Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov praised Jews, Israel, New York and President George W. Bush last week during a comprehensive and tough speech on world terrorism as he accepted an award for “international leadership” from a Brooklyn yeshiva.
“I cannot help seeing the special symbolism in the fact that I am given this award in New York — the city that on Sept. 11 became the target for the most barbaric terrorist attacks in human history,” Karimov, a Muslim, told about 200 people at the Plaza Hotel while accepting an award from Be’er Hagolah Institutes, an Orthodox yeshiva serving thousands of Uzbeki and Russian students. Those attacks, he said, “shocked the entire world by its despicable cruelty and cynicism, inhumane character and fanaticism.”
“If prior to that day there were some who did not fully understand the great threat that is posed by terrorism, whose roots are intricately connected to inhumane ideology of racism, religious fanaticism and extremism, I believe the events of Sept. 11 opened their eyes to the danger to which this menace exposes the civilized world,” Karimov continued.
Karimov, who has held power since 1989, and has been sharply criticized for his severe tactics against Islamic extremists — including torture — seemed to be vigorously defending his anti-terrorist policies.
“Everyone must understand the futility of the attempts to reason with this evil; that no country can afford to stand aside from the battle against this plague of the 21st century,” Karimov declared. “There can be no compromise, no deals struck with this vicious monster of modern times.”
Karimov came to New York fresh from a trip to the White House where Bush hailed him for immediately aiding America’s war against terrorism by allowing U.S. troops into his country, which borders on Afghanistan. Bush and Karimov last week signed several strategic and economic cooperation agreements. A key pact commits the U.S. to “regard with grave concern any external threat” to Uzbekistan, and calls on the Central Asian nation to “intensify the democratic transformation of its society politically and economically.”
Karimov praised Bush for his resolve and determination. “No doubt in that hour of trial, Mr. Bush showed himself a genuine leader.”
Karimov also revealed the intense pressures against him in siding with America — including a declaration of jihad, or holy war, against him.
“You should trust me that it was no easy decision at the time, when a fully-fledged information war was declared against Uzbekistan,” he said, noting that “thousands of well-trained seasoned Taliban fighters amassed at the Uzbek-Afghan border, all ready to cross,” into Uzbekistan. “And believe me that it was anything but easy to take a clear-cut firm stance at this hard and troubled time.”
But Karimov said given the choice, he would make the same decision to support America, adding that he will support President Bush “in going all the way until the machine of terror is completely destroyed.”
Regarding the theological battle within his own religion of Islam, Karimov declared he is against “militant fanatical Islam. We are against politicizing the Islamic religion. We stand for traditional Islam, our sacred religion that appeals for peace and creativity, mutual understanding, tolerance and accord among people of different ethnicities and religious faith.”
The Uzbeki president fondly recalled his visit to Israel when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister and talked about “the shared dream Israel has with his country in seeking peace and becoming united in the future.”
Karimov proudly stated that Uzbekistan “has not known of a single occurrence of anti-Semitism, racial and religious intolerance” in the course of its centuries-long history.
He said Jews have lived in his land for 2,500 years, pointing to the Bukharan Jews, whose culture is “based on the richest Hebraic spiritual tradition and the comprehensive positive influence of the ancient legacy of the Central Asian peoples. We are proud of this history.”
Karimov noted that during World War II, “over 250,000 Jews found refuge in Uzbekistan, fleeing from the atrocities of fascism.”
“As a symbol of solidarity with the people that were subjected to unspeakable suffering and were meant to be exterminated by the Nazis, our great poet Gafur Gulam wrote his famous verse ‘I am a Jew,’ which glorified the outstanding human quality of the Jewish people, their hard-working spirit and wisdom.”
Be’er Hagolah board member Tom Schick, an executive vice president for American Express, said the school wanted to honor Karimov because of his sustained help to the U.S. military campaign.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger praised Karimov for his “courageous” decision to support America.
Kissinger said the new alliance between America and Uzbekistan is an “event inconceivable a few short years ago” because of the State Department’s sharp criticism of Karimov’s poor human rights record.
Israel’s UN ambassador Yehuda Lancry hailed Karimov as a leader of “vision and courage” who has taken “bold actions in order to establish peace and unity in his young republic.”
Lancry said Israel and Uzbekistan are fighting “the same battle against forces of destruction, and against terror. Through shared values and shared commitments in our two countries we will emerge victorious.”
Lancry said Jews are thriving in the country under Karimov’s leadership where students are being educated Jewishly and a Jewish museum is planned. “Thanks to his commitment we see the renewal of Jewish life in Uzbekistan.”
Lev Leviev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union, and president of the World Bukharan Jewish Congress, called Karimov “a true friend of the Jewish people.
“In the last 100 years Jews in Uzbekistan have never felt so safe, so secure,” he said.
Leviev noted that Karimov grew up in the same Jewish neighborhood as Leviev’s father and grandfather. “As you have been a friend to us, we will be a loyal friend to you,” he told Karimov.