Saturday, July 30, 2005

Here we go again

Uzbeks fleeing a crackdown over the anti-government uprisings in May will find refuge and possibly residence in the west, thanks to the U.N. and appeals from Human Rights Watch. Some of the 440 refugees flown out of Kyrgystan may enjoy the hospitality of Canada, Germany, or Australia. And some of them may be Muslim extremists. After witnessing the thanks Britain has received for opening its arms to political refugees from Muslim nations, it seems prudent to pause and consider the law of unintended consequences.

The reason for the protests back in May was the trial of a number of men from Andijan who claimed they were being persecuted because of allegations that they belong to Akramiya, an offshoot of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (that's right, it's them again). Supporters of the 23 men on trial claimed alternately that there was no such thing as an Uzbek radical Islamist group called "Akramiya" or that it existed but wasn't really that radical. Take your pick.

If Akramiya does exist, it was founded in the 1990s by Akram Yuldashev, a math teacher who belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir and may have written a pamphlet entitled "The Path to Faith." This tract proposed a five-step plan for the Islamization of society. Those five steps begin with "underground," "financial," and "spiritual" ... no problem so far. Then comes the fourth step, in which members of this spiritually purified, well-financed underground religious community infiltrate the power structure of the society at large. Step five is called "okhirat," meaning "final" (!) and entails the "true Islamization" of society and the "natural transfer" of political authority to the leaders of the group. The translation of this text comes from an article by Igor Rotar printed in the Turkish Weekly. The BBC published a useful overview of Islamists in Uzbekistan and Central Asia back in May.

Another article by Rotar, published on the Jamestown Foundation's website, suggests that allegations of religious and political extremism are exaggerated. The photo accompanying the article, an image of Uzbek women protesting the trial of accused Muslim extremists, is not reassuring:
Protesters in Andijan
Igor Rotar has been reporting on conflicts between Islamists and authoritarian secular governments in Central Asia for years, often with decided slant in favor of the supposed Islamist parties. His article for Jamestown follows this pattern, dismissing the charges of extremism by repeating the protesters' claims that they have no intention of attempting to create an Islamic state, no desire to impose sharia law, and no vision of worldwide Muslim domination.

Part of the problem secularists (whether democratic or not) face is that Islamist organizations have gotten better at hiding their true political goals to stay under the radar of governments that might restrict their actions if they were more forthright. In Tajikistan in the 1990s, for example, the Islamic Revival Party found it convenient to change its stated aim from "the creation of an Islamic state" to "the defense of Muslim rights." This kind of obfuscation allowed their party to remain legal despite its true goal of imposing sharia law on all Tajik people. The radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir has operated in the same way in England, toning down its rhetoric to stay legal, while never really backing down from its goal of a resurrected Caliphate and subsequent jihad to spread Islam over every inhabited inch of the planet. For these groups, democracy and civil rights are useful only along the path to totalitarian theocracy.

In a 2002 article about a crackdown on political activism by imams in Tajikistan, Rotar noted the effect of Islamist "democratic" movements on society there:

In the 2000 parliamentary elections, the vast majority of votes in the Isfara district went to the Islamic Revival Party. In the town of Chorku, 15 kilometres (10 miles) to the south of Isfara itself, it received 93 % of the vote. Visiting the town on 12 October, Keston noted that no alcohol is on sale and all women wear the hijab, a scarf covering the head and neck entirely. Both are unusual for today's Tajikistan.

Well, they're less unusual now than they were a decade ago. And unless we want to see similar Islamic social changes occurring in Toronto, Hamburg, and Sydney, we should consider where Britain's policy of openness to "political" refugees led before opening our borders to more of them. In the early 1990s, the families of Muktar Said Ibrahim and Yasin Hassan Omar were welcomed into England as political refugees (from Eritrea and Somalia, respectively.) Ibrahim and Omar will soon stand trial for carrying bombs onto the London Underground on July 21 and attempting to kill scores of innocent civilians in the name of Islam.


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