FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from
(DV) Thornton: Eurasia at the Brink -- Cultural Politics of the Islamic Revival







Eurasia at the Brink
Cultural Politics of the Islamic Revival
by William H. Thornton
November 6, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


The end of the Cold War found the U.S. and its NATO allies unprepared for the geocultural realities they met in Eurasia. As in the Middle East, Islam was bound to play a central role here, but the American concept of church/state division and the European concept of secular modernity put Western analysts at a loss where Islamism (the cultural politics of Islam) was concerned. Americans were especially in a fog in their effort to supplant Russian influence in the newly independent nations of Central Asia, where an Islamic renaissance had been in progress long before the Soviet collapse. Although all the ex-Soviet republics are officially secular, Islam is at once a key to legitimacy and a linchpin of resistance throughout the region. [1]

U.S. policy makers tend either to ignore this religious factor or, when that becomes impossible, to treat it as a cultural atavism in need of repair. That bias obscures the most crucial cultural fact of current Eurasian politics: that insofar as civil Islam (a moderate form that welcomes democracy but contests the culturally invasive commercialization that is synonymous with current “globalization”) is the worst enemy of uncivil Islam, Washington’s broad-spectrum “war on terrorism” sets in motion a vicious circle whereby aid to dictatorial regimes pushes moderate Islamists into the extremist camp, which in turn becomes a pretext for more aid.  

Thus U.S. policy has often been frozen in an anti-democratic as well as anti-Islamist mold. Even on those occasions when America has deviated from its secular norm and supported Islamist factions, the beneficiaries have usually been of Wahhabi (Saudi) origin as opposed to civil alternatives that are native to Central Asia. So it was that the Afghan Taliban, which gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, got generous U.S. support (albeit indirectly through Pakistan’s ISI) as a security guarantor for a proposed trans-Afghan oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. [2] That deal was suspended by 1998 [3], and after September 11, 2001 anti-Islamism became a leitmotif of American geopolitics.

Now, more than ever, the issue of Muslim politics has been cast as a fire or ice contest between secular absolutism and radical Islamism: Ataturk or Osama. Graham Fuller sees this polarity as a serious misapprehension: “President Bush has repeatedly stressed that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam. But by seeking to separate Islam from politics, the West ignores the reality that the two are intricately intertwined across a broad swath of the globe from Northern Africa to Southeast Asia." [4] For Fuller the Manichaeism which Bush imposes on the Muslim world, in the name of being “with us or with the terrorists,” is in the same spirit as bin Laden’s concept of “a struggle between Islam and unbelief.” [5]

This binarism is of course nothing new. Geopolitical realists have always been wary of Islamic politics, while idealists have seen it as an impediment to democratic development. In fact, the reverse often holds: a lack of democratic development foments the reactionary Islamism which is then blamed for everything from political inertia to terrorism. A classic case of this “chicken and egg” causality was the Iranian Revolution. While the democratic thrust of the Revolution was subverted by Ayatollah Khomeini, it was the relentless state terrorism of the American implant, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi [6], that paved the way for Khomeini. 

Likewise, centrist repression has invited the rise of radical Islamism throughout the former Soviet sphere. It is essential, however, that the word “radical” not be extended to all political activism. In the Central Asian context, parliamentary opposition is seldom an option. When it is considered that Central Asia’s ruling elites are usually far more repressive than their former Soviet mentors -- at least in the era of late-Soviet glasnost -- it becomes obvious that “radical” destabilization is not necessarily a bad thing. [7] Any sensible U. S. foreign policy must recognize shades of Islamism, so as to distinguish, in the Afghan context, a civil Islamist such as Ahmed Shah Massoud (who never got U.S. support) from a U.S.-funded terrorist such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Massoud’s nemesis.

The price of treating Islamism monolithically is obvious in the case of the West’s indifference to Moscow’s genocidal conduct in Chechnya. It should be stressed that the Chechen separatism that took shape under Jokhar Dudayev in the early 1990s was motivated by nationalist rather than radical Islamic sentiments. Though Chechens were repelled by Dudayev’s increasingly despotic rule, they still preferred it to Russian rule. Their victory in the 1994-96 war wrecked the country, however, and the resulting instability invited both warlordism and the militant radical Islamism that spilled over into Dagestan under the joint leadership of Shamil Basayev and the Afghan veteran Ibn ul-Khattab. Only at this point did Chechnya come under the shadow of the kind of jihadism that the Russians have falsely portrayed as the essence of Chechen insurgency.  

This picture not only ignores the long history of Chechen resistance to the Romanovs and Soviets, but also the Sufi Islamic inspiration behind that separatism. Sufism provides a natural buffer against the kind of Islamic fundamentalism that one associates with Afghan Talibanism or Iranian theocracy. There is no denying that fundamentalist elements have played a key role in the current Chechen uprising, but, as Rajan Menon explains, those elements could not long survive the restoration of peace and stability:  

Sufism . . . is anathema to fundamentalists. They regard as apostasy core Sufi beliefs and practices, including teachings and rituals that emphasize direct communion with God . . . In short, the theological basis for fundamentalism’s appeal in Chechnya is thin, and foreigners seeking to make it the dominant version of Islam will meet resistance from indigenous Islamic leaders. Chechens already mistrust “the Arabs,” as they call Middle Eastern fundamentalists, for their dogmatic, rigid attitudes and see their presence as prolonging a war that has destroyed their lives. What animates the Chechen struggle against Russia is not an imported Wahhabi coterie but a homegrown nationalism that is a product of the centuries-long struggle with Russia. Putin’s war will only improve fundamentalist Islam’s prospects in Chechnya; its brutalities will favor hard men who . . . favor neither secularism nor negotiations with Russia; theirs is a war of the faithful, and compromise is tantamount to faithlessness. [8]

A similar reflex is seen in Azerbaijan’s current malaise, which is not so much a case of Islam defiling politics as politics (or the lack thereof) radicalizing Islam. There are many opposition parties here, yet their agendas (due in large part to their need for Western support) are often difficult to distinguish from that of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP). Until recently NAP was firmly under the grip of the ailing President Heidar Aliyev. On October 15, 2003 his son Ilham Aliyev, who had only recently been made the country’s premier, easily won the presidential elections. He will doubtless perpetuate his father’s policies, and the West will not protest this nepotism so long as the flow of Caspian oil and natural gas go as scheduled. [9] It is enough that the outward trappings of democratic process are on display.  

The blatant fraudulence of the October election did not prevent the U.S. and E.U. from instantly affirming the presidency of Aliyev II, their new crony. So too, they looked on passively as 190 members of opposition parties were arrested in the week following the election. Hopes for a re-vote died away as the key geopolitical players -- the U.S., the E.U., Turkey, and Russia -- upheld the new regime. [10]

The Azerbaijani public, however, is losing hope in both its own political mechanisms and in the good intentions of the West. Many now feel that no matter which party prevails it is the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that will win, not the people. Their desperate search for alternatives makes it almost certain that the Azerbaijan Islamic Party, which was banned in 1996, will be resurrected in some form. Although a mere 6 percent of those polled in a 1997 survey saw themselves as devout Muslims [11], the absence of substantive democratic politics is creating the environment for an Islamic awakening, and there is little chance it will be the civil Islamic variety. 

