ISLAMISM AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM: A THREAT OF ISLAM OR A THREAT TO ISLAM?
Orozbek Moldaliev, Director, Sedep Analytical Center (Kyrgyzstan)
The tragedy of 11 September has posed a question: should terrorism remain on Earth or not? It is hard to answer it in a straightforward way because religious extremism and international terrorism are rooted in the Middle East and in the problem of how to reconcile the Palestinians and the Israelis. There are experts who believe that it was the United States that created and reared international terrorism and “let the Middle Eastern jinn out of the bottle.” Now it refuses to obey America. S. Kamalov, leader of the Wahhabis of Kyrgyzstan, believes that the tragedy in the United States was caused by its one-sided approach to the conflict in the Middle East and its unwillingness to let the Palestinians set up their state.
…The world has changed. It has taken a direction we do not like: it is too early to speak about fundamental changes in international relations. Political scientists are busy discussing new threats to security that appeared as soon as the Taliban left the stage.
Is Extremism an Islamic Factor?
The events of 11 September, 2001 threw light on certain pitfalls about which little had been said. The attitude of contemporary civilization to Islam and the Muslims is one of them: we have to understand whether Islam has anything to do with extremism and international terrorism.
In the past the relationships between Christianity and Islam were complicated or even hostile. Since the Crusades Europeans have been describing Islam in negative terms for propagandist aims. During the colonial era the Christian world became convinced that Islam was a repressive religion and that Muslim culture denied progress.
Today, experts in the West are fond of talking about the “Islamic threat” that at times comes close to the “clash of civilizations” of Huntington. The last 20 to 25 years have created a firm link in people’s minds between Islam and negative or barely understood phenomena—Islamic revolution and Islamic terrorism. Islamophobia and negative attitude to Islam have become common features in the majority of countries. Strange as it may seem, politicians, researchers and experts are engaged in hot discussions of the freedom of confession and religious tolerance in the age of high technologies.
Anti-Islamic and anti-Arab sentiments in the United States became even more intensive in the wake of the events of 11 September. Muslims and people looking like Muslims were attacked in the streets. (It should be said in all justice that the Americans have found strength to push aside the momentary emotions and declare that Islam has nothing to do with international terrorism. In addition, the anti-terrorist operation code-named “Infinite Justice” was renamed Operation Enduring Freedom out of respect to the Muslims.
Heads of state of certain European countries described Islam as a religion of cruelty and aggression: this casts doubts on the thesis that the political elite has separated Islam from Islamism and suggests that such statements were not made totally in good faith.
The media across the world daily mention Islamic terror; a new term an “Islamic kamikaze” has been coined. It seems that nobody has asked himself whether the term “religious extremism” should be used at all.
The Muslims protest against such expressions as “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” and a “Muslim terrorist.” They explain that Islam is a religion of peace and that violence, murders, and suicidal acts of terrorism have nothing to do with it. Their opponents are convinced that extremism is inherent in Islam and therefore the term “Islamic extremism” is a correct one. There are academics who disagree with this and argue that extremists are using Islam as an ideological shield.
The media informed the world that it was Muslims who guided the planes to the Twin Towers. Prominent Islamic theologians say that the terrorists acted against the Koran that says: “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them” (60:8).
The majority of the media is spreading the idea of jihad as a war of Muslims against people of other faiths or infidels—the opinion extremists prefer to all others. (Islamism says that the Muslims should not obey infidels. What is more it is their duty to fight them, that is, to wage a jihad.)
In fact, if nobody declares a war on the Muslims or their religion, if nobody invades their country they have no right to kill others. The Holy Koran says: “Fight in the Cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors” (2:190). If the enemy stopped fighting the Muslims should lay down the arms too for the Koran instructs: “…but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (2:193). In other place it is said: “…If they withdraw not from you nor give you (guarantees) of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and slay them wherever you get them” (4:91).
From this it follows that the “jihad of the sword” is possible only against foreign military aggression but is prohibited in case of information or economic aggression. The Koran sets strict ethical rules of the war and prohibit killing non-combatants (women, children, and old people, and even men) if they do not carry arms. The deeds of international terrorists in the United States and their earlier acts of terror in other countries of the world have nothing in common with the code of conduct for the righteous Muslims.
