The Middle East's Relations with Asia and Russia

By Hannah Carter; Anoushiravan Ehteshami | Go to book overview

4

Present patterns of Islamism in Central Asia

Olivier Roy

The patterns of Islamic radicalisation in Central Asia and Afghanistan show common features and links with the Middle East, but they also represent new trends which are specific to the region, namely the radicalisation of until-recently conservative religious forces (the Afghan Taliban) and the growing influence of supra-national networks which recruit mainly among Middle Easterners who are based outside the Middle East.

We can divide the radical religious movements roughly into two categories: the 'Islamists', whose ideology and social background has until recently been close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the 'neo-fundamentalists', who are rooted in traditional conservative clerical movements, such as the Deobandi school of South Asia. Until the late 1980s, Afghan and Central Asian Islamist movements were heavily influenced by the Muslim Brothers or by their Pakistani counterpart, the Jama'at-i Islami. During and after the Afghan war of resistance against the Soviet army, thousands of Middle Eastern volunteers were dispatched to Afghanistan, mainly through Muslim Brotherhood (MB) networks, with the support of the Saudi and Pakistani military and intelligence services. But during the 1990s, most of the Islamist parties in the Muslim world lost much of their radicalism, either almost to disappear (like the Afghan Hezb-i Islami) or to shift towards a form of nationalism. In Central Asia and Afghanistan, this nationalism is largely based on regional or ethnic identity (the Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) or the Afghan Jamiat-i Islami). At the same time, some conservative religious movements (the Afghan Taliban or Pakistani Jamiat-ul Ulema-i Islami (JUI) became more radical and anti-Western; they have superseded the Islamist movements as the harbingers of jihad against the Western world. Most of the Arab volunteers going to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1990s went through such networks, and their shift in orientation has been boosted by the growing 'Wahhabisation' of Islamic teachings caused by Saudi support for the educational networks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

If the evolution of Islamist parties towards 'islamo-nationalism' is very common in the Middle East, the radicalisation of conservative networks seems to be a feature of the Afghan-Pakistani nexus. But the presence of

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