Islamism plays an even more decisive role in South Central Asia. The key question, however, is which Islamism. This is a prime issue in the making of the new Afghan constitution, which stops short of Taliban-style Shariah but holds that no law can be contrary to Islam. So too, judges can be selected for the Supreme Court who have training only in Koranic law. [12] Afghanistan’s chief justice, an Islamic hardliner, answered questions on the subject by pointing to the Koran on his desk and saying “this is the only law." [13]

Afghanistan, however, is hardly typical of Central Asia. Elsewhere in the region a civil Islamic compromise was far more promising after the Cold War. Unfortunately the same dictators who cracked the door on capitalism -- such as Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov and Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov [14] -- were determined to lock the door on Islam as a catalyst for democracy. Even Kyrgyzstan’s Askar Akayev, who recognized the utility of Islam as a surrogate bonding agent in the absence of Soviet ideology [15], ultimately slammed that door.  

In the face of a regional Islamic revival, recycled Soviet leaders tried to adopt the persona of born-again Muslims, opening meetings and public speeches with passages from the Koran. Yet despite their feeble attempts at state-managed Islam, none of these states -- with the exception of Tajikistan, whose political crisis forced it to legalize the popular Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) -- has come close to bridging the religious/secular gap. Most have neglected resurgent Islamic forms such as Sufism [16], while banning political Islamism altogether. That ban, however, was only effective against moderate religious forms that could have served as a buffer against militant Islamism. Already by 1992 this foreign import was finding a home in the political underground of post-Soviet Asia. [17]

After seventy-four years of Soviet religious repression, it is understandable that the Muslim populations of Central Asia have lost sight of their own moderate traditions of Islam. Radical fundamentalist imports are quick to fill that void, abetted by regimes that are as tone-deaf to religion in general as the Soviets were. [18] These governments are at a vital crossroads. They can either accommodate Islamism, as Tajikistan finally did, or follow Uzbekistan in combating it utterly. In the absence of democratic political development, neither strategy is likely to work against radical Islamisms such as the HT (the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami) or the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), which easily insinuate themselves where hope has been lost domestically.

On the surface, HT appears rather innocuous, having split with more radical Islamisms on the issue of violence. [19] And compared to its fellow Wahhabisms, HT seems culturally porous. Ahmed Rashid observes that its success in the heart of Central Asia (it is the most popular form of Islamism in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) [20] stems from its compromise position regarding modernity. Far from spurning all Western achievements, it incorporates some of them into its vision of a 21st century caliphate. This relative openness should not, however, be confused with liberal tolerance. HT’s strategy is to turn Western technologies against Western civilization. [21] 

This veiled bellicosity becomes more overt in the movement’s attitude toward non-Western competitors such as Sufism, Zoroastrianism, and Jadidism; and like all Wahhabisms HT is rabidly anti-Shia, going so far as to advocate the expulsion of all Shia Muslims from Central Asia. [22] That virtual declaration of civil war belies the organization’s non-violent claims. If HT is not a terrorist operation, it certainly is not a civil Islamic one, like the IRP. Some believe it is in fact the IMU’s jihadic twin, rather like Sinn Finn and the Irish Republican Army. The fact remains, however, that HT is expressly anti-violent and strictly anti-terroristic. There is no proof of HT’s involvement in terrorist activity anywhere in the world. [23] 

If the democratic principle is to have any substance, it must extend to the protection of nonviolent groups such as HT, which in fact can be viewed as something of a litmus test for democratic progress. Thousands of HT members have been arrested, tortured, and sentenced to long terms in prison by regimes that are on good terms with the U.S. The message this sends to the Islamic world belies the claims of the Bush administration that its foremost objective is the promotion of democratic values. The fact that HT operates openly and peacefully in some Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, proves that its suppression in Central Asia is a cover for the suppression of political dissent, not terrorism. In Uzbekistan, where HT is the only avenue available for political opposition, its repression is tantamount to the elimination of democracy as such. [24] The same may be said of Islamism in general across much of Eurasia. To stamp it out would guarantee the rise of oppositional groups that trade in violence. It is time to test the waters of a completely different policy. The cruel repression of HT members has contributed much to the radicalization of the organization. There is an easy way to reverse this process, for HT as well as all forms of civil Islam: simply legalize them and encourage their mainstream participation in a democratic system.  

Central Asian Cases in Point 

That is certainly not the view of the post-Soviet governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The former has sometimes qualified its anti-Islamism diplomatically, but not domestically. Calling himself Turkmenbashi” (father of all Turkmen), President Saparmurad Niyazov has all but deified himself, along with his mother, in patent opposition to Koranic precepts. [25] Yet he never joined the anti-Taliban alliance of other Central Asian leaders. This exempted him from Taliban-inspired insurgency, despite the fact that he maintained good relations with the Taliban’s archenemy, Russia. [26]  

The IRP never took hold in Turkmenistan [27], but its more virulent Islamist rival, the IMU, will not be so easily deflected in a land where grinding poverty and oppression -- arguably the worst in Central Asia, with all political parties, meetings, and independent media flatly forbidden -- coexist with largely untapped economic and political advantages, e.g., the seventh largest gas reserves in the world and the most ethnically homogeneous population in Central Asia. [28] Here secular and religious reformism are on an equal footing. Whereas Azerbaijan allows no Islamic opposition party, Turkmenistan allows no opposition whatsoever. Niyazov has earned the distinction of being listed by Freedom House as one of the world’s eight worst tyrants. [29]

*   *   * 

Uzbekistan, meanwhile, finds favor with Washington by keeping its domestic and foreign anti-Islamism in perfect harmony. The neo-Soviet regime of Islam Karimov is the Bush administration’s idea of a trustworthy ally. No religious practice is beyond suspicion here -- except of course the government sponsored version, comparable to the state-supervised Buddhism of Tibet under its present Chinese occupation. Lawrence Uzzell, president of the International Religious Freedom Watch, notes that it is “not a good time to be a Protestant Christian or a devout Muslim in Uzbekistan.” [30] Simply to wear clothing indicative of Muslim piety can attract police attention. 

The fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan should have relaxed these pressures [31], but the bottom line is that the government is as concerned about civil Islam as about its militant alternative. Karimov’s conflation of the two, in the name of anti-terrorism, wins him U.S. support while smoke screening his general repression. [32] One reason he gets away with this subterfuge is that the Uzbek population is not inclined to mix religion and politics. Even in the midst of the religious revival of the 1990s, a survey revealed that only 11% of Uzbeks thought an Islamic state desirable. While Karimov has personal reason to fear radical groups after an assassination attempt on him in February 1999, he has depended on that very militancy to justify his blanket crackdown on civil liberties. [33]

In 2000, the U.S. classified the IMU as a terrorist group, opening the door for increased cooperation between American and Uzbek security services. But from other quarters international pressure was building against the government’s heinous policies. On September 1, 2001, the tenth anniversary of Uzbek independence, Karimov found it expedient to release 25,000 prisoners, and to reduce the sentences of another 25,000. Tellingly, the 7,000 held for membership in Islamic groups received no such clemency. [34] The domestic question was how far this anti-Islamism could be pushed, for Uzbekistan had long been a bastion of Islamic culture and piety in Central Asia. [35] Equating anti-terrorism and anti-Islamism could backfire. 

