Central Asia: Aspects of Transition

By Tom Everett-Heath | Go to book overview

12

‘FUNDAMENTALISM’ IN CENTRAL ASIA

Reasons, reality and prospects

Petra Steinberger

Is Islamic fundamentalism on the rise in Central Asia? There are rumours that women who refuse to wear the veil are threatened, that alcohol is no longer available in some areas, and that subversive groups are demanding Islamic states and the introduction of shariah (Islamic law). A cry for help is heard from frightened leaders. The Islamist International seems to stretch its tentacles into Central Asia; the Muslim belt of the former Soviet Union is in uproar. Yet some voices warn against exaggeration:

In the Russian media, the construction of a mosque in Central Asia is frequently judged as a sign that Islamic fundamentalism is reaching out into Eurasia - as if the renovation of a mosque were a fundamentally different issue than the renovation of Catholic churches in Lithuania or of orthodox ones in Russia. 1

This examination of the real or perceived ‘threat’ of radical Islam in Central Asia will focus on Uzbekistan. The republic with the largest Muslim population of the five new states represents the strategic beachhead that must be taken; its thousand-year-long history in Islamic culture and learning separates it from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where Islam’s grip on the mainly nomadic societies remains looser. In geo-political terms, Uzbekistan is the most important and influential state in Central Asia. It can be assumed that whatever happens here will considerably affect the other republics.

* This chapter was written in 1999. Since then the lens through which Islamism in general, and Islamism in Central Asia in particular, is viewed has been refocused by the events of 11 September and the subsequent projection of Western force and influence into the region. Although the geo-political reality has been radically altered, the context and analysis provided by this essay remain valid: indeed, they have become more pertinent.

-219-

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Central Asia: Aspects of Transition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Turkfront 5
  • 2 - The Kokand Autonomy, 1917-18 30
  • Notes 44
  • 3 - Ethno-Territorial Claims in the Ferghana Valley During the Process of National Delimitation, 1924-7 45
  • 4 - Land and Water ‘reform’ in the 1920s 57
  • 5 - Nation Building in Turkey and Uzbekistan 80
  • 6 - Nation Building and Identity in the Kyrgyz Republic 106
  • 7 - The Use of History 132
  • 8 - Soviet Development in Central Asia 146
  • 9 - Environmental Issues in Central Asia 167
  • 11 - The Uzbek Mahalla 205
  • Notes 217
  • 12 - ‘Fundamentalism’ in Central Asia 219
  • Notes 240
  • 13 - Water 244
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 283
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