When I heard the news about bin Laden this morning, it seemed anti-climactic. Terrorism experts have been telling us for years that al Qaeda has become less an organization than a movement or philosophy that means different things to different people. Beyond the challenge of finding another figure like bin Laden, with enough gravitas, charisma (I’m told), and money to make himself heard, it’s not clear how much difference his death will actually mean to extremists.
But I was curious about reaction in Central Asia, where the threat, or perceived threat, of Islamist violence has persisted like a fever for more than a decade. In Tajikistan, the government is closing mosques and allegedly forcing men to shave their beards. A mysterious military operation in the fall was supposedly a fight against Islamist rebels, although it could also have been a mopping up of the remnants of the opposition in the country’s civil war a decade ago. TOL has written about how the crackdown, combined with crushing poverty and massive corruption and incompetence, are making a pressure cooker of Tajikistan.
So it was heartening to read comments by Haji Akbar Tuajonzoda, a leading cleric and member of parliament, to the Asia Plus news agency, that Islamic extremism will not subside until a basic human rights issue is resolved. But the issue he cited was the plight of the Palestinians, and the ones to resolve it were the Western powers.
It’s certainly true that the injustice and degradation forced on Palestinians is a black eye for the West, but it seems to me that the sources of jihadist anger are more amorphous these days (I won’t list them here). In any event, it was disappointing to see Tuajonzoda get so close to an enlightened take on the violence that Dushanbe seems so much to fear – its roots in the denial of people’s basic rights and dignity – only to have him offload the problem.