ethnic-group rants that you seem worried about. The concern isn’t over “Muslims” or “Kurds”, but rather over individuals who for one reason or another, after living in Norway for years, were so angry at the society and people that they wanted to attack it. There is reflection over immigration and integration issues. What there is not are random attacks against Muslims because “one of those guys” was potentially plotting an attack. Whatever ethnic stereotyping you’re worried about, it’s not happening where these arrests actually took place.

Turgai July 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

“This has become so common that the Oslo city government now tries to send “Morality police” around to stop such behavior and remind people that, as many Norwegians would say, they and their children are now living in a very free country where they are allowed to do whatever they want and such “oppression” is not allowed.”

Actually, what you describe is nothing more than yet another example of atheist-secularist fundamentalists who are terrorizing Muslims who simply do not like their children or brothers, sisters, … to be lured into becoming binge drinkers, sluts and drug addicts (i.e. the standard Western youth).

Nathan July 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but you could really do well as a Muslim Jack Chick.

Turgai July 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm

:))))) Oh man.

Michael Hancock July 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm


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