Dana E. Abizaid

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Monday 23 April 2018

Tackling the Roots of Uzbek Terror

Published in Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation

Uzbek nationals have carried out five major terrorist attacks across Europe and the United States since 2016, the most devastating of which occurred at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, in June 2016, and the city’s Raina Nightclub on New Year’s Eve 2017. The attacks, respectively, left 41 and 39 people dead. Further attacks in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, St Petersburg, Russia and New York killed a total of 28 people.

Uzbekistan is the most populous nation of the former Soviet states of Central Asia, and it borders Afghanistan, as well as the strategically important nations of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Although little reported in the Western media, it has proved to be fertile ground for Islamic radicals since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, due largely to a mixture of economic hardship and the harsh repression of religious and political dissent.

Resisting Repression

Uzbekistan’s long serving authoritarian leader Islam Karimov died in 2016. His death ended a 25-year reign during which, intent on thwarting the influence of radical Islam emanating from Afghanistan, Karimov turned the nation into a repressive police state. Karimov began a crackdown on Islam in 1994 that culminated in 2005 in the Andijan tragedy, which some sources estimate left as many as 1,000 people dead. 1 However, a recent report by Colonel Jeffery Hartman, the former U.S. defense attaché to Uzbekistan, indicates that this number was likely closer to 200. 2

Thousands of Uzbeks had gathered in Andijan’s Babur Square, demanding bread, jobs and greater access to education. The government claimed the gathering had been instigated by armed anti-government elements from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). According to witnesses, Uzbek security forces opened fire, indiscriminately killing women and children (Gazeta.ru, May 13, 2005). The Andijan tragedy remains highly controversial: the Uzbek government maintains it acted against terrorists, while witnesses say security forces repressed legitimate local voices calling for reform (Fergana.news, July 12, 2005).

Uzbekistan’s current leader, Shavkat Mirziyaev, has promised to address the repression of the past, stating that “it is necessary to reform the civil service institution, and introduce effective measures to combat corruption” (MoFA, December 22, 2017). Thus far, however, there has been little action to match the rhetoric, and the danger remains that young Uzbeks, faced with repression and instability, will seek alternatives and become radicalized. Over the past quarter-century, many Uzbeks have been driven into the arms of jihadist groups—first into domestic organizations like the formerly Taliban-aligned IMU and now increasingly into the arms of Islamic State (IS).

The IMU’s stated goal was to overthrow the Karimov regime and replace it with an Islamic caliphate. Its top military commander, Juma Namangani, honed his combat skills in the Soviet forces that invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s and in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in 1992. In 1998, he teamed up with the self-proclaimed preacher Tahir Yuldashev in the Fergana Valley to establish the IMU.

From bases in Afghanistan, the IMU made incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan and focused on reaching the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in 1999 and 2000. The late 1990s proved to be a high point for the group, however. Namangani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001, and Yuldashev was killed in fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where his group had taken refuge, in 2009 (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, November 21, 2001; Fergana.news, September 9, 2009).

At the height of their power, Namangani and Yuldashev relied on IMU militants who were battle-tested soldiers from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Tajik Civil War and the Chechen wars. The IMU funded its activities through the drug trade, using smuggling routes in Central Asia that tapped into the Russian and European markets. The breakdown of stability in northern Afghanistan and the potential for a Dagestani insurgency in Russia’s southwest promise a return to this type of narco-terrorism in the region (The Moscow Times, February 27). The beneficiaries of this will likely be Uzbek fighters with IS in Syria, who appear set to take the place of IMU as the standard bearer of Uzbek militancy (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, May 3, 2016).

Noah Tucker, editor of Registan.net, estimates there are 500-1,000 Uzbeks fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq. Most troubling is the presence of teenage boys fighting for IS, sometimes known as “Cubs of the Caliphate” (al-Jazeera, October 25, 2017). By some estimates, as many as 600 children serving in IS in the region, many conducting grizzly executions of prisoners. In a video released by IS on August 26, 2016, five young boys in military fatigues can be seen killing Kurdish fighters.

A Troubled Region

At the very least, high-profile attacks by Uzbek nationals in Europe and the United States, as well as the abuse of Central Asian children by IS in Syria and Iraq, should turn the international spotlight on the conditions that push Uzbeks into extremism. Weak education, corruption, economic hardship and the severe repression of Islam leave many Uzbeks susceptible to extremist rhetoric that promises meaning and freedom in the form of jihad.

