Sunday, July 24, 2016

West’s Failure to Denounce Human Rights Abuses against Muslims Helps Extremists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Given the Islamist threat, many in the West have been less inclined to protest obvious violations of the human rights of Muslims by post-Soviet governments than actions by those regimes against others, an approach perhaps understandable given domestic politics in their countries but morally indefensible and still worse counterproductive.

            Obviously, speaking out now in the West against such abuses puts those who do so at risk of being called defenders or enablers of terrorism since in today’s hyper-politicized environment, defending any Muslim invites attack from some elements in Western countries  even if the same actions visited on anyone else would be condemned.

            But not only are such double standards are morally wrong: They are politically indefensible for two reasons: On the one hand,  they allow the governments involved to violate the rights of their citizens confident that they will not be criticized if they describe their targets as Muslim radicals, masking their repressions as part of the fight against Islamist extremism.

And on the other, they give real and dangerous Islamist radicals opportunities to make use of such cases to recruit others to their cause by claiming that Western societies, including those who see as their duty to defend human rights, are opposed to Islam as such and views Muslims as less than worthy of defense.

It is not always easy to sort out the facts in the cases of such abuse, but such difficulties must not become excuses not to try.  Indeed, developing the capacity to track what is going on in such cases is a key part of fighting the spread of Islamist extremism and thus deserves support for that reason as well as on moral grounds.

These reflections are prompted by a case in Azerbaijan against Taleh Bagirzade now in court, although the number of such incidents in many countries could be multiplied at will. But because the violation of anyone’s rights puts the rights of all at risk and the violation of the rights of Muslims can threaten our national security, they merit more attention than they often get.

Bagirov, a Shiite Muslim leader, has already served two years on what he and his supporters say were false drug charges after he protested the installation of an imam in a local mosque by the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Baku against the wishes of its parishioners.

Prior to his release from prison a year ago, he organized the Muslim Unity Movement which unsuccessfully sought registration with the authorities even though it made clear that it was committed to democracy and non-violent change in Azerbaijan.  But that decision has not ended his travails.

Now, he is on trial along with 17 others who are accused of organizing protests in Nardaran in November 2015 and of promoting disorder, anti-government activities, and religiously-based violence.  According to human rights groups, none of the accused had lawyers, and the trial was behind closed doors.

However, relatives of the accused were allowed to attend and as a result, some information has leaked out, including reports by Bagirzade that he was subjected to electroshock and drug treatments while he was under detention at the interior ministry’s anti-organized crime unit (

Those charges have not been fully investigated, but the point is they should be rather than treated as somehow entirely reasonable if the government involved declares it is combatting Islamist extremism.  Failure to do so will help precisely those groups that should be fought rather than those who are fighting against them.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Circassian Breakthrough – Lavrov Wants to Work with Their International Association

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – It is a measure of the remarkable success the Circassians have had over the last five years in raising the status of the issues of greatest concern to them that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the very first time has indicated that he wants to work with one of their organizations, the International Circassian Association.

            When Russia is confronted by a group that it views as marginal, Moscow first ignores it and then attacks it if it concludes that the attacks won’t work to the benefit of the group. But only if the Russian center concludes the group can’t be ignored does it express a desire to work with it, often the first stage in an effort by Moscow disorder the group or take control of it.

            Since the Circassians attracted international attention in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad, Russian media outlets have routinely attacked that group which seeks to have its expulsion from Russia in 1864 declared an act of genocide, to allow Circassians from the diaspora to return home, and to form a single Circassian republic in the North Caucasus.

            Those attacks are now continuing; indeed, if anything, they are intensifying and trying to present the Circassian cause as a creation of Western and Israeli intelligence rather than as the product of the history of that five-million-strong people, ten percent of whom are still in Russia (

            But despite that, Moscow has apparently decided that the Circassian issue has become one it can no longer leave to the propagandists alone and has decided both to cooperate with some Circassians to exploit one part of that nation against other parts and to use its influence or even control of that part as a means to promote Moscow’s line on Circassian issues.

            That does not mean that the Circassians can relax their vigilance about Russian penetration given Moscow’s longtime success at subverting √©migr√© groups, but it does mean that even Circassians who are not associated with the group Lavrov says he wants to cooperate with can only be encouraged by what has happened.

            Earlier this week, Khauti Sokhrokov, the president of the International Circassian Association and someone many Circassians view with suspicion because of his pro-Moscow positions, noted that he had been invited to a meeting of NGOs at the Russian foreign ministry and had spoken with Lavrov (

            Responding to Sokhrokov’s pro-Russian speech, the Russian foreign minister noted that this was the first time Circassians had been present at a foreign ministry-NGO session and had “expressed the desire in the future to cooperate with the International Circassian Association and together with it strengthen ties with the Circassian diaspora for the good of [Russia].”

Building Walls to Block Immigration Will Backfire, Russian Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Immigrants today, both legal and illegal, are very different from their predecessors because they retain ties to their homelands even as they put down roots in their new place of residence.  As a result, Andrey Rezayev says, building walls to keep them out will backfire because such walls will also have the effect of preventing them from returning home.
                A comparative sociologist at St. Petersburg State University, Rezayev says that any sensible policy with regard to immigration must begin with a recognition that the new immigrants are not like their predecessors but instead go back and forth between where they work and where they are from rather than making a clean break (

            This shift began in many places around the world during the second half of the 20th century; and it has been affecting Russia since the end of Soviet times.  Even Jews and Russians who left earlier now return for visits, something that few would have predicted earlier, the sociologist says.

            Rezayev and his colleagues from the US and elsewhere say that the US is the leading country as far as immigration is concerned, with 42 million immigrants, of whom 13 million are illegal. Germany has now passed Russia which has between 11 and 13 million immigrants thanks to the influx of people from Syria to Germany and the outflow of Central Asians from Russia.

            He and his colleagues, the St. Petersburg scholar says, have discovered “a paradox.” Donald Trump who is the Republican candidate for president in the US has called for building a wall to separate Americans from what he says is “a flood of Mexicans arriving from the south.”  But doing that, Rezayev says, will produce exactly the opposite effect he projects.

            Instead of reducing the number of immigrants legal and illegal in the US, he continues, the construction of such a wall would mean that those migrants who are in the US would stay there permanently rather than moving back and forth between the United States and their original homeland, Mexico.

            As a result of such a wall, the number of migrants “would not become smaller,” nor would “the social problems” that they present, Rezayev continues. That provides an important lesson for Russians who think that blocking all immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus would work to their advantage.

            Instead, what Russia needs to do is to make migration flows as transparent and thus legal as possible and to promote integration by identifying people who can help immigrants fit into their new society.  Often, he says, these will be migrants who have been in Russia for a longer period and know the ropes.