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 (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/286245/).
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.