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  • From Andijon to Bowling Green: Fabricated Terrorism in Uzbekistan and the United States
  • Sarah Kendzior (bio)

Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to Donald Trump, told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Feb. 2 that two Iraqis orchestrated the “Bowling Green Massacre” in 2011. This, she said, prompted the Obama administration to place a six-month ban on refugees from Iraq. According to Conway, the reason we have never heard of this bloodbath on Kentucky soil is “because it didn’t get covered.”

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There is a reason the Bowling Green Massacre didn’t get covered: It never happened. Everything about the story, from the existence of the massacre to the subsequent ban on refugees, was invented in order to justify the Trump administration’s own ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Conway is notorious for coining the phrase “alternative facts” to describe lies, first dropping it in late January to claim that Trump’s inauguration had drawn record crowds instead of its actual middling turnout. Trump lied flagrantly throughout his campaign, often with the explicit purpose of denigrating Muslims, claiming falsely that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered 9/11 and that Syrian refugees are common participants in terrorist plots.

These lies have now translated into actual policy, including the proposed renaming of the anti-terrorist program “Countering Violent Extremism”—which had investigated violent acts carried out by some of Trump’s white supremacist supporters—to “Countering Islamic Extremism,” which shifts the focus of investigation to Muslims, who commit a comparatively small number of terrorist acts in the U.S.

This endless recitation of blatant lies by American policy officials is somewhat new, though one can see its roots in the Bush administration’s fraudulent tales of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and in Karl Rove’s 2004 claim that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” For those who study authoritarian states, however, these kinds of easily disprovable lies are all too familiar. The purpose of an obvious lie is not to deceive, but to assert state power. To lie in this way is to say to the public, “We know you know that we are lying, but we do not care, because you have no control over this situation.”

Conway’s fabricated “Bowling Green Massacre” was quickly debunked and widely mocked. Though conspiracy theories and disinformation have now become a regular part of U.S. discourse—a practice encouraged and enabled by the Trump regime—U.S. citizens still have the freedom to document what we see and to say what we know. Our memories have not yet been officially rewritten.

But Conway and other members of the Trump administration’s continual gaslighting of the U.S. public is dangerous nonetheless. Constructing parables of fictional violence strips us of the ability to trust our leaders and assess the state of our national security, leading to a combination of cynicism and paranoia. If an actual terrorist attack occurs, citizens may be left scrambling for reliable information. Moreover, the administration’s lies are aimed at scapegoating a religious minority: Trump has been pounding the drumbeat of “radical Islamic terrorism” for over a year, lumping in all Muslims with the very small number who have violent aims.

As a scholar of Uzbekistan, I watched the same propaganda tactics play out a decade ago, with terrible results. For 25 years, Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, was ruled by the dictator Islam Karimov, a communist apparatchik who assumed the presidency in 1991 and remained there until he died in the summer of 2016.

Upon assuming power in the newly independent state, Karimov took a series of steps Americans may soon recognize. He purged the political opposition, distracted the public with slogans and spectacles, declared war on the media, expanded the military and surveillance apparatus, reduced the majlis (parliament) to lackeys who rubber-stamped the directives of his elusive inner circle, abused executive power to gain wealth for himself and his family, made the judiciary subservient to his own objectives, and proclaimed he was making Uzbekistan great again. Karimov emphasized that citizens [End Page...


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