Academic journal article Trames

Islam, Islamism, and Collective Action in Central Asia

Academic journal article Trames

Islam, Islamism, and Collective Action in Central Asia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Vibrant civil society, active citizen participation, and social capital have long been viewed as vital for a healthy and robust democracy (Almond and Verba 1963, Putnam 2000). To many, the Islamic world represents an antithesis to these notions. The lesser known corner of the Muslim-majority areas, which were under the Soviet domination during much of the last century, seem to provide an ideal type of authoritarianism and social apathy aggravated by the state communist experience. Indeed, the Soviet Central Asian region that has preserved clan-based clientelistic networks, exhibits elite-controlled societies that voted overwhelmingly for the preservation of the USSR, and tolerated (ex-) communist leadership well into independence. While having a brief spike in civil action in the last years of the Soviet rule and the early post-communist period (Beissinger 2002, Cichock 2003:262), it is common wisdom that the currently depressed status of the region's civil society leaves much to be desired. However, there are several examples which underline the potential for development of a vibrant civil society and social capital mobilized for collective public good in the region. Memories of the historical Basmachi movement that slowed down the Soviet advance in the region; Moscow's ensuing suspicion that the region is explosive and unreliable; the Jeldoqsan protests in Alma-Ata, which forebore the end of the Soviet Union; two Tulip Revolutions in Kyrgyzstan; the protest alliance of "seemingly antithetical political forces", which included "pro-democracy movement" active in Dushanbe, religious forces, and supporters of an ex-communist leader, Nabiyev, in Tajikistan in opposition to the governing communist nomenklatura (Olcott 2005:45-46); and the active dissident diaspora are some of the examples, which underline the potential for development of a vibrant civil society and social capital mobilized for collective public good in the region. In this paper, we are using the cases of four Central Asian Republics (CARs) to examine our central question which addresses the influence of Islam on the formation of emancipative social capital, or self-assertive collective participation in mass political action. This question has relevance beyond the Central Asian region, both for the larger Islamic world and the areas where Muslims form significant minority populations.

By building on Welzel et al.'s (2005) frame of emancipative social capital theory, this study probes the following questions: To what extent does variation in attachments to spiritual Islam (as a way of life), as well as politically motivated Islamism, help explain the likelihood of elite-challenging collective protests? To examine the extent to which the dynamics of self-assertive publics can be explained by variation in attachments to Islam and Islamism, this study embarks on a quantitative analysis of elite-challenging actions in four Muslim-majority Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. These cases will provide a stringent test of the relationship between Islamic resurgence and emancipative social capital as both, though not inherently related and often deemed to be a contradiction in terms, are harshly suppressed in much of the region. Yet, due to their historical prominence and current socio-political centrality in the region, we suspect their presence and hypothesize an explicit relationship between them.

In the first part of the paper, we engage in the discussion of the social capital literature, with an emphasis on emancipative social capital, and survey major factors responsible for the formation of collective action. Drawing on the extant literature, we then theorize about the relationship between Islam and emancipatory social capital in the context of the post-Soviet Muslim-majority Central Asia. We then empirically treat the hypothesized relationships and conclude deriving policy implications. …

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