It is widely believed that a Muslim is prepared to a suicide in the name of Allah; recently much has been said about “Islamic kamikazes.” The Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Ahal Sheikh believes that when Islamists blast themselves during their criminal attacks they commit suicide. Islam categorically bans both suicide and murder: nobody has the right to destroy what God gave him. If one does this God will punish him. It is written in the Koran: “Nor take life which Allah has made sacred” (17:33). According to the Koran the Muslims should bear misfortunes with fortitude: “O you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere” (2:153); and further: “…persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance” (3:200).
From time immemorial religion has been used to secure political and military aims. The post-confrontational world offers possibilities for a constructive dialog and drawing closer of opposing societies—yet there are certain circles that profit from building up suspicion and contradictions between the two global forces, Islam and Christianity. Attempts are made to impose a new round of struggle on them by proving theoretically that a conflict between the world religions is inevitable. Some of such predictions are based on an analysis of the political ideas of certain leaders of religious-political ethnic movements in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and other countries allegedly united by a common enemy, Western secular nationalism. Scientifically, such prophecies stand on sand.
The world public is regularly reminded about “Islamic extremism, fundamentalism, and Islamic terrorists” in connection with the conflict between Arabs and Israelis that is going on for nearly 100 years—there is little religion in it. The sources of this opposition are well known: they are rooted in the history of the Jewish state that was founded on the Palestine lands and in the so-called Balfour Declaration (1917).
Today, nobody is prepared to admit that many years of enmity among the Arabs and the Jews were started by lies that served certain state interests. Today, no government, no political movement and practically no actor of international relations wants to appear in the eyes of the public in its country and abroad an enemy or violator of the basic principles of international laws and human rights. They all try to find moral justifications of their conduct. Armed inroads into other states, terrorist acts and acts of banditry, other extremist activities are described as attempts to restore justice by ensuring security and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Their actions have nothing in common with religious or civilizational reasons—they are guided by purely earthly political interests.
Who Are We Talking About?
History made the Middle East and Northern Africa one of the seats of religious extremism from where it spreads to other areas. In the 1970s Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Algeria and other states experienced a wave of religious-political activities. As a result there appeared extremist organizations and armed groups (“Islamic Group,” “Jihad,” “Accusation in Lack of Faith” (Taqfir), etc. that used religious slogans. The term “Islamic extremists” appeared because their home areas were Islamic lands peopled by Muslims. These organizations rejected state control over what they were doing. They were secret societies and counterposed themselves to the state and “official Islam.”
The religious-political groups prefer political activity rather than theology and religion. They use theology only to justify their Salafi ideology (as-salafiyya or as-salaf—ancestors, predecessors). Those who represented this ideology (including the founders of madhabs Ibn Hanbal, ash-Shafi’i and prominent theologians Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the Wahhabis) in different historical periods called on people to return to the norms of initial Islam by purifying it of novelties (bid’a) and later additions that appeared through contacts of the Muslim communities with other cultures and civilizations and from the remnants of pre-Islamic cults and Sufi trends. Under the Salafi teaching prayers addressed to the souls of the dead, offerings at burials, domes, and mausoleums on burial places were such novelties.
The Salafi Wahhabis belong to the Hanbali School. (There is a commonly accepted opinion that Wahhabism is the state ideology of Saudi Arabia. Its people are Hanbali Sunnis. They are convinced that Wahhabism is a protestant movement among the Sunnis. The Saudi people rely on the theoretical heritage of Ibn Hanbal.) As distinct from other three canonical Sunni madhabs Hanbalism appeared as a religious-political movement, the main idea of which was purification of Islam.
Lenin wrote: “Political protest under religious guise is a phenomenon typical of all peoples at certain stages of their development.”1 There were certain objective and subjective reasons why Wahhabism appeared in Central Arabia. The major propositions of this teaching belong to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (he implemented them together with Muhammad ibn Saud) in the period when the Arabic principalities and tribes were closing ranks to oppose Ottoman domination in the middle of the 18th century when the Turkish yoke had become intolerable. The Koran directly says: “If a man kills a Believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (for ever)” (4:93). The hadiths of the Prophet comment the same in the following way: “The blood of a Muslim may not be legally spilt other than in one of three [instances]: the married person who commits adultery; a life for a life; and one who forsakes his religion and abandons the community.”2 Only serious arguments could justify one of the gravest sins—a war against Muslims—in the eyes of the Muslim community.
