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News & Analysis

Is The Aliyev Regime Aiming To Use The Islamic Veneer?

Zia Sarhadi

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

Last month, a major conference was convened in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. It brought together approximately 130 academics, activists, and politicians for the second annual conference on Islamophobia. Crescent International had the opportunity to speak with numerous conference participants, who shared their insights.

The conference was jointly hosted by The Baku International Multiculturalism Center (BIMC) and the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center). Both are deeply entrenched within the Azerbaijan regime and overseen by influential official figures.

Collaborating with the G20 Interfaith Dialogue Forum, an intergovernmental platform comprising 19 countries, the European Union, and the African Union, it claims to foster discussions on global issues, notably Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The conference, initially slated for March 11-12, 2024, was rescheduled and brought forward to March 8-9. It appears that the organizers overlooked the fact that the original dates coincided with the beginning of the month of Ramadan, potentially causing many Muslim participants to decline the invitation, prompting the change.

In addition to the two-day conference, attendees were also treated to a visit to Shusha, designated as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital. It was recaptured in the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenia war and subsequently underwent rapid reconstruction efforts.

The regime was keen to show-case its hospitality of participants. They enjoyed VIP treatment at a luxury hotel and indulged in lavish dining experiences. Some attendees, however, noted disparities in VIP treatment, with certain politician guests given preferential treatment over others.

The participants hailed from diverse backgrounds. They were primarily from Europe, North America, Africa, the Middle East, and Azerbaijan’s strong ally, Turkey. Notable absentees from the guest list were participants from Iran and Lebanon. Despite this, the participants represented a wide array of perspectives and engaged in lively and open discussions. Among them were leading academics on Islamophobia and dedicated activists.

Among the most important VIPs in attendance were UK Labour MP Afzal Khan, H.V. Sheikh-ul Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh, presented as the spiritual leader of Azarbaijani Muslims, Professor Cole Durham, President of the G20 Interfaith Forum Association, Yousef M Al-Dobeay, the Saudi Ambassador, Mohamed Bechari, Secretary General of the UAE-based World Muslim Communities Council, and Jannah Scott, who served as deputy director in the US Department of Homeland Security during the Barak Obama regime.

One of the notable yet controversial participants was Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director of Cage International, a UK-based institution renowned for its advocacy work in defending the rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Cage International finds itself among the groups listed by Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, for consideration in an ‘extremism’ ban. Other organizations targeted by Gove are the Muslim Association of Britain, CAGE, Patriotic Alternative, and the British National Socialist Movement.

Azerbaijan’s invitation to Rabbani was unexpected, given the regime’s historically strong ties with the US, Europe, and Israel. However, it was intriguing to note that many participants, in discussion with Crescent International, openly criticised the US, France, and other western regimes for their role in perpetuating institutionalised and politically driven Islamophobia. It has left many Muslims deeply scarred.

Some speakers seized the opportunity to condemn Israel’s ongoing genocide in Palestine.

Despite the widespread criticism of Israel, which seemed to echo among the conference organizers, a scandalous incident unfolded when Anila Ali, a notorious supporter of Israel, made pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian remarks. She blamed the Palestinians for their suffering and attempted to whitewash the Israeli genocide.

Alina Ali, a Pakistani woman based in Orange County, California, and founder of the NGO, the tortuously-named American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council (AMMWEC), portrayed herself as a bridge-builder between faiths. Her close ties to Israeli lobby groups and her controversial visit to Israel in early May 2022, funded by the zionists, however, was severely criticised by Muslim organizations in the US. She is known to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies that are trying to prepare the ground for recognition of the zionist entity, against the wishes of the majority in Pakistan.

Upon hearing her remarks, a large number of participants walked out of the conference room, causing embarrassment to the organizers. This incident highlighted a major blunder by the organizers, as Anila Ali had also been invited to last year’s meeting. One of the American-Palestinian academics, who had lost 58 civilian relatives to Israeli crimes, was furious and expressed his discontent vigorously.

The organizers attempted to mitigate the situation by offering assurances and pledging to not extend invitations to individuals with similar controversial affiliations such as Anila Ali in the future. The damage, however, had been done and reflected poorly on the judgement of the organizers. Was this notorious pro-zionist woman invited under pressure and/or instigation of the zionists, given the close ties between Baku and Tel Aviv?

One question that persisted among participants was why Azerbaijan was keen to lead the fight against Islamophobia. Despite the regime’s violent suppression of Muslims at home, participants inferred from discussions that Baku sought to opportunistically align itself with the global Muslim community. Following the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia war, the Aliyev regime felt alienated and aimed to garner support through championing this cause.

Many Azerbaijani speakers framed the conflict with Armenia and criticism of Azerbaijan as instances of direct Islamophobia. This narrative, however, failed to resonate among serious participants who viewed it with scepticism. Although combating Islamophobia is crucial, the event seemed to be overshadowed by ulterior motives.

Some participants speculated that Azerbaijan’s stance might parallel Israel’s co-opting of anti-Semitism for its political objectives. Given the regime’s close ties with Israel, this possibility warrants further investigation. Future conferences, if they materialize, will be pivotal in deciphering Azerbaijan’s true intentions, prompting the Muslim community to closely scrutinize Baku’s peculiar interest in combating Islamophobia.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 2

Ramadan 22, 14452024-04-01

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