Monday, January 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Islamist Radicalism in Central Asia and That in North Caucasus Reinforcing Each Other, New Study Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 11 – Most scholars have suggested that the primary source of radicalism among Muslims in Central Asia and the North Caucasus comes from Islamist centers in the Middle East and South Asia, but a new book argues that radicalism in Central Asia and the North Caucasus are proving to be mutually reinforcing.
On the one hand, I.P. Dobayev and his colleagues conclude in their study, “The Radicalization of Islamic Movements in Central Asia and the North Caucasus” (in Russia, Rostov, 2010), the impact of Central Asian radicalism on the North Caucasus is much greater than many think (
And on the other, those who want to contain and then overcome this radicalism in either place must deal with these interconnections and examine what has worked and not worked in the other region in coming up with programs to do so, rather than as is typically the case now ignoring these ties.
The rebirth of Islam across what was once the Soviet Union “objectively” led to the politicization and as a result the radicalization of the Islamic movement” in the region, the new book says. But if scholars earlier focused on the ways in which Central Asia affected Russian or Soviet Muslims because of the training centers there, now they largely ignore these ties.
That is a mistake, Dobayev and his fellow authors say, and they examine the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Daghestan to demonstrate the ways in which the influence of Islam and Islamism in the two regions continue to interact and in which those who seek to contain this contagion need to respond.
One channel by which Central Asia has an impact on the North Caucasus, the authors say, is the large number of mullahs, imams, muftis and kazis in the North Caucasus who were trained in Bukhara or Tashkent in Soviet times. But more recently, their influence, largely conservative, has been eclipsed by that of other groups.
Recently, the book says, “a definite part of the Central Asian radicals, according to the media, have taken part in events connected with the Chechen conflict and North Caucasus militants have participated in the Fergana crisis.” Moreover, both the one and the other have received “special training” in Afghanistan and certain other Islamic countries.”
After 1991, “the Islamic movements in Central Asia and in the North Caucasus as a result of centrifugal processes seemed increasingly divided,” largely because of the breakdown in traditional communications and “the appearance in the formerly unified Muslim field of principally new actors.”
Among these in both regions, the new 230-page study says, were “numerous ‘Islamist’ political parties and movements and also nationalist organizations, which actively used Islamic rhetoric and symbols, Salafei groups which have been defined by a number of investigators as ‘Wahhabis.’”
“The radicalization of the Islamic movement in Central Asia [during the 1990s and subsequently],” the cooks says, ‘was accompanied by the appearance of numerous terrorist organizations,” like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Akromiilar. Meanwhile, “analogous religions-political groups of extremists” appeared in the northeastern Caucasus.
While Kyrgyzstan historically was less “Islamified” than Uzbekistan, since 1991, both the weakness of its central government and the large size of its Uzbek minority have meant, the authors of this study conclude, that it has not only been among the leaders of Islamist radicalism in Central Asia but also a major exporter of such ideas to the North Caucasus.
“Conditions for the radicalization of the Islamic movement in the post-Soviet period appeared,” the study says, “where the possibilities of the powers that be and civic structures to consolidate society turned out to be quite limited and where the level of expectations and the level of real life significantly diverged.”
That was especially true in places like Kyrgyzstan and Daghestan, where the powers that be, “first encountering the problems of the radicalization of traditional Islamic movement turned out to be unprepared to adopt effective countermeasures.” Indeed, they were not even able to control the impact of a radical expansion of the haj and haj returnees.
And consequently, “in parallel with the development of ‘traditional’ Islam [in the two places] were formed self-organizing and self-structuring systems, religious extremist organizations which operate on an extremist religious-political ideology which justifies murder, cruelty [and other crimes]” in the name of the faith.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan reflects “a collision” between the weakness and unpreparedness of the state, on the one hand, and the presence in the republic of a large Uzbek population, “a significant part of which includes members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party,” and even of its even more radical offshoot, the Hizb an-Nusra.
At the same time, “the politicization and radicalization of the Islamic movement in Daghestan is the reverse side of post-Soviet liberalization at a time of the degradation of social life,” a conflict that was between the traditional Sufi Muslims and the so-called Wahhabis or Salafites.”
That conflict was made worse because “the entire struggle of the powers that be with the Salafites was a struggle with consequences rather than causes,” an approach that should be discarded by those charged with combating extremism in Daghestan given that “the term ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ is ever more often sounding there.”
It should have been obvious, the authors of this comparative study say, that “the methods of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party in Central Asia for the broadening of its network and the spreading of its own influence in Muslim society have found their definite extension in this North Caucasus republic,
Neither Bishkek nor Makhachkala has been able to “stop the process of the radicalization of Muslim youth;” and consequently “terrorist acts in Daghestan” and the number of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan will grow, especially if the social-economic problems in the two places remain or even intensify.
That will be all the more likely if the powers that be in each place do not pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work in the other. The leaderships of the Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) are not helping much, the book concludes, and will only be able to do so if they become more transparent, better trained, and have greater control over the haj.
Moreover, the governments in the two places are not devoting enough attention to and control of Muslim educational institutions, the study says, or to the Internet and other alternative sources of influence. Indeed, too often, they are looking at the wrong place, at the Middle East rather than at each other.
And in what may be the book’s most controversial conclusion, it urges that the powers that be in both places ensure that a significant share of the occupants of the leading positions of the two governments include “persons who profess a religion other than Islam,” something that would seem likely to provoke rather than quiet Islamist attitudes.
However that may be, this new book is valuable for the details in provides on the way in which Islamist radicals in Central Asia and their counterparts in the North Caucasus have been interacting, a connection that few analysts and even fewer government officials appear to have focused on up to now.

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