“Sir, Do you want a steady supply of Al Qaeda terrorists to frighten the wits out of your countrymen and maintain a state of emergency to carry on your secret plans at home and abroad? Then Central Asia is the place to go. Specify the quantity and rest assured they’ll be delivered on time.” I know nobody told this to the architects of the War on Terror but this is exactly what’s happening in Central Asia – a predominantly Muslim region of five countries, today ruled by ex-Soviet dictators who brutally suppress the people and cash on America’s War on Terror.
Professor Juan Cole wrote an eye opener about Uzbekistan a few weeks back in his popular blog, juancole.com. In the post ‘Craig Murray on Manufacturing Terror’ he gave an insight into this former Soviet and 90% Muslim country about which many Muslims outside the region haven’t even heard about let alone know what’s happening. Here are excerpts from that article that dealt specifically on Uzbekistan.
‘I was at the conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society the last couple of days. Saturday evening, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray addressed us. He served in Tashkent 2002 through 2004. (right image: Craig Murray)
Murray’s exhibit number 1 is Uzbekistan, which has major gas reserves. The US sought and received basing rights there after September 11. The US supported the government of Islam Karimov, the old Soviet apparatchik who turned himself into a post-Soviet dictator. The US and the UK maintained in their official documents that Uzbekistan was making progress toward democracy. They praised Uzbek elections as a sign of such progress, even though Islam Karimov did not allow the opposition to run in the elections.
Murray began receiving photographs and other evidence from victims’ families that the Uzbek government was engaging in brutal torture techniques as part of its interrogation of dissidents. One corpse had been beaten around the neck and jaw, and boiled alive. There was a line across his chest, under which it was scalded. Boiled like a lobster.
Murray as UK ambassador began seeing CIA reports naming known al-Qaeda operatives who were prominent in Uzbekistan. But these turned out to be just run of the mill Uzbek politicians who were on the outs with Karimov. Where did the CIA get this information about high-level terrorists in Uzbekistan? From Karimov’s secret police. And where did they get their phony “intelligence”? From torturing dissidents and making them admit to being al-Qaeda and implicating others as al-Qaeda. From torture. From the twilight of consciousness before the boiling killed them. From lobsters.
Now I have to back up and tell you about Uzbekistan. Uzbeks have a Muslim heritage. They have Muslim names. But Uzbekistan is a country full of atheists and secularists. It is more secular than France. Everyone drinks vodka like fish. Almost no one could actually tell you how to pray the five daily prayers. There are a few. They are considered odd by the other Uzbeks. I know a sociologist brought up in the Soviet Union who has studied its “Muslims,” who were deracinated over 60 years, and he said, “What you have to understand is that they were normal Soviet citizens.” He is right.
The government of Islam Karimov, which is basically corrupt dusted-off apparatchiks from the old Soviet system, is aware that the West is afraid of Islam. And as people brought up Communist, they don’t like it either. So they scare the Americans and Europeans with tall tales about an Islamist menace in Uzbekistan, which attract support to the Uzbek government and also cause the Westerners to make excuses for a degree of political repression that approaches that characteristic of Saddam Hussein in the old days. (left image: Islam Karimov)
There is an academic industry in the United States, by the way, of alleging radical Muslim fundamentalism is a big problem in Uzbekistan. It is bunkum. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which was tied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, had between 150 and 1,000 members at its height, and that was about it for Islamism in Uzbekistan.
In a poll done in 2002 by Pew, 91 percent of Uzbeks agreed with Bush’s War on Terror and the way it was being waged! You couldn’t have found those numbers anyplace else in the world, maybe even in the US!
Murray pointed out that if you had a referendum in Uzbekistan on whether Islamic canon law should be the law of the land, and explained that it would result in a ban on vodka, less that 1 percent of the population would vote for it. That is certainly true.
So there isn’t, frankly, any al-Qaeda to speak of in Uzbekistan. But Karimov used torture and false allegations to manufacture an al-Qaeda, and Murray thought that the Bush administration and elements in the CIA were swallowing it hook, line and sinker.
I came away from this consummate insider’s presentation with a sinking feeling that Uzbekistan is the tip of the iceberg.
Update 6 February 2007: Here is a video interview with the ex-British ambassador Craig Murray about Uzbekistan.