Indifferent to such cultural particulars, post 9/11 Washington has encouraged a shotgun approach to anti-terrorism. Thus Karimov has won support for what he would be doing anyway. It was not only for ethnic reasons that he supported the Uzbek warlord Dostum over Rabbani and Massoud in the Afghan civil war. The key point was that the ruthless Dostum lacked all Islamic conviction. [36] Ironically, the Uzbek population’s support for the government’s religious policy is born out of its civil Islamic abhorrence of terrorism. [37] So too this has cushioned the impact of Karimov’s foreign policy. At a time when the U.S. entry into Afghanistan was inspiring riots throughout the Muslim world, American forces met little hostility here. 

Beneath this placid surface, however, there are signs of growing unrest. Clearly, it is not just religious appeal that advances the HT and IMU cause in Uzbekistan. In a country that has had no legal opposition since the early 1990s, radical Islamism is the only politically viable option. [38] In that respect Karimov has been the IMU’s best recruiting agent, and also the main reason for HT’s drift away from its official tenet of nonviolent tactics. [39] The Taliban was of course pleased to fan these flames, in Kyrgyzstan as well as Uzbekistan. [40]

The only real moderating influence on Karimov’s regime is the U.S., whose strategic backing is vital to the country’s economy as well as its defense. [41] Unfortunately U.S. criticism of the dictatorship has been mild to the point of endorsement. Since 1999 American Special Forces have been garrisoned in Tashkent to train the Uzbek Army on how to better combat the IMU. [42] But of course this knowledge can be applied against any armed resistance. Since nonviolent resistance to Karimov is almost impossible, the U.S. is in the morally derelict position of supporting a neo-Stalinist regime against any challenge whatsoever.  

By contrast, the British Ambassador, Craig Murray (soon to be ex-Ambassador, thanks to his stridently unconventional style) [43], recently threw a bolt into the diplomatic gears at a function attended by ranking Uzbeks. Just after his U.S. counterpart gave his typical speech crediting Uzbek progress on human rights, Murray rose to blast the lack of such progress. [44] Still, much was left unsaid. Unconditional U.S. aid has given Karimov a new lease on oppression. Just days after 9/11, Washington was pressing Tashkent for landing and basing rights. [45] Their price, in addition to hard cash, would be U.S. silence in the face of Karimov’s human rights violations. Shortly after the Washington-Tashkent deal was announced on October 12, 2001, Dilip Hiro noted the irony that America’s so-called “Enduring Freedom” campaign in Afghanistan was launched on the shoulders of two archetypal dictators -- Musharraf and Karimov. [46]

The two differ significantly, however, in their religious politics. Musharraf cannot afford to equate anti-terrorism with anti-Islamism, whereas Karimov arrests people for attending unlicensed religious services, wearing religious attire [47], or even praying alone. Matt Bivens reports the case of a professor whose son was arrested on the charge of attending the wrong mosque. He confessed to being a terrorist after forty-three days of gruesome interrogation, during which time he had his fingernails torn out and pins inserted in his bleeding wounds. When he pointed out to the court that his confession was obviously coerced, the judge replied, “As long as it is written, it is so.” He got six years. Had he been charged with possessing HT leaflets, it could have been twenty. The police keep HT fliers in stock to plant on those they happen to dislike, such as the human rights activist Ismail Adilov. [48]

The U.S. has implicitly recommended this “fortress Uzbekistan” role model to Central Asia, complete with a penal system that not only tortures prisoners but persecutes their families and friends. [49] While the war in Iraq is rationalized on the grounds of democracy promotion (now that the weapons of mass destruction argument has collapsed), Uzbekistan is trusted precisely because of its ersatz parliament, its dearth of independent media, and its anti-Islamist hardline. The message from Washington to Central Asia has been clear: to be on our gift list, do as Karimov does. The payback came in the weeks following the Iraq invasion, when Uzbekistan broke ranks with other Central Asian states by not re-evaluating its U.S. ties. [50]

Only the growing success of the IMU has induced Karimov to slightly relax his ban on secular opposition parties such as Erk and Birlik, so as to split the opposition. [51] This trace of tolerance was retracted in 2003. In the worst crackdown since 1999, political activists and any journalists worthy of the name were subjected to arrests, beatings, and a continuous barrage of intimidation. It began in May with the arrest of Ruslan Sharipov, a human rights advocate. To spare his mother and friends a similar fate, Sharipov confessed to charges of homosexuality. One of his defenders was nevertheless kidnapped and brutally beaten. In August a prominent journalist was arrested and beaten after heroin was planted in his car by the police, and meanwhile an Erk Party leader disappeared. Two others -- a human rights leader and a BBC journalist -- were attacked by a staged mob, as the police looked on approvingly. [52]

In effect, Washington looked on approvingly. Doubtless, in the midst of its new Iraq quagmire [53], the Bush administration would have preferred that Karimov use more subtle means; but the end product of his domestic brutality was very much in line with the U.S. game plan. [54] Karimov has underscored his “fortress” mentality by laying land mines and erecting fences along Uzbekistan’s borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. None of this will deter radical Islamists, but it will very effectively split families and obstruct cross-border trade. [55] The dictator’s aversion to these two countries is understandable: Kyrgyzstan has been Central Asia’s model of general reformism, while Tajikistan has offered a prototype for civil Islamic inclusion. Both models are now at risk domestically, but Karimov is taking no chances. 


*   *   * 


At the time of its independence in the fall of 1991, Kyrgyzstan established its uniqueness among the ex-Soviet regimes by electing a non-communist president, Askar Akayev, a respected physicist and former associate of the renowned physicist-turned-dissident Andrei Sakharov. Cut off from Soviet aid, and facing gargantuan economic problems, Akayev looked to the West for assistance. He drew applause in 1993 for becoming the first Central Asian leader to privatize his economy along the lines of IMF restructuring, and in 1998 he took Kyrgyzstan into the World Trade Organization. International acclaim, however, did not translate into multinational investment, and soon the country was also the regional leader in per capita debt. [56] Political unrest grew along with poverty, forcing Akayev to decide which meant more to him, the reforms he had inaugurated, or his hold on power. 

That was easy enough. He struck not only at progressive politics, but also at religious tolerance. These actions drew international support from the U.S., Russia and China alike. Even as Akayev joined his neighbors in rigging elections and choking off dissent, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived with promises of military assistance. The lesson was obvious: even in Kyrgyzstan, one of the less Islamized states of Central Asia [57], an Islamic threat must to be conjured up to achieve the kind of insider status that anti-communist authoritarians enjoyed during the Cold War. The name of the game, in this Cold War II scenario, is anti-terrorism, which for all practical purposes amounts to anti-Islamism. It was only when Akayev abandoned democratization that the IMU started to gain popularity here. [58] And only then did the West take Akayev fully under its wing. 

This turned out to be a political kiss of death. By bolstering Akayev’s confidence, U.S. support encouraged the repressive policies that eventually lead to his downfall. On March 24, 2005 he was forced to flee to Russia after his recent election rigging set off massive protests. As in Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” and Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” radical Islamism was not a major factor here, precisely because the Kyrgyz resistance, unlike that of Chechnya, succeeded without a prolonged and violent struggle. Central Asian Islam does not lend itself to radical Islamism except as a last resort.  


