Fwd: A case for how Sept. 11 changed the world

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    A case for how Sept. 11 changed the world

    By Scott Bernard Nelson, Globe Staff, 2/27/2002


    Belgrade teenager Gavrilo Princip tried to strike a blow for
    Serb nationalism in the summer of 1914, and instead triggered
    World War I. At roughly the same time, Russian workers 1,000
    miles to the northeast were protesting the social and economic
    policies of Czar Nikolai II. The two developments ultimately set
    in motion events that came to define life for much of humanity
    in the 20th century.

    In ''Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia,''
    Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid makes a case that the Sept. 11
    terrorist attacks on New York and Washington could prove to be
    every bit the catalyst those events nine decades ago were. It's
    an iffy proposition, not to mention an impossible one to
    validate without the passage of time, but Rashid makes a
    respectable case for it.

    The author of ''Taliban,'' which went from the half-price bin to
    the international bestseller list almost overnight in September,
    writes in his latest book's introduction that ''the civilized
    nations' battle against terrorism may well define the
    twenty-first century just as Nazism and the Cold War defined the
    twentieth.'' And if that turns out to be true, Rashid continues,
    ''Central Asia is almost certain to become the new global

    Huh? Central where?

    The area formerly known as Soviet Asia, the land of the ''five
    stans'' sandwiched between Afghanistan and Iran to the south and
    Russia to the north, is a hardscrabble and hard-luck corner of
    the globe that remains largely in the shadows. Most Americans
    have trouble pronouncing Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
    Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, let alone differentiating the
    countries from one another or understanding their political

    It's a blind spot that could cost American interests a bundle in
    the decades ahead. Like Afghanistan, the five stans of Central
    Asia offer a primordial soup of civil war and radical Islam that
    breeds fanatical young men ready to martyr themselves for the

    (That cause is the implementation of ''sharia,'' a legal system
    based on the Koran, across the whole of the Muslim world. The
    fundamentalist groups, Rashid writes, typically see the United
    States not only as a nation of nonbelievers, but also as a
    global bully and a supporter of despotic governments. In any
    case, American targets in this country and overseas are
    typically fair game in their eyes.)

    In some regards, though, it's no wonder the rest of the world
    has been slow to turn its attention to Central Asia. Despite
    huge untapped reserves of oil and natural gas, the region is a
    thicket of shifting allegiances, broken governments, and
    guerrilla fighters hiding in mountain passes. Even humanitarian
    groups have had a difficult time dealing with the area's
    grinding poverty, thanks in not necessarily equal parts to
    forbidding geography and uncooperative government agencies.

    Rashid visited the Batken district of Kyrgyzstan, for example,
    where villagers join armed rebel groups because it's the only
    way to get a regular paycheck. Unemployment in the area ranges
    from 60 percent to 90 percent; Soviet irrigation policies ruined
    the soil for farming; electricity is available only four hours a
    day; and there is no industry. ''Poverty is playing into the
    hands of the extremists,'' Rashid quotes the head of the United
    Nations' mission in Kyrgyzstan as saying. ''There is nothing
    like poverty, hunger, and not having access to basic services,
    such as decent housing, to create discontent.''

    To greater and lesser degrees, the story Rashid tells is much
    the same throughout Central Asia. With the exception of
    Tajikistan, which began tiptoeing toward a representative
    government in 1997 after a five-year civil war, the region
    remains in the iron grip of former Soviet apparatchiks - who,
    naturally, continue with the tactics they learned from their
    Communist Party bosses. The repression only popularizes the
    Islamicist rebels in the eyes of most people.

    It's a complicated tale that became more so in the wake of
    America's war on terrorism, since the United States signed up
    the region's dictators as allies, and Rashid is the right person
    to tell it. As a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic
    Review and The Wall Street Journal, among others, he has borne
    witness to the civil war and economic strife that have swept
    Central Asia since the fall of the Soviet Union. As he did in
    ''Taliban,'' Rashid weaves his firsthand experiences - including
    interviews with many of the regional leaders, both governmental
    and Islamicist - into the story, along with a heaping portion of
    historical perspective.

    The result, stuffed as it is with names, facts, and figures, is
    difficult to follow without keeping notes. In the end, though,
    the payoff is worth the effort. Although some of the details
    will be lost by the time you turn the final page, Rashid does
    paint a nuanced picture of an increasingly important part of the

    Will Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan become the world's next big
    breeding ground and hideout for terrorists? Will we be embroiled
    in religious wars for the next century? There's no way to know,
    of course, but the best way to avoid it might lie in
    well-researched analysis like Rashid's.

    This story ran on page C8 of the Boston Globe on 2/27/2002.
    Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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