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab used works by Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyyah, two Salafis who rejected outright all heretical novelties, as such arguments. The two authors based their works on the calls to reject those forms of Sunni Islam (Hanafism) that existed in the Ottoman Empire.
The Arabs united under the banner of struggle against novelties and for restoration of true Islam; for this purpose some of the Islamic prescriptions were altered. For example, the early Wahhabis interpreted what respected Islamic theologians had said about the need for the Muslims to unite as calls for unification against foreigners and for purification of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.3
Over time Salafism, under the name of Wahhabism emerged on the world arena. It was planted in the Arab countries and in the so-called Muslim regions of the Soviet Union so that to stop communism at the threshold of the Muslim world. This activity was stepped up in the 1980s, during the period of perestroika and openness, with an aim of destabilizing the situation in Central Asia, the Caucasus and other areas of the Soviet Union.
Soviet Muslim leaders have theoretical knowledge of Salafism; for several reasons it became known as Wahhabism and as a political trend. The Wahhabis call themselves “tauhidis” or “Salafis.”
The Islamists are hostile toward all Muslims that refuse to embrace their teaching and agree with them. Extremists called them infidels and declared a jihad on them in Egypt, Syria, and Algeria. Jihad against Muslims in Muslim states seems to be an absolutely new phenomenon of our times. Yet, something similar happened before.
The Islamists apply the principle of taqfir to the Muslims: they declare that all those who disagree with them are infidels and apostates. They believe that it is their duty to wage a jihad against all unbelievers: atheists and those of the Muslims who failed to see eye to eye with them. They interpret jihad as armed struggle only.
In the Northern Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan the heads of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) called themselves in the media (BBC, Azattyk radio, etc.) supporters of “pure Islam.” They proclaimed a jihad on the Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments and on the Muslims of the Batken Region whom they regard as a “wrong sort of Muslims” because these rejected the ideology of Islamism imposed on them in favor of the Koranic “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
Who are Muslims according to Islam? Contrary to what the Wahhabis say Muslims are those who demonstrate their respect for Allah and those who are people of God. It is absolutely wrong to say that an Islamic state should be built at all costs. Muslims can live in any country and be good neighbors to people of all faiths.
The so-called Islamic extremism cannot be identified with Islam. Islam is a religion of all; its name says that it is a religion of peace that hates extremism, fanaticism, and racism. It says that all people descended from one father and one mother. Doctor G. Iemelianova of Birmingham University has written: “As a religion, a way of life and way of thought Islam is very peaceful. It should not be confused with the use of Islamic slogans and symbols for the sake of political aims… Pure Islam does not recognize racial or national distinctions. It unites people on the basis of their common faith.”4
How Should They Be Called Today?
Those who study religions have discovered that not only conservative forces but also those who call to an “Islamic revolution” recently started using Islam to justify their political programs. Groups, movements, and parties that describe themselves as “Islamic” are using distorted interpretations of Islam to justify the violent methods, alien to any religion, to seize power.
Despite their rather wide scope these new tendencies have not yet received a stable name: the terms enumerated above together with “Islamic fundamentalism,” “Revivalism,” and “Islamism” are not commonly accepted. Scholars in the Muslim countries prefer the term “Islamism” (al-islamiyyun).
Muslim theologians in the CIS countries also use this term. In his public addresses the Grand Mufti of Russia Sheikh ul-Islama Talgat Tajuddin says time and again that Islamism is an artificial concept that means that the Islamic slogans are used to camouflage heretical and sectarian aims. He says that Islamism is not Islam: it denies Islam together with its traditional spiritual essence. He believes that it is only at first glance that Islamism looks like fundamentalism that stands opposed to all new elements and modernization of Islam. In actual fact, he says, Islamism and fundamentalism present two sides of the same process the aim of which is to ruin Islam from the inside.
