Karimov’s American Fan Club

Divert, deny, defame – that’s the strategy of the War Party as the consequences of their policies reap piles of dead bodies worldwide and increase the threat of terrorism against Americans. It doesn’t matter that the now-famous Newsweek story about U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo abusing the Koran had nothing to do with the riots that swept Afghanistan – if it’s convenient for the U.S. government to blame the American media, then who cares about the facts?

U.S. senators trying mightily to smear British MP George Galloway on the basis of forged documents could care less about the truth. However, it was great that the gallant Galloway accepted an invitation to appear before the Senate committee investigating the “oil for food” scandal and let them have it right between the eyes. If only American politicians would talk like that!

That the U.S. government is in deep denial about practically anything resembling the truth about its despicable foreign policy is evidenced by Washington’s most recent reaction to the massacre authored by their staunchest ally in Central Asia, the neo-Communist regime of “President” Islam Karimov: every time I look at the death toll, it keeps going up. Yesterday it was 500. Today it’s 750 – or maybe in the thousands. At any rate, even Karimov’s chief enabler and financier, the U.S. government, is getting a little antsy about all the bloodletting, with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher telling reporters:

“We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators. We certainly condemn the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life.”

They are going to regret propping up and feeding this regime that boiled its opponents alive and murdered hundreds at Andijan, but isn’t it a little late to extend their regrets to the relatives of the dead? After all, they not only tolerated but subsidized a government that systematized torture, intimidation, and, yes, outright murder. They personally and visibly buddied up to the homicidal maniac who calls himself the “president” of Uzbekistan. They met with him, coddled him, and gave him political legitimacy in the eyes of those poor deluded souls who see the U.S. government – as opposed to America, the country – as a beacon and guarantor of liberty worldwide.

Everybody is now backing away from the Uzbek Frankenstein monster, but it was those mad scientists in the Pentagon and their journalistic amen corner in the neoconservative media who created and succored Karimov. A Feb. 18, 2002 article in National Review by Anne Marlowe, whitewashing the crimes of Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, had this to say about a Pakistani writer’s expose of the Uzbek regime:

“Should anyone so openly prejudiced against Uzbeks be trusted to write about Uzbekistan? [Ahmed] Rashid’s January 14 New Yorker article is a one-sided attack on Uzbekistan’s government, written from a standpoint of sympathy with Islamists. He concludes that the repression of the Uzbek government will lead the terrorist I.M.U. party to find supporters and, as in his earlier Taliban, one gets the sense that Rashid has forgotten that these Islamists are not fighting for democracy and the end of repression, but merely to exchange one form of brutality for another.”

There is no sympathy for Islamists in Rashid’s piece, but there is understanding of how a regime based on torture, one-party rule, and now mass murder gave rise to groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Rashid writes:

“Within days of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Karimov was being wooed by Washington, as the United States sought to establish military bases and landing rights in Uzbekistan in preparation for an assault on the Taliban. On September 20th, in an address to Congress, President Bush suggested that the I.M.U. was linked to Osama bin Laden and could be a target for United States counterterrorism efforts.”

This was not just an alliance of convenience, however: there was an ideological confluence between the neoconservative project of radically “reforming” Islamic society and the militantly secular Ataturk-like assault launched by Karimov on pious Muslims in Uzbekistan. “In 1992,” writes Rashid,

“the Uzbek government had begun to use the term ‘Wahhabi’ for anyone who was perceived to be an adherent of radical Islam or who held anti-government sentiments as part of his Islamic beliefs. Five years later, the government was labeling as Wahhabis even ordinary Muslims who practiced Islam in unofficial mosques or who engaged in private prayer or study. Any Muslim who associated with prayer leaders or taught children how to read the Koran was called a Wahhabi. To many, the term came to mean simply persecuted Muslim faithful.”

After 9/11, this view mirrored the creed of American neoconservatives, who targeted the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam as a threat equivalent to that once posed by international communism. None were – or are – more vocal and visible opponents of Wahhabism than the neoconservative author and ex-Trotskyite Stephen Schwartz. Described by Clifford Geertz in the New York Review of Books as “a strange and outlandish figure” – a phrase that fits him to a tee – Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam, which is, as Geertz puts it,

“A monomaniacal tracing out, laborious and repetitive (the word ‘Wahhabi’ or ‘Wahabbism’ appears in almost every paragraph), of the thousands of ways, ingenious, insidious, and implacably relentless, in which the machinations of the House of Saud in the service of this mad creed reaches out to poison the souls of Muslims, turn them against one another, against us, against everybody.”

