Leaving Islam



Now a crisis in hand in Islamic paradise - Uzbekistan

With Islamization on the rise, Uzbeks in eastern province clashed with the government force  

A.H. Jaffor Ullah  

Something unexpected had happened on May 13, 2005 in the easternmost town of Andijan in Ferghana Valley , Uzbekistan .  A casual reader may think that what happened on May 13 in Andijan was simply an armed confrontation between the dissidents and the government force.  This is not so.  There is more to the story than meets the eye.   

In late March 2005, I wrote a piece on Kyrgyzstan when a popular uprise there had forced the authoritarian president Askar Akayev to flee the country and take a refuge in neighboring Kazakhstan .  Hardly six weeks could pass by since trouble brewed in Kyrgyzstan , now the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is mired in internal dissension.  More on that later, but a brief review of how these republics which are near Caspian Sea, Aral Sea came into existence in post dismantling days of the Old Soviet Union in 1991.  

In the summer of 1989, the infamous Berlin Wall fell.  Before that, workers in Gdansk shipyard in Poland protested against their government, which was a puppet regime under Kremlin.  That successful protest movement led to an unstoppable chain of events.  First, it was Poland , and then, East Germany , Hungary , and so on. In 1991, the Soviet dismantled their empire, which President Reagan dubbed “The Evil Empire,” to give birth to a dozen or so new republics.  Thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev and his perestroika and glasnost; without his resolve and foresightedness, that implosion of ex-Soviet union would have been impossible in early 1990s.  Mr. Gorbachev, however, did not realize at the time that these newly created republics will be controlled by authoritarian regimes just as Joseph Stalin or Leonid Brezhnev did before and after the World War 2, respectively.   

Uzbekistan is a central Asian nation, which used to be known in the days of yore as part Of Toran or Turan to people of South Asia . The region of Ferghana is historically a very important place for Central Asian kings, which includes Zahir Ud-Din Muhammad Babur, the founder of Mughal Dynasty in India in 1526.  The Ferghana valley had lush agriculture from time immemorial.  However, the valley was divided among three nations in Central Asia, Uzbekistan , Tajikistan , and Kyrgyzstan in post World War II.  As of late, the Ferghana valley has become a hot bed of Islamic fundamentalist movement.  Many western intelligence experts who now specialize on al-Qaeda think that Osama’s disciples who have left Afghanistan in the aftermath of American invasion of that country may have taken a refuge in Ferghana valley where locals tolerate their presence.   

An expert wrote of Ferghana as follows: “Ferghana exhibits the most vivid example of the Islamic evolution-taking place throughout the region and exposes Afghanistan 's ideological impact on Central Asia .  This is a hard, rural place, with cotton fields worked with sweat and picked by hand.  The people are desperately poor.  They see little that the new national governments have done to help their lives.  Dissatisfaction is high, the lure of Islam as an answer to their dreary existence is strong.”  

After the collapse of the Old Soviet Union in the summer of 1991, lawlessness filled the void.  Assaults and robberies were common occurrence and rampant.  A Ferghana man by the name Juma Namangani and his companions became vigilantes, collaring crooks and administering beatings as punishment (as per Sunnah), according to local residents.  “I’m not saying I supported them,” said an old Namangan teacher.  “But when they were here, they were disciplined, and they kept peace in the streets.”  This is very similar to what Mullah Omar did in the aftermath of Soviet pullout of Afghanistan .  The man who headed the group remains a mystery.  According to locals, there are only a few blurry photos of him; he did not give interviews either.  

Today, spies and cameras watch his mother’s house.  His old mosque is closed to the public.  People in his hometown of Namangan shift their eyes and mumble that they hardly knew Juma Namangani.  They have good reasons.  The government of Uzbekistan considers this crony of Osama bin Laden to have been the country’s number one terrorist threat, and any hint of association with him can land a person in prison.

Juma Namangani was born Jumaboy Hojiev.  He studied in a technical school in Uzbekistan .  His service in the airborne corps in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation gave him a tough-man image when he returned home in 1989.  Here he studied with an Islamic scholar and took on radical Islam as his politics.  With a like-minded partner, Tahir Yuldash, Namangani began working to replace the government’s rule in the Ferghana Valley with law based on his political interpretation of the Koran, and eventually founded the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), considered by the government, and now by Washington, to be a terrorist organization.  If my memory is not failing me at this time, Osama bin Laden published his infamous fatwa against America from Ferghana in mid 1990s.  With this backdrop, let us see what has been happening in Uzbekistan as of late.  

Most wire services have reported on May 13, 2005 that in the eastern city of Andijan, which is located in Ferghana valley, more than 50 people have been killed in fighting in Uzbekistan’s fourth-largest city as government troops try to dislodge armed gunmen who took law in their hands as they freed prisoners including 23 men on trial for Islamic extremism.  The sketchy report coming from the eastern province of Uzbekistan , which is larger than California with nearly 27 million people.  An estimated over 88% of Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims; the rest are Eastern Orthodox Christians.   

Earlier, we read in the news that at least 10 people died in the eastern city of Andijan on Friday after insurgents stormed a jail and freed prisoners many of them on trial for Islamic extremism.  This prompted a violent crackdown that saw government troops open fire on a crowd of 5,000 demonstrating against President Islam Karimov’s government.  The fact that the violent demonstration took place after midday Zumma prayer is a reminder that the protest demonstration was the handiwork of Islamists.  President Bush is a staunch supporter of President Islam Karimov notwithstanding the authoritarian rule imposed by Uzbek president.     

Later, we read that after dispersing the demonstrators, government troops moved in against the armed anti-Karimov insurgents who had seized public buildings and freed about 2,000 prisoners from the local prison.  The government sent more soldiers to counter offense the putsch from the Islamic militants.  Sporadic gunfire was heard in the city.  This is the first time an organized protest movement was launched by the dissidents.   

Due to authoritarian rule in Uzbekistan , there is hardly any opposition.  The government of Islam Karimov had jailed many Islamists to please Mr. Bush.  The oil-rich nation of Uzbekistan has drawn attention from America ’s oil exploration companies.  Mr. Bush never did mind the autocratic Karomov regime as long as he keeps a tight reign on Islamists, al-Qaeda sympathizers, etc., which are on the rise in Central Asian nations.  The main Islamic movement in Ferghana valley is locally known as Akromiya.  

The sudden and violent attack by Karimov’s opposition in Andijan had surprised many experts.  From news reports, we learned that the protestors attacked an army garrison to seize guns.  Thus far, Kremlin had denounced the attack against Islam Karimov’s government.  Incidentally, the Putin Administration actively supports Karimov.  Mr. Bush does not mind his authoritarian rule as long as he could maintain a tight leash on Islamists in troubled Ferghana valley.  

To put in perspective, the incident of May 13, 2005, is just a tip of the iceberg in turbulent Central Asia .  All three nations in that belt, Uzbekistan , Tajikistan , and Kyrgyzstan , had harbored Islamic extremists and that includes al-Qaeda men.  The repressive and authoritarian government from Tashkent will have no problem reinforcing the central government’s rule but once a defiance movement had started there, it may gather steam.  Will there be other affront by the opposition that has many Islamists?  It is hardly a rhetorical question.  I expect to see a flurry of activities by the State Department troubleshooters in Tashkent .  The Bush Administration will give all the intelligence it has on al-Qaeda men now living in Ferghana valley and who roam at ease among three nations.  They pose a threat not only to Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan , but also to the Bush Administration who is now locked into a fight to efface global terrorism. 


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans , USA







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