30 september 2020

Central Asia news

Catherine Fitzpatrick: Uzbek nation entitled to all rights as others, but not right to extremism

The US-based independent expert on Eurasia and Russian translator Catherine Ann Fitzpatrick answered Fergana editor-in-chief's questions. The interview was on the recent arrest of another former Uzbek citizen in the United States, Fazliddin Kurbanov. The expert is certain that there were most serious justifications for Kurbanov's arrest and there can be no excuse for terrorism and extremism. Catherine also believes that the several isolated incidences of arrests of Uzbek nationals is not a reason to speak of trends at all.

- Beside Mukhtorov and Kurbonov, do you know about any other Uzbek “terrorists” who were detained in the USA lately?

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick - Yes, there was Ulugbek Kodirov, who was arrested for threatening to assassinate President Obama and for possessing weapons. You can read about the case here, here and here.

There was also Bakhtiyor Jumaev, arrested as an accomplice to Mukhtorov. I have not heard of any others.

- Do you believe the charges pressed in their cases are rather serious?

- Yes, I believe they have been properly arrested from what we know of the indictments. But not all the information about these cases is public because it falls under the FISA and is therefore classified (secret) so it is important to observe them carefully and keep asking questions. Read the criminal complaint here and summary here.

Whenever a Muslim is arrested after surveillance of his Internet activity, naturally lawyers are concerned that these could be arrests for "Interneting while Muslim" as the expression goes (similar to "driving while black in New Jersey"), i.e. biased profiling. Yet even from the public information we learn that Muhtorov was on his way to Turkey, and was arrested at the airport with $2,800 in cash, two shrink-wrapped iphones, an ipad, and a GPS arrest and was said to be in touch with the Islamist Jihad Union, a group said to be related to the IMU. He reportedly said to his little daughter that he would "see her in heaven" as if he was not coming back and risking death. More: No bond for Uzbek terror suspect Muhtorov, federal judge rules - The Denver Post.

Also, "Prosecutors say they have a witness who claims Muhtorov became radicalized in the U.S. and had an allegiance to global jihad, praising the teachings of Osama bin Laden and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki." I've written a lot on my blog on Muhtorov here. Here's a blog that has criticized the cases.

Any suspect is innocent until proven guilty. These suspects have good lawyers, there is a lot of attention on these cases, and if the link to the IJU proves too tenuous in Muhtorov's case, perhaps he will not be sentenced, but an arrest would not have been made unless the feds believed they had a case. In Kurbanov's case, he was found not only with violent Youtubes but with weapons and training others to use explosives, and there is apparently more information than merely a "sting" produced.

- Why do Uzbek refugees and human rights activists turn into “terrorists” in the USA? In your opinion, is there any common reason?

- Refugees and human rights activists from Uzbekistan don't become terrorists or even "terrorists". There are thousands of emigres and hundreds of activists and they are not terrorists and not charged with any crime. So far, there have been a tiny number out of this huge flow charged with terrorist activity (4) and only one has been sentenced (for planning the assassination of Obama). As you know, the US accepted the refugees from Andijan and later human rights violations as having a "well-founded fear of persecution" and granted them asylum and I do not see this reversing or lessening due to these few cases.

I think there is a variety of reasons for why people from the Soviet Union become violent (like the Tsarnaev brothers) and I will rank them in importance: a) years of Soviet education, culture, and mistreatment and persecution continuing to this day with prison and police systems unchanged, where torture is practiced; b) virulent and pervasive post-Soviet state propaganda that wages an endless war on the West, particularly against America, portraying America to blame for killing the most Muslims in the world, although that distinction belongs to the Taliban and Al Qaeda; c) some Islamist extremist organizations preaching terrorism, which in any event are infiltrated by the intelligence agencies of the post-Soviet countries; d) failure to adjust in emigration and big life disappointments and failures and/or psychiatric ailments and the need to validate oneself through extremism.

I personally blame the legacy of the Soviet Union and massive human rights violations in Uzbekistan and elsewhere more than I blame maladjustment of emigres in the US, the overwhelming majority of whom never turn to violence. Bolshevik terror is the gift that keeps on giving, all over the world.

- Why did the US authorities start actively detaining Uzbek “terrorists” lately and stopped publicly criticizing the Islam Karimov regime in Uzbekistan for his violations of human rights?

- I don't think you can draw such a conclusion from only four cases, only one of which has led to a conviction. The US hasn't criticized Karimov publicly at all for many years, so there is not some new behaviour. As you know, the US needs Uzbekistan until 2014 for the Northern Distribution Network, and while Karimov has Obama over a barrel, we will not see any greater advocacy beyond the few cases of quiet diplomacy that have led to the release of a handful of political prisoners.

I don't believe in framing the question as "all accusations of terrorism are fake". Some are; some aren't. Human rights advocates should condemn terrorism on principle and not make up theories of "defensive jihad" which is not how human rights are ever achieved for anyone.

I think if you study Kurbanov's Youtube feed and see his hundreds of videos glorifying Islamic terrorism, describing how to make bombs, portraying 9/11, the Taliban, the IMU, etc. as good things, you will understand how this individual could come to the attention of the FBI. He is filled with hate, especially toward Russians, although he was already with a new life in America and didn't need to care anymore about Karimov, Russians, or anything in the old world. A Youtube channel with jihad videos is not enough to lead to an arrest, as we know from the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose Youtube account was also reviewed after Russian FSB inquiries, but no further action against him was taken as he had not broken any laws at that time as far as was known.

- Many believe that “terrorists” as Kurbonov and Mukhtorov are “fighters for freedom of their people.” The US declaration of independence reads “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Do you believe that the Uzbek nation has such a right as well?

- Sorry, but I'm not going to consider any terrorist anywhere a "fighter for freedom of his people" when in the process of doing so, he often kills his own people and takes away others' freedoms and does not bring it.

I also can hardly accept your hint that the US Constitutional mandate to overthrow a government implies that you get to do this with violence or terrorism -- you don't. You cannot compare the circumstances of a colony that used muskets to keep its freedom hundreds of years ago to today's world and write terrorists with bombs blank checks, that's an absurdity. The Uzbek people have the same international human rights as any nation, including self-determination. But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains an article that extremists don't care for -- Article 30. It essentially says that no one can use one right (self-determination) to take away other rights (i.e. right to life, women's right, freedom of speech).

I often hear your compatriots justify the taking of hostages and killing of policemen in the Andijan events as somehow like the American revolution and therefore justified. I find this notion indefensible because the realities of the situation in Uzbekistan mean that anyone contemplating an overthrow of the government would have to use massive violent and kill large numbers of people -- and that's simply a crime against humanity. When you look at various popular movements in the world that obtain independence or overthrow dictators, those that have used peaceful methods gain more of the world's respect (Tibet) and succeed eventually after a long time (Burma) and those that use violence continue to have problems only worsening (Chechnya). And there is no guarantee in any event if the tyranny has regional strong backers (Egypt) or Russia as a factor (Syria). I have never met any activist who was bent on violently overthrowing a violent dictator who failed to persuade me that he would also install the same tyranny he was overthrowing. It's my hope for Uzbekistan that eventually a peaceful movement for change will change the government, and I think it will gain more of the world's support than extremism that takes away other people's rights, such as religious extremism.

Fergana international information agency.