*  *  * 

Ironically, Akayev might have enjoyed greater protection from his U.S. and Soviet allies if he had faced radical Islamist insurrection instead of secular and largely peaceful protest. The revelation that anti-Islamism is a geopolitical goldmine is not comforting to countries that have experienced little Islamic resistance or have dealt with it fairly successfully. Tajikistan looked like the prototypic success story after its 1992-97 civil war, when the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) forced Islamic concessions from the post-Soviet government. [59] Those reforms seemed to assuage Muslim hopes for a democratic solution to their grievances. This posed an ideological conundrum for Tajikistan's neo-Stalinist neighbors by ushering in an even more dreadful threat than radical Islam. The specter of civil Islam now haunts all Central Asian regimes, not to mention their corporate cronies in the West. Though fighting continues with Muslim rebels under the UTO label, a 1997 accord guarantees the IRP a 30 % share in government posts and representation. 

At first President Imomali Rahmonov could not ignore this agreement, but after 9/11 the international climate allowed him to cheat more openly, blaming his recidivism on connections between the IRP and the IMU. Secular reformism has no cultural roots in Tajikistan, having declined in recent years to clip the IRP’s wings, thereby striking a blow against democratization as well. Much is at stake here for the whole region, since Tajikistan is the only Central Asian country that allows an Islamic party full political participation. [60] Without the government’s IRP bargain, Muslim leaders could see militant resistance as their viable alternative. 

To ward off the threat of both civil and uncivil Islam, Central Asian regimes are resorting to the tactics of cooptation perfected by Mahathir in Malaysia and Suharto in Indonesia. Many experts believe the Tajik government is in league with the Tajik Council of Ulems in its decision to bar women from worshipping in mosques. [61] As in Afghanistan, women are often the agents of democratic change. Barring them from mosques is a thinly disguised way of keeping them out of politics, since the mosque often doubles as a center of political activism.  

*   *   * 

So far Kazakhstan has not had to face the full brunt of the Islamic Revival.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has not needed the iron fist anti-Islamism of a Niyazov or Karimov. Neither has he met the kind of secular democratic resistance that took Eduard Shevardnadze down. The country’s nomadic traditions render it more conservative and hence more culturally resistant to the IMU and other militant Islamisms. [62] But even here the attraction of radical Islamism is enhanced by political repression. A moderate opposition party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), was formed in November 2001, but its leaders have been subjected to continued abuse. [63] The government would not be the only winner in a DCK defeat. Militant Islamism would also profit, and the two victors would benefit from each other. Like other neo-Stalinist leaders of the region, Nazarbayev is coming to depend on the threat of radical Islamism as a cover for ruthless practices.  

The value of this camouflage is obvious in the case of Georgia’s recent “velvet revolution,” where Shevardnadze did not have radical Islamism as an excuse for “emergency” measures. Nor could he expect to be propped up by the U.S., as other oil magnates have been, since he had allowed Russia’s energy giants to pull the strings in that sector. He got little in return for indenturing himself to Moscow. The belated arrival of dozens of Russian special operations units in Tbilisi could not save him from massive risings in the streets in November 2003. [64]

There is little chance of such a potent secular challenge in Kazakhstan. To inoculate himself against religious reformism, Nazarbayev makes a show of his own ornamental religiosity. In September 2003 he sponsored the Congress of World and Traditional National Religions, where well-screened Islamic representatives from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan were joined by an assortment of Buddhist and Christian delegates. Substantial funding has been offered by Iran to promote more such meetings, in keeping with President Khatami’s belief in the importance of a dialogue of civilizations. [65] Nazarbayev’s religious congress, however, is a staged dialogue whose whole point -- like the “air-conditioned Islam” of Egypt’s bourgeois salons [66] -- is its silence on the issue of political Islamism. 

Turkey After Kemalism 

Conversely, the Islamic revival that is sweeping most of Eurasia has a pronounced grassroots dimension. Even in Turkey, the birthplace of Kemalism, pure secularism has lost much of its allure after decades of economic dysfunction. Many unemployed Turkish youth are turning to Islam [67], while Iranian youth seem to be moving in the opposite direction. What the two have in common is opposition to the status quo. 

This shift was marked by the sweeping victory of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the November 2002 legislative elections. The AKP’s moderate stance is suggested by its dual impact: its triumph has hurt both the Islamic old guard of Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party and the secular establishment of the military and judiciary, which banned Welfare after its strong electoral showing of 1995. Under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP represents a new breed of Islamism: culturally conservative without being fundamentalist, and reformist without being ideologically strident. As such it can muster a much broader political base. 

Secularists, of course, accuse the AKP of being a Muslim Trojan horse [68]; but the Party is clearly more interested in ties with the West, and specifically with the E.U., than in courting Muslim nations, as Erbakan did. [69] Granted, like most germinal democratic movements, the AKP is a mixed bag. Its conservatism is more ingrained than its still untested liberalism. Two important tests will be its treatment of the Kurds and its handling of the Cyprus issue. It helps that Turkey knows it is being judged by Europe on a more liberal yardstick than the U.S. ever applied. This confounds those in Central Asia, such as Karimov [70], who revere Kemalist étatism.

For now Turkey has turned away from militarist secularism as well as pan-Turkism. [71] Recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists underscore, by way of contrast, the civil quality of the AKP, but these could trigger an anti-Islamist response on the part of the military and even the general public. This reactionary reflex -- conditioned by fifteen years of war against separatist Kurds -- is exactly what Islamic militants want, since it could sabotage the reform movement and drive a wedge between Europe and Turkey. [72] For its part, Europe should remember that Islam itself is not the problem. During the Inquisition, countless Jews fled Europe to take refuge in the far more tolerant Ottoman Empire. Jews and Muslims have peacefully coexisted in Turkey since the fifteenth century. [73] Hence the AKP’s embrace of civil Islam could revive a tradition whose liberal roots are at least as deep as Europe’s.  

The U.S., unfortunately, has evaluated the AKP and civil Islam in general by a very different standard: the post 9/11 loyalty test. Things got off to a bad start on March 1, 2003, when the AKP-dominated legislature joined Mexico and Chile in defying their superpower ally over Iraq. To Washington’s dismay, U.S. forces were denied basing rights by this erstwhile client state. Writing in the New York Times, William Safire declared the AKP “Saddam’s best friend,” as if the post-9/11 world offered but two choices: Bush or Saddam. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz went further: denouncing the Turkish military for its failure to overturn this legislative decision. [74]

What Turkey’s recalcitrance actually indicates is that civil Islam is conducive to unexpurgated democracy. The problem -- as realists such as Kissinger have known all along -- is with democracy itself, which is not nearly so tractable or predictable as a good military junta. As of February 2003, these upstart democrats were asking $92 billion for their support, whereas the Americans drew the line at $24 billion. [75] This put even the more astute American empire builders in a bind. They knew that the best defense against radical Islamism is civil Islam, which can also be a roadmap for democratic obstinacy.  