Recounting Schwartz’s ideological journey from the far left to the neoconservative right, Geertz also notes Schwartz’s conversion to the Naqshabandi cult of Sufism, and writes that the author of The Two Faces of Islam at last “found the Medusa’s head every conspiratorialist needs: ‘Wahabism.'” This describes Karimov’s theory, and the outlook of his government, with admirable succintness. There was, so to speak, a meeting of the minds, and although Schwartz may or may not have personally made the Uzbek dictator’s acquaintance, his many trips to Uzbekistan and his laudatory articles praising the regime and its “anti-terrorist” policies certainly afforded him ample opportunity. Here he is hailing the fixed “elections” staged by Karimov and his cronies, in which only pro-government parties were allowed to run:

“While observing the Uzbek elections, I was reminded of earlier chapters in the history of post-Communist democratization. Whether the OSCE was satisfied or not, ordinary Uzbeks lined up enthusiastically to cast their votes on a multipage paper ballot. Meanwhile, the Uzbek authorities made extensive preparations to accommodate foreign journalists, who did not show up in substantial numbers. I had seen the same phenomena in Croatia in 1990, when that former Yugoslav republic held its first election. The Croatian vote, boycotted by the country’s Serb minority, was followed by an atrocious war. However, Croatia will hold a normal presidential election on January 2, demonstrating that even the worst misfortunes may be overcome in the new democracies.”

Such effusive praise for “elections” in which all elements opposed to the regime were forbidden from running had not been seen or heard since the days when our own domestic Communists hailed the electoral farces acted out in the Soviet-occupied “people’s democracies” of Eastern Europe. Schwartz goes on to write:

“One might compare Uzbekistan favorably with Russia, a former superpower – but also with Saudi Arabia, which has ambitions to supreme leadership of the Muslim world. While Russia moves further away from democracy, Uzbekistan has taken steps that, however flawed, represent forward movement. In Uzbekistan, at least, voting takes place, with women included on the voters’ registers, and 30 percent of the candidates are female.”

The ultimate outcome of all that “forward movement” toward Schwartzian “democracy” was the mass slaughter of what seems to be at least 600 people – and the massacre is ongoing, even as I write these words.

In a piece entitled “Uzbekistan: Friend or Foe?“, Schwartz’s answer is clearly the former. He starts off by citing a long list of Uzbekistan’s alleged virtues as an ally of the United States, including its traditional friendliness to Schwartz’s own Sufi faith. In fact, the Karimov regime used Sufism as an unofficial state religion, aligning itself with the Naqshbandi Sufi order also favored by Schwartz. The Naqshbandi sect in America, which calls itself the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA), regularly promoted the views of the Uzbek government, and ISCA, in turn, was represented in Uzbekistan’s state-controlled media as some kind of massive presence on the American religious scene. Schwartz was a part of this propaganda effort, as his “Friend or Foe?” piece makes sickeningly clear:

“But Uzbekistan also has liabilities. From the political viewpoint, its biggest problem is its bad reputation on human rights. Although Uzbekistan had less than 20 open mosques under Communism, and now has thousands, so-called ‘independent’ preachers of the extremist Wahhabi creed – independent of Uzbek government control, but dependent on the backing of Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is the state religion – complained all too convincingly to Western human rights lobbyists that Uzbekistan denied its citizens freedom of worship. (In reality, apart from its Muslims and Jews, Tashkent also possesses a large and fine Catholic church, serving its Polish community, and Uzbekistan has dozens of Baptist churches attended by former Soviet Koreans, many of whom were sent to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Other Christian denominations also function freely.)”

You’ll notice that Schwartz nowhere acknowledges Uzbekistan’s violation of the most basic human rights: the real problem it has is a “bad reputation on human rights.” This is the only “liability” Schwartz’s weasel words admit. He strives mightily to dispel what he obviously considers to be an unfair charge, claiming that everybody but those nasty old Islamists is free to worship. This is a total lie: unregistered Christian churches are regularly closed, and Christians who proselytize are persecuted. Forum 18, a Norwegian religious rights group, reports that hatred of the sacred is encoded in Uzbek law:

“Uzbekistan’s legal infrastructure contains a whole series of laws that restrict religious believers’ rights in defiance of the country’s international human rights commitments. … Religious believers suffer most frequently under Article 8 of Uzbekistan’s religion law, under which an organization may acquire the status of a juridical person and become active only after registering with the justice agencies. This ban on unregistered religious activity is underpinned by articles in the criminal code, which punishes serious crimes, and the code of administrative offences, which covers lesser offences. Under Article 240 (breaking the law on religious organisations) of Uzbekistan’s administrative code, unlawful religious activity is punishable by a fine of between 5 and 10 times the minimum monthly wage (the minimum wage in Uzbekistan is 5,400 sum, or some 32 Norwegian kroner, 4 Euros or 5 US dollars), or administrative detention of up to 15 days. Where the law is repeatedly broken (where a believer has already been found guilty under the parallel article of the administrative code), Article 216 (2) is applied (breaking the law on religious organisations, punishable by a fine of between 50 and 100 times the minimum wage or up to three years’ imprisonment).”

Schwartz portrayed his beloved government of Uzbekistan as a paradise of religious freedom, when in reality it is one of the most militantly anti-religious regimes on earth. How much more of a liar can a person be? He was not only shameless in his apologias for a murderous tyrant, he was also tireless, regularly churning out odes to life under Uzbekistan’s “young democracy,” as he described the Karimov regime in a piece for the Weekly Standard:

“The United States, which has entered into a military alliance with Uzbekistan, must support the Uzbeks in their internal as well as their external combat, and must repudiate the blandishments of the human rights industry.”

