For the sake of perspective…

by Nathan Hamm on 10/22/2004 · 5 comments

In this post, commenter BDC charges that Uzbekistan is anti-Islamic. This isn’t to single him out, but just to point to one example of a quite common charge made against Uzbekistan that misses the forest for the trees. Just like accusing me of misogyny entirely misses that I am in fact misanthropic, accusing Uzbekistan of being anti-Islamic entirely avoids the phenomenon of lingering totalitarian paranoia about any group not under state supervision.

So, I must ask if non-Muslims (because I already know the answer many Muslims have given on this) who think Uzbekistan is anti-Islamic feel that France is anti-Islamic.

In the words of the incomparable Frank J., “France finally takes a firm stance against someone – little girls.” Yes, France has started expelling girls who refuse to remove their headscarves.

After disciplinary hearings, officials expelled two 17-year-olds from schools in the eastern city of Mulhouse yesterday and another girl from a school in Flers in Normandy in western France.

“They have just destroyed my life,” 12-year-old Khouloud told Le Monde newspaper after she and another girl were expelled on Tuesday from the Jean Mace middle school in Mulhouse.

“What they want is to see us in tight pants like all the girls,” Khouloud was quoted as saying. Le Monde did not give her last name.

Another five girls could be expelled this week as the Education Ministry gave school districts the signal to start taking action against 72 students who could not be persuaded to obey the law.

Well, at first gloss, that appears pretty damned anti-Islamic. And, it is fairly clear that the law was drafted with the oh-so-frightening menace of young Muslim girls in mind, but it’s pretty equal opportunity in who it will expel from school.

The law bans conspicuous religious symbols and apparel, including Muslim head scarves, Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses.

For the small Sikh community in France, estimated at 5000-7000, turbans can also pose a problem. Three Sikh boys with turbans at a school in Bobigny, outside Paris, have been kept out of class since September 2.

In the first court case resulting from the law, Sikh leaders have asked a court to force the Louise-Michel school to convene a disciplinary hearing or let the boys into classrooms.

France, quite appropriately, isn’t considered anti-Islamic, though the case for doing so is arguably stronger because it has drafted laws specifically aimed at restricting Muslims.

Uzbekistan’s intent, I would argue, is to combat any group’s ability to subvert the state’s authority. These groups have included many Christian denominations, private clubs and associations, Hare Krishnas, and yes, some Muslim groups. In many ways, this is a smooth transition from the same Soviet paranoia about groups out of its control. It is important to remember though that Uzbekistan is in fact more supportive and tolerant of both private associations and Islam, even if it is admittedly a state-sanctioned, safe form of it.

Islamic groups are the ones that present the largest threat to both Uzbek society and the state. It reasonably follows that they are the ones that get the most attention from both the government and the human rights community. I understand why it looks like Uzbekistan is anti-Islamic, but picking out just that one strain, no matter how amplified it is, obscures the intentions and m.o. of the Uzbek state.


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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 4 comments }

BDC October 22, 2004 at 1:34 pm

In any case, thanks for the honor co-dude! 😉 LOL

upyernoz October 23, 2004 at 5:39 pm

nathan, i agree with you on this one. but i have a question: don’t you think that karimov is more anti-political islam than political anything else just because he (logically) thinks that political islam is more likely to be a threat to him given the overwhelmingly muslim populace in uzbekistan?

my impression is that karimov is a lot quicker at linking independent muslim groups with more serious crimes like terrorism than he is with independent christian groups. i agree that he’s not per se anti-islam, but he does seem to come down harder on some muslim groups than comparable groups from other religions.

Nathan Hamm October 23, 2004 at 6:06 pm

You’re dead-on. I think the specific reason he comes down so hard on the islamic groups is because they have proven to be more of an existential threat. Something a lot of people forget about him is the incident in Namangan in which he was more or less kidnapped by a fundamentalist mob who made him promise to make the country an Islamic republic.

Laurence October 25, 2004 at 5:28 pm

Nathan, They tried to make Karimov promise. He refused, saying he would demand a referendum, or a vote of the Oliy Majlis, that he could not make Uzbekistan an Islamic republic without the consent of the people. He knew it would be voted down. And it would. Which is why the extremists resort to terror–because they want to terrorize the population into submission.

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