So too it pulls the rug out from under the U.S. attempt to promote Turkey as a model of secularity, the antithesis of the Iranian model. [76] In fact, Turkey’s civil Islamic synthesis renders it a better bridge between East and West than Kemalism ever was. After eight decades, Ataturk’s anti-Islamist barricade is breaking down. As Stephen Black notes, Turkey will have to reinvent itself if it is to serve as a prototype for democratization in the Muslim world. [77]

One of the major obstacles to that project is the resistance of militant Islamism to what it sees as the AKP’s treasonous tilt toward Europe. The November 2003 terrorist attacks in Istanbul not only sank Erdogan’s hopes for a smooth economic recovery (if only because of the damage it will do to the Turkish tourist industry, the source of a third of the nation’s foreign currency) but trapped him in a no man’s land between military secularism and “more Islamic than thou” radicalism. Should he feel compelled to court the military for security reasons, this could injure his standing with the EU [78], and definitely it would compromise the new Turkish model of civil Islam in Central Asia. 

Turkish authorities claim that Hizbullah, the terrorist organization thought to be behind the bombings (which has no known links to the Lebanese organization of the same name), has al Qaeda links. That may be, but it should be noted that this conclusion serves both the domestic and diplomatic interests of the government, which is in the embarrassing position of having employed Hizbullah in its long war with Kurdish nationalists. Turkish security forces turned on their hired monster after it was no longer needed, and now Hizbullah appears to be repaying that betrayal as well as Erdogan’s departure from his anti-Western campaign promises. [79]

As Amir Taheri points out, the Islamist undertow is an old story in Turkey. On the secular side it traces to Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who played the Islamic card and was hanged in 1960 after a military coup. This sword cuts both ways, however. When Prime Minister Suley Demirel played a similar card in the 1970s, he was hounded by Muslims who found him insufficiently Islamic. The deciding factor may now be the relationship of Turkish Islamism and liberalism. In 1996, Erbakan’s Rifah Party entered a right wing coalition that alienated the very constituents on the liberal left who would be needed as allies against an inevitable military challenge. [80] It remains to be seen if Erdogan can do a better job of keeping moderate Islamism and liberalism under the same roof. The current wave of terrorism is putting that already tenuous union under strain, and Taheri’s prognosis is grim. The AKP’s survival hinges on whether it can keep its liberal house in order in the face of militant Islamism, which got a huge boost from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. [81]

Iran’s Democratic Impasse: The Limits of Radical Moderation 

Civil Islam in Turkey cannot win for losing: its political survival depends on such a heavy dilution of its religious content that its Islamic credentials come into question. Indonesia and Iran may be the only two countries where civil Islam might prosper without compromising itself in this way. From different sides democratic Islamism is stymied in both cases -- in Indonesia by military secularism and in Iran by Shia dogmatism. Breaking that deadlock will not be easy, but it helps that in these two cases reform has only the government to fight, not the nation’s political culture. It should not be forgotten that Iranian theocracy was grafted onto a democratic revolution [82], much as Bolsheviks stole the Russian Revolution from the Mensheviks.

Khomeini brought better organization to the revolution, and unlike secular activists he could issue Koranic fatwas or declare enemies mortad (excommunicated). [83] At first he professed solidarity with other resistance factions, mainly targeting the Shah, the U.S., and Israel in his speeches. This tactic afforded rare oppositional unity, as the Shia Mullahs who rallied to his cause had been set up by the Shah himself as a barrier to the political Left. [84] Likewise Khomeini gained middle class support, even among junior military officers, by promising liberation for all Iranians. [85] This inclusivity won out in the short run, but was likely to backfire once his deceit became obvious. What spared him a counterrevolution was Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran in 1980. The ensuing eight year war drained reformist zeal and cast resistance in an unpatriotic light. 

It also pitted two vast propaganda machines against each other: Ba’athist pan-Arabism and Iranian pan-Islamism. [86] After a poor initial showing -- due in no small part to Khomeini’s purge of the professional army in favor of his Islamic Revolutionary Guard, or Sepah -- the tide began to turn early in 1982 as Sepah gained military experience. After 18 months the Iraqis were expelled and a successful counteroffensive was launched. [87] This fueled nationalist as well as pan-Islamist sentiments, stanching resistance to the theocratic takeover.  

With the Iranians on the road to victory, and the world’s oil at issue, the Reagan administration threw its support to Saddam. The tide turned once more as Iraq acquired better weaponry and war materials, including U.S.-supplied dual-use technology that Iraq predictably used to produce chemical and biological weapons. [88] No less important were the diplomatic signals both superpowers sent Iraq that its increasing use of chemical weapons, on its own Kurdish citizens as well as Iranians, would not have serious international repercussions. [89] For once the superpowers agreed on something: that an Iranian victory was against their mutual interest. After Iraq won major victories in 1988, Iran accepted a U.N. brokered cease-fire. [90] By then even Khomeini’s ardent supporters came to doubt his leadership, but under conditions of bare survival no group was in a position to oppose him openly. 

Nevertheless the dismal outcome of the war -- which for all its suffering had no real victor -- sustained a tempered reformism in the form of civil Islam. On the surface this religious current seems to run counter to the cultural demographics of youth: with over half of Iran’s 65 million population under 25, the ostensive drift has been toward agnosticism as well as closer ties with the U.S. [91] But unlike Turkey’s deep-rooted secular tradition, this nascent secularity is mainly reactive [92]: dependent upon theocratic excesses in much the same way that an American youth counterculture was once dependent upon the Vietnam War. Only civil religion can generate the staying power to finish the job. [93] 

The reelection of President Mohammad Khatami in 2001 by a large margin, coupled with a new reformist majority in Parliament, raised hopes that a velvet revolution was at hand. Disillusionment set in, however, as the president’s helplessness became obvious. [94] By September 2003 Khatami himself had admitted defeat. [95] Clearly the real rulers were inside the unelected Council of Guardians and the judiciary. Voter apathy is understandable, given the Council’s power to reject any candidate and void all election results. [96] There is simply no “legal” way to depose the theocrats. Some form of non-velvet resistance is necessary, yet the public balks at this thought after the indelible trauma of a revolution gone wrong.

Iranian reformists are caught in an oxymoronic quest for radical moderation. Student protest is too rash and fleeting [97], while gradualism is too easily monitored and crushed by the Council. Nor can outside powers do much. Any such input, especially from the U.S., will be seen as invasive. As Whit Mason observes, President Bush all but saved the theocrats in January 2002 by declaring Iran part of his infamous “axis of evil.” In response, hundreds of thousands of Iranians of all political stripes poured out in February to celebrate the Republic’s twenty-third anniversary. [98] By July, when Bush called on Iranians to seek “reform from below,” [99] he had more than lost his audience. [100]

Nor was this exhortation necessary in a country which since 1890 has had more rebellions and revolutions than any Muslim nation. [101] Early in the 20th century the Iranians had a constitution and an elected parliament. This development was axed by the Pahlavi dynasty that took over in 1921 under British auspices. Democratization resumed after World War II, only to be jettisoned once more in 1953 through a CIA-engineered coup, after which the U.S. rushed through a grant-in-aid package of $45 million to secure the royalist regime. Clearly Eisenhower and his henchman John Foster Dulles did not share Truman’s reluctance to topple recalcitrant governments [102] -- even democratic ones (ten months later he did it again in Guatemala). [103] Despite their understandable reserve, Iranians are saying (if only through their refusal to vote) that fifty years is enough.  