Olivier Roy, French specialist in Islam, is of similar opinion: “The Islamists push toward state power to achieve re-Islamization of society. As distinct from the fundamentalists in the strict sense of the word the Islamists do not want a ‘return’ to the past. They want to acquire domination over contemporary society and its technical means through political struggle.”5
Alexander Ignatenko, well-known Russian scholar, describes Islamism as an ideology and practical activity designed to create conditions in which social, economic, ethnic and other problems and contradictions present in any society (state) in which Muslims live and also among states will be resolved with the help of the Islamic norms of the Shari‘a.6 In other words, this is an attempt to create political conditions in which the Islamic (Shari‘a) norms will be applied to all spheres of human activity that explains why certain authors prefer to call Islamism political Islam and look at it as a political ideology.
One of the religious political organizations presented a serious opposition to the Middle Eastern regimes. It was the Salafi Group of Juhaiman al-Utaibi that called on to topple down the “pro-American regime” of the Saudids. In November-December 1979 (during the hajj) it staged a riot in Saudi Arabia and occupied al-Masjid al-Haram, the main mosque in Mecca with the sanctuary of the al-Kaaba in its center. The rebels brought in arms and remained under siege for about a month. There were about two or three thousands of them (a figure of one thousand is also quoted), about 500 were killed when the riot was being quenched. The government lost five to six times more lives of its soldiers. The leaders of the riot were executed.
This happened despite the fact that the area of Mecca is the first reserve in the history of mankind: one should not break boughs off trees, kill anybody there and shed blood especially during the hajj. Even the wild beasts should be spared if they do not attack men. People are recommended to refrain from using swear words, avoid quarrels and insults.
The Salafis under Juhaiman violated these and other Islamic bans—obviously, nothing is sacred for the Salafis.
The Geopolitical Aspects of Islamism
Before the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan the Islamists stood opposed mainly to the West. In 1978 the April national-democratic revolution in Afghanistan brought to power the National-Democratic Party of Afghanistan headed by Nur Mohammad Taraki, a writer well known in his country. The party itself had been founded in 1965, its ideological platform being scientific socialism.
There were no prerequisites for a revolution on this ideological platform. The party mainly consisted of people who wanted to put an end to feudal-patriarchal system in which Afghanistan was stagnating. As they had no other program in common the party split into two factions—Parcham and Khalq with no clear political aims. Both mirrored the social psychology of a little developed society.
I. Abdurazakov, a political scientist and ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Kyrgyzstan, believes that the Soviet Union extended its resolute support to the Afghan revolution for ideological reasons. It had posed itself an illusory task of stepping up anti-imperialist struggle worldwide and increasing the number of countries of socialist orientation. Other countries, the U.S. included, became involved in the events according to the logic of the time. Situation in other regions became tense. The NATO decision to deploy American medium-range missile in Europe increased mutual mistrust and suspicions between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Geopolitical confrontation had reached the stage when the sides spared nothing to support their allies and enemies of its main enemy.
There is reliable information that the Soviet leaders knew that, having lost its positions in Iran during the Islamic revolution in July 1979, the U.S. Administration decided to help the leaders of the Afghan opposition. Vladimir Kriuchkov, former chief of Soviet intelligence and, later, of the KGB of the U.S.S.R., has written: “The United States, Britain, Germany, and other countries displayed a great interest in Afghanistan, especially its northern regions. They were working toward weakening the positions of the Soviet Union in the country and were mounting the pressure all the time. KGB and the Main Intelligence Administration were receiving alarming information about the American military plans to use the territories adjacent to our southern border. We should never forget that it was time of confrontation and that the Cold War was at its peak. This was a very special atmosphere in which it was decided to move our troops to Afghanistan.”7
I think that when the Soviet military-political leaders decided to move to Afghanistan (this happened in December 1979) they were guided by the need to protect the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul against internal enemies, American pressure and against America’s NATO allies. This decision was based, among other things, on the above information.