IS recruitment strategies work remarkably well in Uzbekistan and the neighboring countries of Central Asia, which have, for many years, faced similar economic and religious challenges. In her 2003 Congressional testimony, Fiona Hill, now President Donald Trump’s National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, stated that “repression and persecution exacerbate existing social and political problems, discredit regional governments domestically and internationally, and increase suspicion of official institutions among the population … It is not difficult to imagine that many moderate, non-religious dissidents would be driven to more extremist views by the intolerant policies of the Uzbek regime.” 3

Although it is likely the Uzbek security forces will continue to use repressive measures as they seek to tackle the jihadist threat, a more nuanced approach like that recommended by Fiona Hill in 2003 would likely have a greater chance of success. Absent such an approach, it is clear that Uzbeks and other Central Asians will continue to be radicalized at home and abroad, with dire consequences for the citizens of western capitals who understand little about this obscure but vital region.

NOTES

1 Uzbekistan. Class Dismissed: Discriminatory Expulsions of Muslim Students. Publication. Vol. 11. No. 12D, Human Rights Watch, 1998.

See: https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/uzbekistan/uzbek-02.htm

2 Hartman, Jeffry W. The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know. Publication. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS, 2016.

See: http://isdp.eu/content/uploads/2016/06/2016-Hartman-the-May-2005-Andijan-Uprising-What-We-Know.pdf

3 See Fiona Hill’s testimony the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia (Brookings Institution, 23 July 2003).

Friday 23 February 2018

The Attack on Historical Perspective

Dana E. Abizaid February 23, 2018 Published in Counterpunch

The US media’s conflation of dissent with disloyalty regarding the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is the latest manifestation of the establishment’s attack on Historical perspective in order to “manufacture consent”. Attempts to explain the hypocrisy inherent in the US criticism of Russia are often labeled “whataboutism”. Consequently, vital lessons regarding the US role in manipulating elections from Guatemala to Iran to Russia itself are being sacrificed as those in the press corps who detest the democratically elected president self-righteously engage in dangerous “red baiting”.

In an August 2017 Washington Post piece, Philip Bump defines “whataboutism” as “a cheap rhetorical tactic that relies on drawing false or sketchy comparisons between two things which may not actually be all that comparable.” “Whataboutism’s” roots are usually ascribed to Soviet leaders and disparagingly linked to Trump. Merriam-Webster states: “The tactic was developed by the Soviet Union, but is seeing more attention as it is frequently used by the Trump administration.”

Although “whataboutism” is often used to mask or justify a nation’s actions, current use of the term is further deteriorating the value of using History as a guide to the present. All History students know that George Santayana famously quipped, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, since History is influenced by political, economic, ethnic and religious particulars present in any country at any one time it is more likely that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” as Mark Twain famously noted.

Currently, “whataboutism” is being scurrilously used to stymie important Historical discussion regarding US interference in foreign elections. The importance of this Historical perspective is not in justifying or excusing alleged Russian actions but in providing a rational way to understand the present that considers scale and impact. For example, a journalist referring to the 1953 US-British coup in Tehran to topple the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh is not necessarily cheaply justifying Russian interference in the 2016 election. He or she simply may be providing perspective to help citizens understand that US and British interference led to the catastrophic Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current nuclear tinged tension between the Islamic Republic and the US. That some in the US mainstream believe 13 Russians’ alleged meddling in the US election is comparable to this or worse, Pearl Harbor, betrays a poor reading of History.

Rather than serving Russia or the Trump administration, Historical perspective is vital in combatting reactionary claims made by the likes of MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, who recently distanced US meddling from its nefarious Russian counterpart’s by stating, “Sometimes it’s standing up for the Iranian dissidents who are being hung from cranes for being gay. I mean, America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy.” Maybe. But it is also, in the Iranian example, designed to place the despot Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne for 25 repressive years. By squashing this discussion, journalists are engaging in the Soviet measures they claim to be resisting. In the same segment Wallace cited a tweet by former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, criticizing Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Didn’t know he was talking about American alleged interference in other countries’ elections as an excuse for Russia violating our sovereignty. That’s exactly the whataboutism argument Putin’s tv channels make. Exactly.”

Hannity’s and Putin’s aims in citing Historical examples may in fact be to manipulate the present. But painting all attempts to understand the present through the past as cheap and exploitative is dangerous and counterproductive to the free expression needed to maintain a robust marketplace of ideas. Moreover, it marks those making such hypocritical statements little better than the dad in the 1986 Beastie Boys classic “Fight for Your Right to Party”: Ya paps got ya’ smoking man he says “No Way”. That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.

The American record in ignoring the past and silencing attempts at gaining greater Historical perspective have been decimating. By ignoring the French experience in Vietnam, the US got bogged down in an unwinnable war of national liberation. More recently, the US press ignored the Soviet (and British) experience in Afghanistan, opting instead to rush to support a violent and impossible adventure to unite diverse Afghan tribes under a corrupt Pashtun government. The Iraq debacle speaks for itself. Little cultural, Historical or religious understanding of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Muslims gave rise to the extremist groups that have turned the Middle East into a Hobbesian jungle. Every step of the way the media backed government actions and cast wicked judgment on those asking uncomfortable questions or trying to draw essential Historical parallels.