The question is what the target will be when moderation starts to wear thin. The latest wave of reformism was ignited in July 2003 by the brutal death of a Canadian photo journalist, Zahra Kazemi, at the hands of governmental thugs. Iran watchers were shocked by the brazen reaction of reformists. First, an investigation ordered by Khatami revealed that Kazemi did not die of a stroke, as earlier announced, but rather from blows inflicted on her during interrogation. Calls for further investigation followed, not only in reformist media but in an open session of Parliament. [104]

One of Kazemi’s defenders, 2003 Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, occupies the middle ground in a two-front war on reform. On the one hand she castigates U.S. and Israeli double standards on human rights, while on the other she deplores Iran’s theocratic incubus. Like President Khatami she upholds the complementarity of Islam and democracy [105] -- that being a central tenet of all civil Islam. Though most Iranian reformists share this conviction [106], they are divided over which is the greater evil, the theocratic devil they know or the globalist devil they fear even more, having met its precursor in the forced Westernization of the Shah’s White Revolution. In that sense Khomeini’s was a counter-revolution -- “an aberration to counter an aberration,” as Robert Kaplan puts it. For most Iranians its one redeeming feature was that it gave them back something of their autonomy and self-respect. [107] The Bush administration has clumsily reactivated that national reflex, once more turning resistance energies against Washington.  

For the moment, reformism seems to be in retreat, but for Ayatolla Moussavi Tabrizi its success is marked by its imprint on parts of the theocracy itself. [108] Tabrizi stands with a host of progressive minded clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Saanei (former head of the judiciary under Khomeini), Abdollah Nouri (the former interior minister under Khatami), Grand Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazeri (a leading critic of Khomeini’s successor Ali Khamenei), and Mohsen Kadivar (a pro-democratic theologian imprisoned for his Koranic opposition to theocratic rule). [109] Even non-progressives recognize that sooner or later a real revolution will erupt if reform is not forthcoming. But whether Iranian democracy comes the soft or hard way, it will not come by way of a made-in-Washington implant such as Baghdad is now suffering. 


The driving force behind this implant strategy has been an almost indiscriminate anti-Islamism. Reza Aslan points out that Americans have difficulty grasping the centrality or even the possibility of civil Islamic democracy, although they accept without question the religious foundations of the Israeli state. [110] Muslim reformists feel betrayed by this double standard, and are justifiably outraged by “anti-terrorist” policies that unconditionally support the governments that repress them. A recent study conducted by the International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded that Central Asian Muslims are far more likely to have positive attitudes toward the U.S. than Muslims in other areas, especially in the Arab world. But these potential allies are alienated by the pro-authoritarian policies of the world’s leading democracy. The ICG urges, therefore, that more support be given to moderate Islamism. [111]  

There is of course some danger that Islamists, once empowered, could turn radically against the West. But there is far more danger that the corporate priorities of current U.S. policy will radicalize them. The two dangers are dialectically linked, as Benjamin Barber argued in Jihad vs McWorld. [112] Global corporatists are well aware that their foremost enemy is Islamism, civil as much as uncivil. That is why the U.S. invested so heavily in the Shah, and failing that, in Saddam Hussein; and it is why Washington still lavishes support on the neo-Stalinist Karimov. Unless American policy makers can grasp the error of such policies, it is a safe bet they will soon be asking, “Who lost Central Asia?” 

If forced to choose between geopolitical affiliation with Russia or America, progressive-minded Islamists -- having suffered many decades of Soviet persecution -- will of course prefer the U.S. Unfortunately the Americans have not returned that trust and respect. A combination of residual Cold War habit and post-9/11 exigency has swung U.S. support to the side of reactionary elites who do their best to root out all dissent, whether secular or religious. Much of the region’s reformism, therefore, exists in exile. As the expatriate Boris Shikhmuradov (formerly the foreign minister of Turkmenistan) put it, anyone who wants to change a Central Asian state must first leave it. [113]  

What political form Eurasian Islamism takes will depend in large part on the policy choices of major players in the new “great game.” Many actions that Washington is now promoting under the “anti-terrorist” label are, paradoxically, highly conducive to terrorism. Much as a mature Cold War policy finally conceded the incalculable difference between Stalin and Khrushev, and likewise between Khrushev and Gorbachev, it is time to recognize that civil Islamism is the political antithesis of Osama bin Laden and his ilk. It is, indeed, the best friend democracy has in Central Asia.

William H. Thornton is Professor of Literary and Cultural Theory at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan. His latest book is New World Empire: Islamism, Terrorism and the Making of Neoglobalism (Rowman and Littlefield, November 2005). This essay was first published in The Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies ("Eurasia at the Brink: Cultural Politics of the Islamic Revival," EJOS: The Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies. 7/5 (2004), 1-28. Utrecht University, The Netherlands). He can be reached at:  songokt.hornton@msa. Copyright (C) 2005 William H. Thornton.

Other Articles by William H. Thornton

* An Alternative India
* The Making of an Anti-American Century
* The Democratic Art of Listening
* Apartheid Without Borders: The New Globalism and Its Enemies


1) At the governmental level, Eurasian Islam is a mere public relations ploy. Every Central Asian president has made his politically obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Two relative exceptions to this pattern have been Kazakhstan, where Russian-speakers are almost as numerous as the Kazakh population, and Kyrgyzstan, with its ingrained cosmopolitanism and pro-Western leaning; but even here Islamism is gaining strength. See Aleksei Malashenko, “Islam and Politics in Central Asian States,” a report from the Central Asia and the Caucasus Center for Social and Political Study (January 19, 2004), online:

2) Unocal, the U.S. petroleum corporation, gave public support for the Taliban as of October 1996, just a month after the Taliban took Kabul. See “Timeline of Competition between Unocal and Bridas for the Afghanistan Pipeline,” World (downloaded March 22, 2005), online:

3) Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, 153.

4) Graham E. Fuller, “The Future of Political Islam,” Foreign Affairs 81, no. 2 (March/April 2002): 49 (48-60).

5) Fuller, “The Future of Political Islam,” 59.

6) The U.S. put the Shah in power by funding the overthrow of Iran’s budding democracy in 1955. Former CIA director Richard Helms noted in his memoir, A Look over my Shoulder, that for $200,000 U.S. and British intelligence agents were able to secure rent-a-mob services for the overthrow.

7) William H. Thornton, “All About Us: The War on Civil Islam,” Radical Society: Review of Culture and Politics. 30/1 (spring 2003), 37 (31-46).

8) Rajan Menon, “Russia’s Quagmire: On ending the standoff in Chechnya,” Boston Review (summer 2004),

9) “Azerbaijan,” monthly report, update No. 274 (Oct. 27, 2003),

10) Fariz Ismailzade, “Disillusionment Defines Azerbaijan’s Opposition,”, November 13, 2003,

11) Daan van der Schriek, “Little to Lose: Opposition in Azerbaijan,” (Feb. 3, 2003),

12) See “Afghanistan’s Constitutional Effort,” New York Times (Nov. 14, 2003),

13) See Preeta D. Bansal and Felice D. Gaer, “Silenced Again in Kabul,” New York Times (Oct 1, 2003),      

14) Shafiqul Islam, “Capitalism on the Silk Route,” in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., Central Asia and the World: Kakashstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994), 168-69 (147-76).

