The Provincial West
Terrorism Unveiled describes the growth of Islamism in Central Asia. Expansionist Russia and its successor, the Soviet Union, temporarily established a land empire over traditionally Muslim Central Asia. The collapse the Soviet Union began a process of decolonization second in size only to the liquidation of European empires in Asia and Africa following the Second World War. It was an emerging entity in search of a unifying consciousness, which Islam was determined to provide.
Central Asia could very well be the next large breeding ground for Islamist terrorists. Islam was suppressed during the years of the Soviet Union, but the mujahideen in the 1980s found many supporters in the Central Asian states with the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It is alleged and logical that the "stan" states would serve as a springboard to a degree, and certainly a place for routes of travel, over and down through Iran and Afghanistan. The Central Asian states' strong governments have generally suppressed Islamist sentiment, because the sentiment has called for an overthrow of their ruling regimes---and called for the creation of an Islamic Caliphate where the state is run completely by Islamic law. In a way, it's a vicious cycle. When the government has to protect its position of power from calls for changes in regime, it oppresses the population for control, but that only leads to more radicalization of the populace calling for those changes.
The Terrorism Unveiled article linked to a four-part series by Radio Free Europe describing the history of Islamism under the Soviet Union and its revival following its fall. Osama bin Laden may have sensed the opportunity to unlock a vast Muslim region, not just Afghanistan, following Soviet defeat in the 1980s. It is a feat he may hope to repeat on a global scale by defeating the United States. One Radio Free Europe segment says that talk of an "Islamic Caliphate" isn't simply idle chatter.
Across Central Asia, governments have coped with the Islamic revival by asserting their control over the religious establishment and banning groups that refuse to cooperate. The governments are motivated by fears that uncontrolled Islam could be a potent force for political opposition. But despite these government efforts, homegrown and foreign-inspired militant Islamic groups have arisen to challenge the status quo. The most widespread is Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that calls for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate to replace the region’s existing governments.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is not confined to Central Asia. It was recently banned in Britain, following the London subway attacks. Australia had considered banning the group but decided against. The notion that September 11 was somehow the manifestation of a criminal act, an act of vandalism by individuals on a large scale, was to misunderstand the problem entirely. In a 2002 article in Parameters, Ralph Peters argued that groups like radical Islamism had to be understood as a geopolitical force that went beyond the Middle East and a few radical centers in Europe. It also spanned Central and South Asia. Peters wrote:
"In terms both of population density and potential productivity, wealth, and power, Islam’s center of gravity lies to the east of Afghanistan, not to the west. The world’s most populous “Muslim” countries stretch far to the east of the Indus River: Indonesia, India, Bangladesh . . . Pakistan . . . and other regional states, such as Malaysia, make this the real cockpit of crisis."
Osama Bin Laden did not regard himself as some petty criminal but an inspirational leader on a global scale. But just as demonstrating Soviet impotence in Afghanistan was the key to Central Asia, Islamists may hope that an American failure in Iraq will establish the unstoppability of a universal Caliphate. What Kabul signified to the 'stans Baghdad could represent to the world. Although Islamic arms in Iraq have met only with military defeat, they have been much more successful in showing that the Western world lacks the will to resolutely oppose the emergence of a Global Caliphate. The Sunday Times says it is because President Bush declared war while refusing to name the enemy.
Under siege last week at his holiday ranch in Crawford, Texas, from the peace activist Cindy Sheehan, one of the military’s “gold star” mothers whose son died in Iraq, and under pressure from opinion polls showing dwindling American support for the war, Bush is on the defensive. Blair by contrast is getting credit for naming the enemy as Muslim extremists and for criticising the Wahhabi ideology spreading from Saudi Arabia, which remains a leading American ally. Although faulted for allowing “Londonistan” to grow into a haven for terrorism in the first place, the prime minister is regarded as going on the offensive while the Bush government dithers.
However the Scotsman observed that the proscription against self-defense had been baked into the structure of the Western political system itself. Describing the obstacles facing Tony Blair's attempts to deport murderous Muslim clerics from Britain, it wrote:
Guy Goodwin-Gill, a barrister and senior research fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University, summed up the mood within the legal camp. "I think Mr Blair has lost the plot," he said. "For a lawyer, he says some of the daftest things. It is simply not serious." Lawyers like Goodwin-Gill now contend there is no way on earth that the crackdown will survive the courts.
The problem for ministers is the array of legislation now enshrined within British law which offers protection to the very foreign extremists they are trying to expel. It is now 50 years since Britain signed up to the Refugee Convention, which, as the European Convention on Human Rights, was then incorporated into British law in 1998. Signatories must ensure "freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment"; "the right to liberty"; and "freedom from discrimination."
While Islamist leaders have grasped the situation in the broadest strategic outlines, Western political systems continue to conceive the problem in the narrowest possible terms. The enemy consists of a few troublemakers within the 'Religion of Peace'; the war is confined to Iraq, or at least to that portion of the Sunni Triangle where most fighting takes place; the legitimacy for any force consists solely of denying Saddam Hussein arsenals of weapons of mass destruction under UN resolutions. Lawyers wrangle over whether it is appropriate to commingle intelligence investigations with criminal probes. Great Britain asks whether it is allowed to expel those sworn to destroying it.
Historically, most catastrophic defeats -- at Gaugamela or France in 1940 -- have not been consequent to inferiority in arms but to infirmity of concept. Defeat occurs first of all in the mind. By that standard the Global Caliphate is well on its way to imposing its will on Western politics which is intent, like some demented person, on rearranging objects on a green baize table.