The ideology of anti-communism proved stronger: it brought together unlikely bedfellows: Americans, pro-Western Muslims and anti-Western Islamic radicals. Riyadh and Washington, by juggling with the slogan of “Muslim solidarity,” called to a jihad against the Bolsheviks and pushed the center of radical Islamism away from the Near East to the Middle East and Central Asia. They pooled their forces with Islamabad to help Afghan resistance. Other countries also contributed to these efforts. The American analysts interpreted the Soviet invasion as Moscow’s desire to extend its control to the energy resources of the Near and the Middle East (the region long ago proclaimed the sphere of vital interests of the United States). The Americans were wrong yet they set up a coalition that brought together the U.S., China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to oppose the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In fact, the armed opposition to the U.S.S.R. was a manifestation of two superpowers’ global rivalry. The West skillfully tapped the religious factor to serve its interests.
According to analysts, back in the early 1970s the United States entered into a close cooperation with the special services of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and some other countries to fight communism. It was at that time that some of the Arab states funded anti-communist organizations on their territories, encouraged anti-Soviet calls to “return the Muslims of the U.S.S.R. to Islam,” etc.
The Saudis, Pakistanis, Chinese, and Egyptians helped the Afghan mujahideen for reasons of their own. Riyadh not only wanted to expel from the country the anti-monarchist extremist potential: it also wanted to snatch from Iran the monopoly on supporting the Islamists all over the world. Islamabad exploited the unique situation to increase U.S. military and financial aid and was working toward creating a Sunni zone of influence between Iran, Russia, and India. Beijing that badly needed to modernize its economy and boost its military-strategic potential could use American assistance as well. Anwar Sadat of Egypt who had been looked at as traitor of the Arab world after the Camp David Agreement intended to restore its prestige in the eyes of the Muslims.
In 1979, at the most acute period of the crisis when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan Washington could not count on Tehran’s support: the revolutionary-minded clergy had just deposed the shah. The United States had to rely on Pakistan and use the religious factor.
Islamabad decided that the anti-communist Muslim movement should acquire a symbol in the person of one of the Saudi princes, the country in which two major sanctuaries (Mecca and Medina) were found. The royal family thought differently and declined an invitation to head the jihad against the infidels. Osama bin Laden, member of a family close to the throne, was selected as a compromise figure.
When the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the strange alliance started to fell apart; the Gulf War killed it off. The United States lost interest in Afghanistan and turned its attention to the future leaders of the region, China and India. Pakistan and the Afghan mujahideen were badly wounded by this sudden turn of American policies. Osama bin Laden realized that Washington no longer needed him.
After the Operation Storm in the Desert religious extremists and bin Laden’s organization moved against the United States and the Saudi authorities: the latter were accused of letting the anti-Iraqi coalition use the air bases on the Saudi territory. The Islamists decided that time had come to launch terrorist acts “against American embassies and Americans all over the world.”
It should be said that certain anti-Islamic forces skillfully use extremism, international terror, and Islamism to promote their interests. There are numerous political provocations and bogus terrorist groups that describe themselves as Islamic. The aim is to stir up hatred of everything Muslim, to present the Muslims as real or, at least, potential extremists and terrorists. However, the international community has already realized that extremism has nothing in common with Islam.
Who Pays Terrorists?
Early in the 1990s Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of Al-Qa‘eda, the Islamic Army, the World Islamic Front and other extremist organizations successfully lobbied a decision that all Muslims were duty bound to take part in military actions. Under this pretext he moved over four thousand Saudi “Afghan militants,” the backbone of his organizations to Afghanistan.
Experts believe that the extremists in the CIS are supported by about 60 international Islamist organizations, over 100 foreign companies and scores of banking groups. According to the Ministry of the Interior of Russia the Taliban set up on its territory at least nine training camps for fighters, 10 training centers in Pakistan, and similar bases and camps in Albania, Lebanon, Bosnia, and Tajikistan.
The media point to members of well-known religious-political organizations—Muslim Brothers, Hezbollah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, leaders of small groups and private persons in Muslim countries—as sponsors of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance gradually developed into a serious threat to regional and global security. The country became a training base of international terrorists and extremists, a link in the international drug traffic and illegal arms trade. Armed confrontation in Afghanistan was kept going by arms deliveries from abroad and by thousands of non-Afghans fighting there. The country presented numerous threats to the neighbors and the rest of the world. In June 2000 the heads of state of the Central Asian Economic Community members issued an Address on Afghanistan in which they called on the U.N., OSCE, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to use their influence, authority, and all other possibilities to find a just and prompt solution to the Afghan conflict. It was quite logical that after 11 September, 2001 the Central Asian countries supported the U.S.-led international coalition resolved to destroy the terrorist bases and the forces that supported international terrorism.