15) V. F. Kovalskii, “Democratic Declarations and Political Realities,” in Alexei Vassiliev, ed., Central Asia: Political and Economic Challenges in the Post-Soviet Era (London: Saqi Books, 2001), 239 (235-51).

16) This post-Soviet revival marks the regeneration of Persian traditions in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Aberbaijan. See Jehangir Pocha, “Iran’s Other Religion,” Boston Review: A Political and Literary Review (summer 2003),  

17) Ahmed Rashid, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 55-56.

18) Lawrence A. Uzzell, “In Uzbekistan, religion is victim of war on terror,” The Christian Science Monitor (November 6, 2003),

19) Rashid, Jihad, 117 and 118.

20) Rashid, Jihad, 115.

21) Rashid, Jihad, 120-21.

22) Rashid, Jihad, 122-23.

23) “Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir,” Executive Summary and Recommendations of the International Crisis Group (June 30, 2003), online: www.icg.home/index.cfm?id=2983&1=1.

24) Ibid.

25) “Turkmenistan,” monthly report, update No. 274 (Oct. 27, 2003),

26) Rashid, Jihad, 77.

27) Rashid, Jihad, 102.

28) Rashid, Jihad, 74.

29) Peter Ford, “The twilight of the tyrants,” The Christian Science Monitor (December 19, 2003),

30) Uzzell, “In Uzbekistan, religion is victim of war on terror.”

31) Uzzell, “In Uzbekistan, religion is victim of war on terror.”

32) Central Asia Briefing from the International Crisis Group (April 29, 2002): 4.

33) Ted Weihman, “Uzbek Crackdown Deepens Diplomatic Dilemma for United States,” (Sept. 10, 2003),

34) Rashid, Jihad, 182 and 184.

35) Rustam Mukhamedov, “Can Islam be a Strong Opposition Force in Uzbekistan?,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (Oct. 22, 2003),

36) However, after the Taliban took Kabul and advanced northward, Karimov relaxed his opposition to Massoud. See Zalmay Khalizad, “Anarchy in Afghanistan,” Journal of International Affairs 51, no. 1 (summer 1997): 51 (37-56).

37) C. J. Chivers, “Uzbeks Near Border Praise Attacks on Taliban,” New York Times (October 18, 2001),

38) Mukhamedov, “Can Islam be a Strong Opposition Force in Uzbekistan?.”

39) Alisher Khamidov, “Hizb-ut Tahrir Faces Internal Split in Central Asia,” (Oct. 21, 2003),

40) Stephen Kinzer, “Ex-Soviet Republics Are Now Courted by the U.S.” The NewYork Times International (October 10, 2001),

41) Josh Machleder, “Alternative Political Voices in Uzbekistan,” (January 27, 2003),

42) C. J. Chivers, “Long Before War, Green Berets Built Military Ties to Uzbekistan,” New York Times (October 25, 2001),

43) Nick Paton Walsh, “The envoy who said too much,” Guardian (July 15, 2004),,3858,4971166-103680,00.html.

44) David Sterne, “British Envoy’s Speech Reverberates in Uzbekistan,” (January 14, 2003), In fact, even the U.S. State Department has made this point in its annual human rights report. See Bruce Pannier, “Central Asia: State Department Sees Little Improvement in Rights Situation,” (April 5, 2003),

45) Rashid, Jihad, 182.

46) Dilip Hiro, “Bush’s Uzbek Bargain,” The Nation (October 17, 2001),

47) C. J. Chivers, “Alliance With U.S. Spotlights Uzbek Rights Abuses,” New York Times (October 30, 2001),

48) Adilov was released after two years due to U.S. State Department pressure, proving what a modicum of human rights engagement can accomplish. See Matt Bivens, “Uzbekistan’s Human Rights Problem,” The Nation (2001),

49) This has provoked hunger strikes among prisoners, such as those at the infamous Yaslyk prison in the Karakalpakstan Desert, which is heavily used for political and religious prisoners. See “Prisoners at Notorious Uzbek Prison Declare Hunger Strke,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (Oct. 27, 2003),

50) Konstantin Parshin, “Iraq War Prompts Most Central Asian Leaders to Reevaluate US Ties,” Eurasianet (April 4, 2003),

51) Erica Marat, “The Erk Protest Sets a Precedent for Karimov to Revise Relations with Political Opposition,” Central Asian Caucasus Analyst (Nov. 5, 2003): 9 (9-10).

52) Weihman, “Uzbek Crackdown Deepens Diplomatic Dilemma for United States.”

53) International pressure forced Washington to roll back its foreign aid pledge to Uzbekistan as of July 13, 2004, but just two days later Elizabeth Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, arrived in Tashkent to mollify Karimov. See Yuri Yegorov, “Washington Pushes Karimov Closer to Moscow,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, volume 1, issue 57 (July 22, 2004),

54) In all fairness it should be mentioned that the State Department has often been at odds (though not often enough, and all too timidly) with the Pentagon over human rights in Central Asia and especially Uzbekistan.

55) Pauline Jones Luong and Erika Weinthal, “New Friends, New Fears in Central Asia,” Foreign Affairs 81, no. 2 (March/April 2002): 65 (61-70).

56) Rashid, Jihad, 68-69.

57) Rashid, Jihad, 71-72.

58) Alisher Khamidov, “Kyrgyzstan: Organized Opposition and Civil Unrest,” (Dec. 16, 2002),

59) Nargis Zokirova, “Takikistan: No Girls Allowed,” Transitions Online (October 2004),…

60) Alexei Igushev, “Tajikistan: Governing Opposition,” Eurasianet (Jan. 6, 2003),

61) Zokirova, “Takikstan,”…

62) HT has found some acceptance in southern Kazakhstan, but it is the long settled Fergana Valley—subsuming parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—that has been most prone to the jihadic firestorm from the South. On Kazak religious conservatism see “Kazakstan,” update No. 274 (Oct. 27, 2003),

63) Aidar Kusainov [a pseudonym made necessary by the threat of government reprisals], “Nazarbayev Presses Crackdown Against Political Opponents,” (July 27, 2002),

64) Alexander Rondeli, “Georgia: A Rough Road from the ‘Velvet revolution,’” openDemocracy (Dec. 4, 2003),

65) monthly report on Kazakstan, update no. 274 (Oct. 10, 2003),

66) See Husam Tammam and Patrick Haenni, “Egypt’s Air-conditioned Islam,” Le Monde diplomatique (September 2003),  

67) Craig S. Smith, “Attacks in Turkey Try to Sever a Bridge Between Islam and West,” New York Times (November 21, 2003),

68) Daniel Pipes, “The Islamic Republic of Turkey?,” National Post (August 7, 2003),… 

69) Jean-Christopher Peuch, “Turkey: What Remains of Political Islam?,” (Jan. 18, 2003), This is not to say that the AKP has entirely shed the radical Islamist propensities of the Welfare Party. The foreign minister, an AKP stalwart, has lent support to Milli Görüs, a known militant group in Germany. See Pipes, “The Islamic Republic of Turkey?.” On Erbakan’s Islamist foreign policy see Fawaz A. Gerges, America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests? (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 209.

