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Religious extremism in Central Asia

February 16, 2010

During my MA studies at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, due to the teachings of professor Tim Epkenhans, I became highly interested in a situation around so-called “religious extremism” in Central Asia, particularly in Fergana valley, which hosts territories of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Since then, I have been closely following the news and developments on this topic.

It must be noted that in Central Asia, the problem of “religious extremism” (here it is Islamic extremism) was not that much popular during the Soviet Union. It gained popularity with the fall of the Soviet Union, in late 90’s of the past century, when Islam filled the ideological vacuum created after the fall of the Soviet doctrine, and poorly defined national identity, ideology and secular regime of “catapulted to independence” Central Asian countries could hardly compete with ideological power of radical Islam. Religous extremism got the height of its popularity after the 9/11 attacks and US intrusion to Afghanistan and Iraq, when Fergana valley countries started helping coalition forces in their tenth crusade.

Map of Fergana valley

Today, there is still a lot of buzz around Islamic extremism in Central Asia. The governments of all three Fergana valley countries have been putting great efforts in fighting Hizb ut Tahrir, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, wahabia, Akramia [.pdf] and other religious groups seen as extremists. However, the challenge is not decreasing, but vice versa – it is becoming bigger and bigger from day to day. The problem, as I see it, is in disproportional use of power by the Fergana valley states in dealing with so-called Islamic extremist groups in their terriories. The government’s too much, often unjustified, exercise of power on people always creates discontent among them, which results in rejecting the government and uniting around or strengthening the loyalty to the alternative sources of ideology, and in context of Central Asia, it is religous extremist groups.

In this context, I really like the ideas of Kadyr Malikov, political science doctor of Madrid University and director of an analytic research center Religion, Law and Politics (Bishkek), who thinks that the Kyrgyz government must come up with an effective ideological mechanism in fighting the religious extremism, rather than using force. According to him, Kyrgyzstan is in need of up to date theoretical knowledge about religious extremism, and establishment of ideological basis in fighting religious extremism is going to be an effective tool, in view of outdated approaches of the early 1990s. I share Malikov’s opinion, as I believe that the state officials in charge of dealing with emerging religious extremism threats are not well equipped with the knowledge about origins of such threats. I guess it is because most of state officials deny any religous ideas, as most of them are offsprings of the Soviet ideology, where main source of ideas were works of Karl Marx, especially his thought about historical materialism.

These straight away and unsystematized thoughts came to me after I watched the documentary made by Michael Andersen, a Dutch journalist working for Al Jazeera English. If you are interested in developments in Central Asia, especially around the issue of religous extremism, I recommend you to watch it.

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