Islamism in Central Asia
It was in the 10th century that our illustrious compatriot, the founder of the Maturidiyya School Abu Mansur al-Maturidi said: “Man has choice.” This remains as true as ever. The Central Asian nations are choosing their future, yet there are forces who want to deprive them of the freedom of choice and impose on them the so-called Islamic Project, an alias for the rule of Islamist groups and movements working toward a Caliphate in the newly independent states.
Nobody doubts the importance of Islam for Central Asia: it is part of local history, culture, and an inalienable element of daily life. The region has already contributed to Muslim culture, the theory and practice of Islamic legislation. The works by outstanding Islamic enlighteners and theologians Ahmad Yassawi, al-Bukhari, Burhanuddin al-Marginoni, al-Samani, az-Zamakhshari are still studied and still attract attention.
During seventy years of Soviet power there appeared several generations in Central Asia (scores of millions) of believers whose ideas and opinions were formed amid atheistic propaganda and atheistic culture. In defiance of harsh pressure the majority looked at themselves as Muslims; today, the cultural and political elite reared during Soviet power joined the masses in following the Muslim traditions. They regard themselves Muslims. Many of them are well-educated people, some have degrees in philosophy. In Central Asia Islam is the cornerstone of confessional and cultural identity.
Starting with the latter half of the 1980s the Communist Party was losing its ideological grip on the minds. Central Asia entered a stage of re-Islamization: information about the Muslim values and norms was freely spread across the region, mosques appeared everywhere, the number of students in religious schools increased, and contacts with Muslim countries widened.
Foreign centers of Islamism and Islamist organizations promptly recognized their chance: the number of private religious schools supported by wealthy sponsors was increasing at a fast pace. In their educational efforts the foreign Islamist centers moved faster than the local governments and the official clergy. Clandestine schools and centers of traditional Islamic learning were teaching radical social and political ideas; the radical Hanbali Sunni School gained a lot of prestige. The result was a generation of young extremists.8 All sorts of Islamic funds and charities helped rich descendants of Central Asian emigrants visit the land of their ancestors where they funded new mosques and madrasahs rather than general education schools. Experts believe that the Namangan Region of Uzbekistan alone received from them over a thousand of mosques.
This trend intensified when the Soviet Union disappeared from the maps. The Islamists exploited the local people’s religious feelings, freedom of confession and inexperience of the state when it came to cooperating with the religious organizations to alter the constitutional order by all, including violent, means.
The internal social, economic, political, demographic, ecological, ethnic, psychological, and other problems were conducive to the spread of Islamism. The socially marginal groups find the ideology of a socioeconomic order of the time of the first Righteous Caliphs very attractive. They believe that true Islam will bring them justice and resolve their problems, and look at radicalism as the only instrument of improvement.
Islamist parties and fighter groups organized non-sanctioned anti-government rallies and strikes to demand that Islam be proclaimed an official ideology and a state religion. They wanted to turn Uzbekistan and Tajikistan into Islamic states. Early in the 1990s they destabilized the situation in Uzbekistan to a great degree. In Tajikistan massive rallies and strikes grew into a civil war. This forced Central Asia and its leaders to revise their liberal attitude to re-Islamization. Uzbekistan banned religious parties—their leaders fled to Tajikistan in March-April 1992 where they set up an armed formation that fought together with the United Tajik Opposition against the government troops. This was regarded as a preliminary stage of a jihad against the constitutional order in Uzbekistan. In August 1992 the detachment crossed into Afghanistan attracted by the huge amounts of weapon and ammunition that have been accumulated there, training facilities and a chance to gain fighting experience from the mujahideen. Who pays for food, uniforms and weapons of the fighters—there are from 500 to several thousands of them? There are no internal sources—foreign funding is obviously involved.