70) Paul Kubricek, Nations, State, and Economy in Central Asia: Does Ataturk Provide a Model?, The Donald Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies; Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, No. 14 (August 1997), 8.

71) On the latter see Mehrdad Haghayeg, Islam and Politics in Central Asia (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 183.

72) Yigel Schleifer, “The war on terror may open a Turkish front,” The Christian Science Monitor (November 17, 2003),

73) Seyla Benhabib, “In Turkey, a History Lesson in Peace,” New York Times (November 18, 2003),

74) Noam Chomsky, “Dictators R Us,” AlterNet (December 21, 2003):

75) A bonus was thrown in, however: the Turkish army would be let loose on the oil fields of northern Iraq, so as to prevent the Kurds from thinking too concretely about independence. See David Ignatius, “The Turkish Card,” Washington Post (Sept. 16, 2003): A19.

76) Kubricek, Nations, State, and Economy in Central Asia, 8.

77) Stephen Black, “Turkish Political Leaders Face Perilous Political Situation,” (June 26, 2003),

78) Amir Taheri, “Turkey’s Islamist monster,” National Post (Nov. 27, 2003),

79) “An Islamist facing Islamic terrorism,” The Economist (November 27, 2003),; and “Turkey Breaks Up Al Qaeda Cell Behind Blasts,” New York Times (December 26, 2003),

80) “Turkey Breaks Up Al Qaeda Cell Behind Blasts,”

81) Smith, “Attacks in Turkey Try to Sever a Bridge Between Islam and West.”

82) There is some danger that this “eleventh hour” pattern could be repeated, as the Iraq-sponsored Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen (MKO), was groomed for just this purpose. Admirers see its leader, Maryam Rajavi, as Iran’s future president, though she has been arrested by the French as a possible terrorist conspirator. See Elaine Sciolino, “Iranian Opposition Movement’s Many Faces,” New York Times (June 30, 2003),

83) Sepehr Zabih, The Iranian Military in Revolution and War (London: Routledge, 1988), 34.

84) Abbas Milani, “A Revolution Betrayed,” Hoover Digest (fall 2003),   

85) Zabih, The Iranian Military in Revolution and War, 33.

86) Mohssen Massarrat, “The Ideological Contest of the Iran-Iraq War: Pan-Islamism versus Pan-Arabism,” in Hooshang Amirahmad and Nader Entessar, eds., Iran and the Arab World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 29 (28-41).

87) Zabih, The Iranian Military in Revolution and War, 17-18.

88) Robert Parry, “Missing U.S.-Iraq History,” In These Times (December 16, 2003),

89) Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and his deputy Donald Rumsfeld, later defense secretary under Bush II, worked hard early in 1984 to reassure the Iraqis that the U.S. did not share the U.N’s concern over Iraq’s continuous use of chemical weapons against Kurds as well as Iranians. See Christopher Marquis, “Rumsfeld Made Iraq Overture in ’84 Despite Chemical Raids,” New York Times (December 23, 2003),

90) “Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988),” Military Analysis Network of the Federation of American Scientists (updated December 21, 1999),

91) Pocha, “Iran’s Other Religion”; and “Iran’s Failed Revolution,” New York Times (Feb. 10, 2003),  

92) Nasser Hadian, “US Policy toward Iran should Promote Civil Society,” (Sept. 17, 2003),

93) Combining elements of Islamism and Zoroastrianism, Iranian civil religion reconciles freedom (Azadi) with a religious conception of the state. The force of this amalgam can also be glimpsed in Kurdish religious politics, where there has been an equally pronounced Zoroastrian influence. See David Menashri, Post-Revolutionary Politics in Iran: Religion, Security and Power (London: Frank Class, 2001), 33. It is no accident that the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq has produced the most democratic government in the Arab world.

94) See Nicholas Birch, “Iranian hard-liners’ grip tight as reformists regroup,” The Christian Science Monitor (August 13, 2000),

95) Scott Paterson, “Hard-liners in Iran soften their edges,” The Christian Science Monitor (October 3, 2003),

96) E.g., local elections of February 2003 drew only a 28% turnout. See A. William Samii, “In Iran, Powerlessness Feeds on itself,” The International Herald Tribune (Nov. 8, 2003),

97) Michel Bôle-Richard, “Les étudiants iraniens s’attaquent à la toute-puissance des mullahs,” Le Monde (Dec. 18, 2002),,5987,3201--302607,00.html.

98) Whit Mason,” Iran’s Simmering Discontent,” World Policy Journal 29, no. 1 (spring 2002): 79 (71-80).

99) “Iran,” monthly report, downloaded on Nov. 20, 2003,

He had also done much to discredit reformists “from above,” such as President Khatami, whose input was weakened vis-à-vis hardliners on issues such as IAEA (international atomic energy agency) inspections. See “Iran’s Nuclear Menance,” The International Herald Tribune editorial (Nov. 26, 2003),

101) Indeed, only one or two Third World countries have had a more active revolutionary history. See Nikki R. Keddie, “Why has iran been revolutionary?,” in Hooshang Amirahmadi and Nader Entessar, eds., Reconstruction and regional diplomacy in the persian gulf (London: Routledge, 1992), 19 (19-32).

102) See William Blum, “Iran’s 1953: Making it safe for the King of Kings,” excerpted from Blum’s Killing Hope (Common Courage Press, 1995),

103) See Stephen Kinzer, “Revisiting Cold War Coups and Finding Them Costly,” New York Times (November 30, 2003),

104) Ladane Nasseri, “A Death in Iran,” The Nation (Sept. 22, 2003),

105) Scott Peterson, “Iran’s Nobel winner doesn’t make news at home,” The Christian Science Monitor (December 12, 2003),

106) “Iranian Activist Accepts Nobel Prize,” New York Times, by the Associated Press (December 10, 2003), This is denied by one of the most vocal opponents of the civil Islam thesis—none other than Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah. Like President Bush, Pahlavi collapses moderate and extremist Islamism into a monolithic militancy that is anathema to democratic reform. In his view Islamism of all stripes is the contemporary equivalent of Nazism. Those who see Khatami as a moderate Islamist are as deluded, he asserts, as those who mistook Ribbentrop for a moderate Nazi. And by implication the same can be said for all civil Islamists, Kazemi included. See Adel Darwish’s “My Vision,” an account of an interview with Pahlavi in Mideast News (February 2002),

107) Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth: . . . A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 182.

108) Scott Peterson, “In Iran, hopes for democracy dwindle,” The Christian Science Monitor (December 18, 2003),

109) Sanam Vakili, “Iran’s Fragile Fault Lines,” Policy Review. 121 (October 2003),

110) Reza Aslan, “Bush’s Model Won’t Play in Iran,” The International Herald Tribune, from New York Times (July 28, 2003),

111) “Is Radical Islam Inevitable in Central Asia?” International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research (December 22, 2003), online:

112) Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, 5.

113) See Admed Rashid, “Central Asian Elites, Suddenly, Shift into Revolt,” (May 2, 2002),