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See Deism versus Islam
The Arc of Moderate Islam
By TOM ROSE
The Jerusalem Post
Feb. 20, 2003
Just as many in the West seemed to be resigning themselves to the
inexorable force of militant Islam, six Muslim nations convened in the
Republic of Kazakhstan last week to break bread with Jewish leaders from
the United States
Israelis seemed transfixed last weekend by two televised images. In
Europe, millions of demonstrators choked the streets of nearly every
capital to protest US threats to disarm Saddam Hussein. And in Mecca,
millions of Muslim pilgrims concluded the annual Haj with repeated
chants of "Murder the Jews" and "Death to America."
These taken together, the average viewer would be forgiven for thinking
that militant Islam is an unstoppable force - and that the West lacks
the will to confront it.
But something else happened last weekend. Far away from international
media centers, in the sleepy capital of the newly independent Muslim
Republic of Kazakhstan, representatives of six Muslim nations, including
three presidents and three foreign ministers, convened to condemn
militant Islam, showcase their moderation and encourage greater
interaction with the West.
To make their point, they invited a delegation from the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to take part in the
summit as full participants. Just as many in the West seemed resigned to
the inexorable force of militant Islam, six Muslim states were breaking
bread with Jewish leaders from the United States.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev hosted an event he called "The
International Conference on Peace and Accord." Seated around Nazarbaev's
long horseshoe table inside the grand and gilded "Golden Hall" state
room were the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the foreign
ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Afghanistan. With them sat Mortimer
Zuckerman, chairman of the President's Conference and publisher of the
New York Daily News, US News and World Report magazine, and former US
senator Rudy Boschwitz.
What happened at the conference itself, said Zuckerman, "was far less
significant than that it happened at all. That we are here at all is a
hugely important statement from Muslims themselves that Muslim countries
need not be militant, that Islam is diverse and that we in the West must
disabuse ourselves of our belief that the only face of Islam is the one
Making the most passionate case for combatting terror was the one
delegate whose country has suffered more than any other. Maroofi
Muhammad Yahya, Afghanistan's foreign minister said "terror must be
rooted out at its source and sadly that source has been my country.
Terrorism has destroyed Afghanistan more than any other place. We know
what intolerance means. We have a ruined country to show for it."
TOGETHER WITH Turkey, the cultural and linguistic parent for all the new
states of the region (except Tajikistan which is Persian) the Muslim
republics of the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan occupy a huge and
increasingly important geostrategic position that Zuckerman calls the
"Arc of Moderate Islam."
Overstating the region's size, potential wealth and positive global
influence is not an easy thing to do. With a combined area of nearly six
million square kilometers, the Central Asian states contain natural
riches of immense value holding out the very real prospect of prosperity
for their 130 million citizens.
Even though exploration has barely
begun, the Muslim states of Central Asia are already known to contain
nearly 15 percent of the world's identified oil reserves and up to a
third of its natural gas. The nearly six million square kilometers of
the Central Asian states constitute nearly three quarters the size of
the Continental United States.
"It is vital that we in the West understand," added Zuckerman, "that the
real conflict is not one between civilizations, but rather a conflict
within the Muslim civilization.
"Eighty percent of the Muslim world," avers Zuckerman, "are non-Arabs.
They live in countries like Indonesia where militant Islam is dangerous
but marginal, in India where they are a minority in a democratic
country, in North Africa where they are still living at the subsistence
level and of course in Turkey and the Central Asian republics where they
are enjoying a large measure of freedom and are reaching out a hand of
friendship to the West."
Although far from Jeffersonian in their application of democracy, by any
non-Western standard, excepting the megalomaniacal dictator of
Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov, the regimes of the Central Asian
republics are moderate, open and tolerant.
Unlike their neighboring
Muslim states of the Arab world, the Central Asian states have large
non-Muslim minorities, their populations are largely secular, highly
educated and recently freed from the Soviet yoke.
Some scholars believe that the experiences of the Central Asian
republics are so unique and their peoples so different that setting the
region up as an example of moderate Islam for the comparatively
monolithic and deeply religious Arab world to follow is a prelude to
"Few people in the history of the world have ever been forced to become
independent nations," says historian Martha Brill Olcott, "but these
states are one of those cases."
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, independence was
thrust upon the five former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan,
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
"The people of these states," says Olcott, "wanted civil liberties, but
not necessarily freedom as citizens of new states. The Soviets drew
arbitrary borders around peoples who never really thought of themselves
The so-called "Sovereign Republics of the Soviet Union" were named after
the predominant local nationality inside hastily drawn borders. But as
happened in other colonial domains, the borders rarely corresponded to
the ethnic contiguities extant in the area being carved up.
Fearing problems from one large Kyrgyz nation, Stalin created two
"Republics," Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, now both independent, yet bound
together into an increasingly close alliance that some believe may some
day lead to a merger.
The region is rife with unresolved border disputes. Each republic finds
itself both home to significant non-affiliated minorities living within
its borders as well as having large populations of its own ethnic group
outside its borders. Amazingly, all but one of these disputes are
The exception is the Azeri-Armenian conflict which
has raged almost continuously in the Caucasus since independence,
claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and creating millions of
BUT WHAT threatens to divide these new nations, all of which, except for
Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, border the land-locked Caspian Sea is
precisely what binds them together - oil. Central Asian republics seem
to realize that exploiting these riches demands cooperation rather than
The Caspian basin is the site of the greatest oil rush in
history. Combined oil and natural gas value of the finds in the Central
Asian republics is estimated at up to $10 trillion.
Yet none of the untold wealth can be exploited unless it is safely and
cost effectively brought to market. This requires distribution routes of
which there are precious few. The Russians have long claimed the Caspian
not to be a sea at all, but rather an "inland lake" requiring
exploitation and management to be shared in proportion to the length of
a country's shoreline.
Before 9/11, this position used to be a point of contention in Russia's
relations with the United States.
"Now," says Bush administration adviser (and Jerusalem Post director)
Richard Perle, "it looks downright providential."
In Kazakhstan, nearly 45% of the country 16 million citizens are
non-Muslim, including about 30,000 Jews. Avraham Berkowitz, the
executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the
Commonwealth of Independent States points out that "Kazakhstan is the
only Muslim country strongly encouraging Jewish life.
Right now, there
are 20 synagogues being built across the country, paid for by the state.
The government is helping Jewish schools, providing security to Jewish
institutions and working to improve relations with Israel."
True or not, Kazakh President Nazarbaev, regularly admonished by
human-rights groups for cracking down on political opponents, sees the
development of strong ties with Israel and American Jewry as the key to
better relations with Washington and faster access to the Western
capital he needs to develop his country's natural resources.
"The faster he can deliver that wealth," says Perle, "the stronger a
bulwark his country can become against militant Islam. If he thinks that
the road to Washington goes through Jerusalem, all the better."
Indeed, in addition to extending his offer to negotiate the return of
Israeli soldiers kidnapped and held by Hizbullah, Nazarbaev announced
that he would allow coalition forces to use Kazakh airspace and
facilities in a campaign to disarm Iraq. He made that announcement while
on a highly publicized state visit to neighboring India, the purpose of
which was to better coordinate the two nations' anti-terrorist
"That these nations remain largely unknown," says Perle, "is both a
failure and an opportunity. Not only are these states not pursuing
sharia [Islamic law], they are leading the fight against it. The
opportunity they present is that they will soon provide the living proof
that moderate Islamic societies are able to realize real social and
The failure is that we have not done our job
helping these countries to deliver that example already. If we wait much
longer, it may be too late."
The writer is Publisher and CEO of The Jerusalem Post
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