To retain the self-righteous moral high ground, the US media needs to engage in an unprecedented level of Orwellian “doublethink” that allows for statements like Wallace’s above that “America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy” to stand side by side with stories about US support for Saudi bombing of Yemen or direct US bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Presently, even questioning which democracies Wallace is talking about might get one labeled a Putin stooge. But, for sure, we know she isn’t referring to Saudi Arabia or Egypt or even the beloved, though perhaps fascist, Ukrainian patriots resisting “Putin.” Moreover, in Syria the US population is led to believe its tax dollars are being used to support “moderate” rebels. A thinking person is tempted to make a connection between US support for the most barbarous of jihadist holy warriors in Afghanistan in the 1980s and maybe, just maybe, conclude that the US still supports such elements in Syria. But that type of Historical perspective is simply cast off as “whataboutism”.

Legend has it that Hitler refused any mention of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia after Operation Barbarossa began on 22 June 1941. The current attempt by the US mainstream media to crush discussion of similarly useful Historical connections echoes that short-sighted approach and promises great disasters. The ghost of McCarthy is alive and well as the media report that those who dare make unsavory Historical connections do not understand that the US simply has other’s best interests in mind. That said, discussing past US actions in comparative perspective might help sharpen one’s understanding of another’s best interest. But that would require long thought and open discussion and debate.

Instead, in a clear blow to Enlightenment ideals, many in the media have decided to rely on baseless rhetoric and label those who ask questions Russian agents.

The Attack on Historical Perspective

The US media’s conflation of dissent with disloyalty regarding the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is the latest manifestation of the establishment’s attack on Historical perspective in order to “manufacture consent”. Attempts to explain the hypocrisy inherent in the US criticism of Russia are often labeled “whataboutism”. Consequently, vital lessons regarding the US role in manipulating elections from Guatemala to Iran to Russia itself are being sacrificed as those in the press corps who detest the democratically elected president self-righteously engage in dangerous “red baiting”.

In an August 2017 Washington Post piece, Philip Bump defines “whataboutism” as “a cheap rhetorical tactic that relies on drawing false or sketchy comparisons between two things which may not actually be all that comparable.” “Whataboutism’s” roots are usually ascribed to Soviet leaders and disparagingly linked to Trump. Merriam-Webster states: “The tactic was developed by the Soviet Union, but is seeing more attention as it is frequently used by the Trump administration.”

Although “whataboutism” is often used to mask or justify a nation’s actions, current use of the term is further deteriorating the value of using History as a guide to the present. All History students know that George Santayana famously quipped, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, since History is influenced by political, economic, ethnic and religious particulars present in any country at any one time it is more likely that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” as Mark Twain famously noted.

Currently, “whataboutism” is being scurrilously used to stymie important Historical discussion regarding US interference in foreign elections. The importance of this Historical perspective is not in justifying or excusing alleged Russian actions but in providing a rational way to understand the present that considers scale and impact. For example, a journalist referring to the 1953 US-British coup in Tehran to topple the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh is not necessarily cheaply justifying Russian interference in the 2016 election. He or she simply may be providing perspective to help citizens understand that US and British interference led to the catastrophic Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current nuclear tinged tension between the Islamic Republic and the US. That some in the US mainstream believe 13 Russians’ alleged meddling in the US election is comparable to this or worse, Pearl Harbor, betrays a poor reading of History.

Rather than serving Russia or the Trump administration, Historical perspective is vital in combatting reactionary claims made by the likes of MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, who recently distanced US meddling from its nefarious Russian counterpart’s by stating, “Sometimes it’s standing up for the Iranian dissidents who are being hung from cranes for being gay. I mean, America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy.” Maybe. But it is also, in the Iranian example, designed to place the despot Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne for 25 repressive years. By squashing this discussion, journalists are engaging in the Soviet measures they claim to be resisting. In the same segment Wallace cited a tweet by former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, criticizing Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Didn’t know he was talking about American alleged interference in other countries’ elections as an excuse for Russia violating our sovereignty. That’s exactly the whataboutism argument Putin’s tv channels make. Exactly.”

Hannity’s and Putin’s aims in citing Historical examples may in fact be to manipulate the present. But painting all attempts to understand the present through the past as cheap and exploitative is dangerous and counterproductive to the free expression needed to maintain a robust marketplace of ideas. Moreover, it marks those making such hypocritical statements little better than the dad in the 1986 Beastie Boys classic “Fight for Your Right to Party”: Ya paps got ya’ smoking man he says “No Way”. That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.