Starting with 1999 in Central Asia the Islamists have been using the method of locally limited hostilities that was tested with success in Afghanistan (the military call it the method of low intensity wars). They engage troops in skirmishes at nights high in the mountains and use small, mobile groups that are relatively independent and armed with latest special weaponry. A caliphate in Uzbekistan and domination over the region are their aims.
Some of the political organizations (the illegal Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, Aqramiyya also called Iymanchylar or Caliphatchylar) believe that the still ignorant Central Asian population should be educated through leaflets and illegal books. These illegal organizations are waging religious propaganda to restore the Islamic umma and the way of life so that to seize power in due time.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is especially active in the south of Kyrgyzstan (the Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions). It is spreading its ideology there and conscript new members. There are grass-root cells (halka) set up by experienced people who enlist new members from among the religious youth. New members are taught in clandestine schools.
The party aims at restoring the Islamic way of life and spreading the call of Islam (da’wah) in the world.9 It officially announced that it had abandoned all violence to achieve its main aim, the worldwide Caliphate while experts from the Osh Region of Kyrgyzstan say that the party calls to extremism. The participants in the round table held in February 2001 by OSCE and the Ebert Foundation in Osh agreed with the experts. Certain human rights activists prefer to look at the party members kept in prisons as “prisoners of conscience.” They set up a committee to defend them.10
The Islamists who are calling on the Central Asian Muslims to restore the Caliphate as the most just state order should never forget that the Ottoman Empire dealt cruelly with the Arabic liberation movements that finally deposed the caliph not in a peaceful way.
Contrary to historical evidence the Islamist ideologists are trying to present the caliphate as a just state in which the caliphs were short of being democratically elected. Henri Masse, well-known specialist in Islam, wrote: “If we look in the past we shall detect an evolution of the Caliphate under its first four rulers, four ‘righteous’ (Rashidun) caliphs. Under Abu Bakr Arabia was stabilized and was readying itself for conquests; under Umar there was victorious expansion; under Uthman, the conquests were finalized, luxury became common, the power of the caliph declined; under Ali power continued to weaken until a civil war started that caused religious dissent, stopped expansion and established the dynastic idea in Islam, probably in emulation of the Byzantine and Iranian monarchies.”11
The Muslim empire had grown too vast to remain unified. Conquerors embraced Islam, yet they subjugated the peoples they conquered, they treated them as inferior groups—meanwhile these groups inherited the earliest civilizations.
Drugs are one of the main financial pillars of international terrorism and religious extremism. The drug mafia does not need stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan—peace will interfere with drug trafficking. This is the main danger that comes from the drug dealers. Those who fight drugs and drug trafficking in Central Asia say that so far the results of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan have not yet diminished production and smuggling of opium and heroin across the region’s countries.
Trade in stolen cars is another source feeding international terrorism. It brings more than the car-making giants can ever earn: up to $21 billion a year.
Is It Hard to Resolve the Problem of Afghanistan?
The Afghan conflict is not rooted in the country: it is rooted in the forces that stand behind the opposing religious and political groups that give them money. The country itself is in a deep crisis. Afghanistan does not produce weapons yet there are a lot of them in the country. The problem of Afghanistan was created and fanned outside it.
Drugs fetch up to $45 billion a year—2 to 10 percent of the sum remains in Afghanistan.12 Who gets the rest?
There is an interesting opinion of Uwe Gelbach who works at the Federal Institute of Eastern Europe and International Research (Germany) and Udo Steinbach who heads the German Institute of Oriental Studies. They pointed out in an article in Die Welt that foreign support of the rebels had Islamization as its aim and that support of the Muslim militants acting in the Caucasus and other regions could not be cut short without Western pressure. As far as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries retain their (oil based) importance for the U.S. and Europe one should not expect such pressure from the West, U. Steinbach believes. The authors say that assistance to the radical groups from Muslims living in the West should be discontinued.
There is no doubt that regional cooperation and long-term projects of linking Central Asia with marine communications will profit from Afghan settlement. However, the settlement cannot be achieved even if the training bases are destroyed and the Taliban completely routed. The country needs a new political regime that will create conditions for a final reconciliation between the opposing sides, and will never support Islamism, international terrorism, and drug business.
