Tag Archives: IMU

step out of its grasp -or- uzbeks are not islamic radicals

My last bit inspired lots of feedback and I realize that my message was not clear. My point, which I have only just begun to touch upon, is that we humans do a truly poor job of considering another person’s, or culture’s, lot. Only when we can let go of our own opinions for a moment and sink into another’s way of life can we begin to understand something actively and wholly, rather than just theoretically. We are so accustomed to our own biases and striving toward the way we want things that we don’t even consider that things might not exist as we assume they do.

Certainly, I haven’t gotten that far in my story, but some of the responses have been so contrary to my point that I want to clear a few things up first.

Spouses and children can be amazing delights and by my observation certainly the greatest teachers available. Because I am still learning more basic lessons, I’ve yet to enroll, but I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their choice to do so. In explaining my single & free framework of the last message, I wanted to convey that on previous trips abroad, I didn’t realize that almost no one understood my reasons for being single and childless no matter how passionately I explained. Nor did I realize just how squarely I was judged for it. I didn’t understand this for the very reason I was not understood—because I didn’t truly understand their culture. I understood theoretically, but not fundamentally, not in full blood. Their judgments of me were no more in error than my expectation that they comprehend my situation. The fabric of our cultures are just too different. We did have one common ground that fed our judgments: That our way was better. So much better, in fact, that we need not step out of its grasp long enough to consider openly the basis for other ways.

The Uzbeks are not Islamic radicals, at least not 98% of them, and certainly not the people I wrote about. They are Muslim like most of us are religious—they celebrate holidays. The response that Americans are fighting to keep our freedom because of views like those of the Kazakhs and Uzbeks is absurd. The war on Iraq is making Americans and the world less safe and making Uzbek radicals out of young men and women who previously never even went to mosque. How?

The president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, runs a repressive, abusive and corrupt government. He has persecuted and tortured Uzbeks for practicing Islam. Most everyone is tired of his rule, tired of the poverty and the repression that has gotten palpably worse since American’s so-called war on terror began. Of course, the Bush administration overlooks Karimov’s disgusting human rights violations because we have a base in his country, conveniently located on the northern border of Afghanistan. This doesn’t impress the Uzbek people and out of desperation, some have begun to take up arms with the IMU. Hence, America is creating Islamic radicals rather than stamping them out. To read more about this, check out EurasiaNet.

Frankly speaking, Americans’ freedoms are in more endangered by Christian fundamentalists than Muslim. If Bush and his party are honestly concerned about women’s (and human) rights, they would begin by passing pro-women (pro-people) legislation here, rather than incurring billions in debt by mucking about abroad.

But I digress.


By my first tour in mid-May, I’d seen a good deal of Uzbekistan, some of it twice. First, on a tour led by Mario, and again when we took another guide around, squeezing in an eye-opening side trip to what remains of the Aral Sea. Mario and I also visited the Ferghana Valley, where my tours would sometimes take me.

He introduced me to Sasha, his favorite local guide, and insisted we visit Shakhimardan, a beautiful patch of Uzbek territory nestled into Kyrgyzstan. It was previously off-limits to almost everyone, but he was fixated on going because he thought it a great future excursion for the tourists and that if he wanted it open, it could be open. He cleverly squeezed us into the back of a little Daewoo Damas that transported locals, where we were hidden from border guards.

When we got out near our destination we were immediately stopped and taken into a militsia compound, where we were held for an unnerving period of time.

The Damas, above,  is more affectionately referred to by locals as ‘bread loaf’. It’s a tiny thing, resting on the axle of a little Tico. It comes up to, in height, my chin. Maybe.

Then they transported us to another compound and questioned us. There were lots of large guns about, carried by very young, aggravated boy-men. Eventually the warden took us out to the street, marshaled a citizen minding his daily business, and commanded him to drive us back to Ferghana City in Uzbekistan, a few hours away. He followed in his military hybrid jeep-truck and when we finally reached our hotel, he first went in to see that we were truly legitimate, registered guests. Surprisingly, we were.

It all seemed harmless enough at the time. Being stopped and harassed by the DAN, the Uzbek traffic police, was a daily occurrence and could cause all sorts of travel disruptions. The border issues and the military did add a bit of intensity, but it all seemed friendly enough. I could only guess, as we didn’t understand a word of what was said. Only later did I understand why Shakhimardan was closed, which Mario knew full well at the time. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a violent guerilla-style Islamic separatist group that controls drug trafficking in Central Asia, was active in the area and six months earlier took four Japanese geologists hostage for two months in the neighboring Kyrgyz mountains. The Japanese government reportedly paid the IMU a few tons of flour and five million USD in ransom for their safe return. The Japanese government denies it, because they, of course, do not support terrorism in any form. In response, the Uzbek military mined the area. None of this troubled Mario, who dragged me into the closed territory without mention of the situation. A few months later, the IMU abducted and terrorized four American mountain climbers who ultimately escaped the six-day nightmare by pushing their keeper over a cliff.

Yes, chivalry seemed more desirable by the day.