Instead of wimping out and wailing about Uzbekistan’s human rights violations, Schwartz said the U.S. should be “[p]rotecting Uzbekistan’s young democracy from radical Islamists and the human rights groups who defend them.”

Human rights advocates are “naïve,” he averred in the Weekly Standard (March 18, 2002), in a piece entitled “Our Uzbek Friends“:

“There is no need to sugarcoat the nature of our new Central Asian ally. Uzbekistan is a transitional, post-Communist society in which many democratic institutions are new and undeveloped. President Bush will certainly want to encourage his guest to protect independent media and to improve the functioning of the political and justice system. But Uzbekistan cannot afford to assure liberty for the enemies of liberty. In the struggle to liberate Islam from the grip of the Wahhabi-Saudi mafia, Karimov should have our backing.”

Here he is again, with yet another Soviet-style “long live Stalin” ode to Karimov and his thugs:

“Uzbekistan, with its sense of calm and its victory over extremism, poses important questions for Westerners. What lessons can be learned from the Uzbek example, and more importantly, can those lessons be exported for the purposes of creating moderate Muslim governments? Has the apparent defeat of Islamic radicalism been the result of the brutality of the Karimov regime, or the traditions of religious moderation fostered by the dictator?”

So much for Uzbekistan’s “sense of calm.”

I’ll spare the reader further quotations hailing the achievements, the wisdom, the unheralded nobility of “our Uzbek friends,” and note only that Schwartz is quite a prolific liar. He is also as crazed as the policy he has been promoting. After all, what kind of a nutball would praise such an obviously horrific regime, and not merely make a pragmatic argument – that we have to cooperate with bad people to get at the really bad people who pose a direct threat to our existence – but actually try to convince us that a monster is somehow admirable?

However, what really confirms Geertz’s characterization of Schwartz as “a strange and outlandish figure” is that now, after his hero Karimov has spilled the blood of hundreds in a single act of grand-scale sadism, Schwartz is having second thoughts about the formerly paradisiacal “young democracy” he spilled so much ink promoting. Not only that, but he knew all along that Karimov was making a mistake:

“The situation in Uzbekistan is easily understood: ‘U’ for Ukraine, ‘stan’ for Kyrgyzstan. That is, the peak of the democratization wave in the former Soviet states is reaching Central Asia, where it cannot but intersect with the similar wave in the Muslim world, and where it cannot be obstructed for much longer.

“The bare facts about the Andijan events are simple, but were also predictable. … In extensive talks with Uzbek officials, I found them impervious to the logic of their situation. When Ukraine was mentioned, they would change the subject or argue that it was irrelevant to them – indeed, Karimov himself declared that democratizing ‘projects’ allegedly inspired from outside would have no place in his domain.”

Never mind that prior to the Andijan massacre Schwartz was citing the “reforms” of “Uzbekistan’s young democracy” – supposedly initiated by Karimov – as part and parcel of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. As he put it in his Tech Central Station paean to Uzbekistan’s phony parliamentary “elections”:

“Two and a half millennia have passed since the Greek armies of Alexander the Great penetrated Central Asia, and the wave of democratic reforms visible in the post-Soviet and Muslim countries is now reaching Uzbekistan. On December 26, the same day Ukraine held the second round of its highly-contested vote, citizens of this Muslim-majority former Soviet republic went to the polls to elect a bicameral parliament.”

Schwartz – and those other apologists for Karimov, the ones in the top policymaking echelons of the U.S. government – are like very young children who think that if they put their hands over their eyes we can’t see them. But anyone can simply Google the name “Stephen Schwartz” with the word “Uzbekistan” and easily discover that no single person has defended the murderous Uzbek regime with such alacrity and energy as Comrade Sandalio, AKA Suleyman Ahmad, AKA Stephen Schwartz.

That would be kind of funny, in a macabre sort of way, if this Schwartzian craziness was confined to Schwartz himself, but the tepid protests coming from Washington demonstrate that the Bush administration is still sticking with its old ally and betting that he’ll hold on to power in spite of the turmoil.

I don’t have the space here to detail the large-scale whitewash neocon outlets like National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (which formerly employed Schwartz) undertook to make Karimov more palatable to Westerners squeamish about supporting the dark side of the “war on terrorism” – such as the practice of “rendition,” in which terrorism suspects were handed over to governments such as Uzbekisan’s with no compunctions about utilizing torture to extract “confessions.”

Schwartz’s love letters to Karimov and his neocon-approved neo-Communist government appeared in most of the major cyber-venues of the pro-war Right: not only the Weekly Standard, but also David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag and the dubious public relations shill-site known as “Tech Central Station.” These people knowingly promoted a ruthless dictator, prettified his odious regime, and now have been caught with their pants down, in bed with a mass-murdering thug. They owe the people of Uzbekistan, as well as their own readers, an apology – but don’t hold your breath waiting for it. As Schwartz’s “I knew it all along” bullsh*t makes all too clear, these people never learn, because, after all, they know everything: those of us in the “reality-based” community, not having drunk the neocon Kool-Aid, are fated merely to carp at the sight of their greatness.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].