The American record in ignoring the past and silencing attempts at gaining greater Historical perspective have been decimating. By ignoring the French experience in Vietnam, the US got bogged down in an unwinnable war of national liberation. More recently, the US press ignored the Soviet (and British) experience in Afghanistan, opting instead to rush to support a violent and impossible adventure to unite diverse Afghan tribes under a corrupt Pashtun government. The Iraq debacle speaks for itself. Little cultural, Historical or religious understanding of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Muslims gave rise to the extremist groups that have turned the Middle East into a Hobbesian jungle. Every step of the way the media backed government actions and cast wicked judgment on those asking uncomfortable questions or trying to draw essential Historical parallels.

To retain the self-righteous moral high ground, the US media needs to engage in an unprecedented level of Orwellian “doublethink” that allows for statements like Wallace’s above that “America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy” to stand side by side with stories about US support for Saudi bombing of Yemen or direct US bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Presently, even questioning which democracies Wallace is talking about might get one labeled a Putin stooge. But, for sure, we know she isn’t referring to Saudi Arabia or Egypt or even the beloved, though perhaps fascist, Ukrainian patriots resisting “Putin.” Moreover, in Syria the US population is led to believe its tax dollars are being used to support “moderate” rebels. A thinking person is tempted to make a connection between US support for the most barbarous of jihadist holy warriors in Afghanistan in the 1980s and maybe, just maybe, conclude that the US still supports such elements in Syria. But that type of Historical perspective is simply cast off as “whataboutism”.

Legend has it that Hitler refused any mention of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia after Operation Barbarossa began on 22 June 1941. The current attempt by the US mainstream media to crush discussion of similarly useful Historical connections echoes that short-sighted approach and promises great disasters. The ghost of McCarthy is alive and well as the media report that those who dare make unsavory Historical connections do not understand that the US simply has other’s best interests in mind. That said, discussing past US actions in comparative perspective might help sharpen one’s understanding of another’s best interest. But that would require long thought and open discussion and debate.

Instead, in a clear blow to Enlightenment ideals, many in the media have decided to rely on baseless rhetoric and label those who ask questions Russian agents.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Dana E. Abizaid

Understanding Russia's "Zapad" Military Exercises  (September 25, 2017)
The Stable State Of Nursultan Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan  (February 17, 2017)
Iran: Challenging Three American “Truths”  (February 12, 2017)
Are We as Innocent as We Think?  (February 9, 2017)
Why ISIS Recruits from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan  (January 16, 2017)

The Istanbul I Know  (December 28, 2016)
The Danger Is Inherent in the System  (December 16, 2016)
US vs. Russia in Syria: A Battle to Control the Truth  (October 31, 2016)
Language as a Weapon: How Western Journalists Portray Russian Policy  (August 3, 2016)
US Survey Reveals Public Support for Nuclear Strikes  (June 5, 2016)

Wall Street Journal slimes Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore  (April 17, 2016)
in-Justice in Michigan  (March 5, 2016)
Embracing a "creepy" Putin  (February 10, 2016)
Invoking Hitler  (January 17, 2016)
Our George Orwell/Noam Chomsky Paradox  (January 2, 2016)

The Distorting of History: What Donald Trump and ISIS Have in Common  (December 18, 2015)
A Better America  (December 10, 2015)
Provoking Russia  (November 25, 2015)
The Facts of US Bombing “Mistakes”  (November 8, 2015)
Why Obama Should Stand Up to the Saudis  (October 28, 2015)

The Drone Apologists  (May 11, 2015)
Gallipoli Run  (April 24, 2015)
Speak From the Heart:  In Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkish  (Spring 2015)
Russia's Rational National Interest  (April 23, 2014)
Media’s General Ignorance Regarding Post-Soviet Affairs and Geography (April 26, 2013)

Immoral Soldier or Immoral Society? (November 20, 2012)
On Targeted Assassinations, What About Due Process? (October 4, 2011)
Kazakhstan Is Safe From Islamist Revolution (July 6, 2011)
Uzbekistan's Forgotten Uprising (March 22, 2011)
Challenging three American ‘truths’ (March 7, 2011)

What Does ‘Victory’ In Marjah Mean? (February 17, 2010)
Journalists In Central Asia Struggle In 'Atmosphere Of Hopelessness And Fear' (January 2010)
Is Kazakhstan Fit To Chair The OSCE? (October 21, 2009)
Tajik Dance Initiative (2009)
A Pilgrimage in Prague (2009)

The Promise for a Better America (May 2008)
Toll on U.S. Marines in Iraq: 'dead checking' (September 16, 2007)
The Myth of the Innocent American (November 2, 2006)
Not Everyone Wants What We're Offering (October 23, 2006)
A Little Humility Goes a Long Way (2006)

Teaching Thoreau in China
(2005)
Trip to Mongolian-Russia Border Yields Strange Sights, Sounds & Yearnings (October 20, 2004)
Democratic Process Needs a Jolt of Democracy (August 2, 2004)
US Democracy Has Problems, Too (December 18, 2003)
Western Terrorism (April 13, 2003)