Today everybody can see what happened when the West and its allies had used political Islam as an anti-Soviet weapon. We all know now that religion should not be exploited to reach political aims of the day. Religious extremism and international terrorism became a serious threat to world security.
International terrorists are using the Internet, e-mail, offshore Internet banks in which Osama bin Laden set up funding and information systems hard to detect. There are countries in which dirty money can be washed easily: there it is very hard to investigate cases of drug- and crime-related incomes. We need a mechanism that will allow us to trace down every time the channels through which international terrorism and political and religious extremism get money, and to stop money flows. It is not enough to make public the lists of international terrorist organizations and the most dangerous criminals. The sponsor countries and those that give shelter to terrorists should be punished.
I think that the international anti-terrorist coalition may neutralize international terrorism. It will not uproot it or its causes. As long as there are three conditions indispensable for the continued existence of terrorist organizations—access to money and to weapons and explosives, and the states ready to support terrorism—there is no hope of its total elimination. Today we can only hope to cut down the number of terrorist acts and lower the general level of terror.
The regional and world powers should abandon dual standards according to which certain (“theirs”) countries can use dangerous means to achieve their aims. We have to create efficient mechanisms to deal with the problem closely connected with the problem of correlation of moral norms and politics. Despite certain skepticism there are universal values in the sphere of international relations the role of which is gradually increasing. I have in mind ecology, liquidating aftermaths of ecological calamities, fighting poverty, and observation of human rights. The international community should pool its efforts and improve its cooperation methods to be able to face threats to its security (religious extremism, international terrorism, organized crime) and to create new strategies to be used against the global evil.
National interests should be respected and protected—in the same way the national interests of other countries should be taken into account otherwise the world will acquire new enemies in the persons of new terrorists: if certain groups and organizations cannot resolve their political, ethnic, and religious problems in any other way they resort to terror. It is true that terrorism is the weapon of weak and small peoples some of which even have no states of their own.
Globalization has replaced the Cold War and is dictating the international code of conduct. It is hardly possible today (or in future) to lump all religions together while preserving the key elements of each of them. One should recognize that the religions are real. This is especially important for the multinational states of Central Asia where social integration on an equal and just basis is a vital necessity. Such integration should not depend on the peoples’ ethnic, religious or social affiliations.
There should be no contradictions between politics and religion because all social factors are interdependent components of the individual, society, and the state. Religious values and norms influence to a great degree the ways the political elite is formed.
Regional stability and security can become stronger if the citizens are guaranteed all rights and freedoms, including religious freedom according to the constitutions of the Central Asian states. All violations increase destabilization.
Afghanistan was the “launching pad” of sorts of a war against international terrorism. The United States has already said that the war will be difficult and will take a lot of time. The Taliban and Al-Qa‘eda suffered a military defeat in Afghanistan: they have lost their bases, military equipment and many lives. Yet many of the former Taliban fighters just melted into peaceful population. They will try to get their share of power amid squabbles between different groups. The country will remain a threat to the region until it chooses peace, rejects and uproots Islamism and starts fighting drug business in earnest.
1 V.I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 4, Moscow, p. 228.
2 An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, IIPH, Riyadh, 1992, p. 27.
3 See: T.Iu. Irmiiaeva, Istoria musul’manskogo mira. Ot khalifata do blistatel’noi Porty, UralLTD, 2000, p. 319.
4 Delo No…, 26 April, 2000, p. 5.
5 O. Roy, L'echec de l'Islam politique, Paris, 1992, pp. 17-18.
6 For more detail, see: A. Ignatenko, “Endogenous Radicalism in Islam,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 2 (8), 2000.
7 V. Kriuchkov, Lichnoe delo. Tri dnia i vsia zhizn’, Moscow, 2001, p. 183.
8 For more detail, see: E.V. Abdullaev, L.F. Kolesnikov, Islam i religiozniy factor v sovremennom Uzbekistane, Moscow, 1998, pp. 249-281.
10 Vecherniy Bishkek, 3 May, 2000.
11 H. Masse, Islam, Moscow, 1962, p. 45.
12 See: Opium Poppy Production in Afghanistan: High but Stabilized. New York Survey Finds, U.N. Information Service, Vienna, September 1996.