Is Islamism on the Rise (Again) in Central Asia?

by Joshua Foust on 1/6/2009 · 22 comments

Over at PostGlobal, our friend James Pickett of neweurasia.net has a novel way of measuring Islam’s rise in Central Asia:

During my research in the ‘Stans this past summer I, too, encountered vodka-toasting Muslims, usually of an older generation that still clearly remembers the days of the USSR. But for much of the younger generation, Islam plays an increasingly important role in daily life. For instance, only two years ago there were fifteen shops selling liquor to inhabitants of a small Ferghana town in southern Kyrgyzstan. Now drinking is shunned in the community and the sole remaining liquor store has mysteriously caught fire twice. The owner commented that if he takes any more such losses he too will be forced to close his doors. Though extreme, this example is indicative of the direction society is heading in much of Central Asia. Even in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s comparatively cosmopolitan capital, some Western-educated Tajiks are becoming more and more cautious about where they are observed having a beer – a consideration that only became necessary in the last couple years.

What accounts for this increasingly polarized religious landscape in Central Asia?

Right, so that makes a perfect foundation for drawing conclusions. He goes on to say that the region should have a more moderate form of Islam because of those gentle syncretist Sufi missionaries, and “the peculiarities of the Soviet experience” were such that Sufist clerics were singled out for persecution. Which is fine—not a perfect summarization of the Sufi experience in Soviet and post-Soviet Central Asia, but not astoundingly wrong (based on the limited reading I’ve done on the subject). But here is where my brow furrows:

Central Asian governments find the rise in piety and alternative power structures in the mosques threatening – not to mention Russia and the United States. But so far the response of local governments has been muted. As elsewhere in the Muslim world, regimes are coming to terms with how to use Islamism to entrench their power. For the present, the governments of the ‘Stans remain nominally democratic police states where one party rule is dominant. But they may yet come to struggle with rising numbers of disaffected Islamists.

I’ve spoken with James some, and he is a fine scholar. But I’m not sure I’d call the response of the Central Asian States “muted,” unless he means muted in 2008. One of the things I highlighted in my article on human rights in the region is specifically the many ways the dark spectre of Islamism is invoked to justify the many assorted crackdowns on political and other dissidents. I’m not sure I’d call something like Andijon “muted,” you know?

Missing in James’ account, too, is the internal debate over how Islamic society should become. This was the focus of Registan.net’s brief discussion of this very topic last year—there is a difference between Islam, even Islamism being “on the rise” (a rather threat-based rhetoric to use) and a society simply choosing to move back to its religious roots after a period of imposed atheism.

That kind of nuance isn’t there. Which doesn’t make James’ essay wrong—he’s right that Islam is becoming more and more important in Central Asia and especially the Ferghana Valley—it’s just a lot more complicated, and I wish there could have been room for it.

Update: Let’s not forget our own discussion of hyping the Islamist threat, just this past November.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 22 comments }

noah tucker January 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

you’re being unusually nice, it seems, so i guess you know this guy and have a history with him–I don’t, though, so I will be more blunt.

there should not be two camps of scholarship on islam and central asia. erica marat and vitaliy naumkin (and rashid and all the other amateur CA-dabblers) are not the only two voices out there that we all have to mindlessly parrot. if i can be so bold as to put a name to the problem that plagues, or rather fatally kills, most scholarship on religion in CA, it’s that there’s about five parts analysis to every one part of hard research that anyone ever actually does.

i don’t aim this comment to mr. pickett directly, since i don’t know how much time he’s spent in the region or what his training is, but after years of reading the same, um, let’s say stuff, over and over and over again with different names on the bylines, i just get tired. so sorry if i’m crabby.

okay, people don’t want to drink alcohol, and they don’t want it sold in their communities. islamism? is that islamism? suddenly if you obey the basic tenets of islam that makes you an islamist, that says something about your politics? that means you want to overthrow your government and install an, um, what do you call that? a cali-something, a califoot, cali–no, wait, i know this one…

i’m probably not being fair to mr. pickett. i just get really tired of reading this same article over, and over, and over again… is islamism on the rise in central asia? are all the central asians going to become terrorists? do they want to kill us yet? no, no, don’t worry! they’re NICE muslims. they’re SUFIS. we don’t have any idea what SUFIS are but i hear they’re cute and cuddly!

i’m being crabby, so i should probably stop before i offend someone who doesn’t deserve it. i don’t know pickett, and i have nothing personal against him, but i do care about this field and i do love this place that we call central asia and i’m sick to death of a few anecdotes being cobbled together and called scholarship or analysis. if i say i talked to two guys in a bar in new york who wanted to overthrow the country and install a two year old as the supreme leader, and then i heard that somebody said the same thing in north dakota, and then my friends told me that ALL the guys at their college are behind the new two-year-old-super-leader, and i wrote an article where i touted my amazing connections to american culture and tossed in some persuasive shit like “i’ve lived in america for two years and i can speak english at a third grade level” (and maybe wore a chicago cubs hat to seal the deal) and then pretended i could predict the future of the country or comment on nationwide political trends i’d be sent to the insane asylum…

but (you see where i’m going) study two years of uzbek, learn a few phrases in russian, teach english for six months in kazakhstan and throw on a pointy kyrgyz hat and suddenly you’re an expert qualified to make dire statement about the trajectory of entire political systems. this is the state of our field, folks, and it sucks.

okay, so, i just managed to offend just about everybody who participates here… i’m not discouraging blogging, i’m not discouraging fun and wild speculation, and i’m certainly not discouraging anybody from reading a few good books on central asian history and teaching english in kazakhstan for six months. but i am trying to make a point, clearly. and just in case i haven’t hit it hard enough already, i’m saying that what passes for “expert analysis” in our field would get laughed back to the locker room in any other “sport.”

i’m not trying to say that other areas don’t have their share of hacks, god knows they all do–and a good number of them end up being on the NYT bestseller list. but i am saying, well, let’s do a better job, let’s not make conclusions that our research can’t possibly support, and let’s resist falling into the trap of seeing a muslim and having to immediately categorize him or her as a harmless mystic or a bloodthirsty, screaming sword-waving jihadist.

you want to talk about people closing down liquor stores? okay, maybe you ought to also talk about the fact that alcoholism was generally recognized as the number one health problem of the soviet union. let’s count how many men we see passed out in the street in tashkent, so drunk they crawl away from traffic. let’s talk about unemployment, disillusionment, or something as innocent as the kyrgyz national obsession with figuring out who they are and where the hell they came from BEFORE we start talking about islamism and HuT and the IMU and whoever else you want to talk about–let’s talk about them too, but can we at least put it into some context and let the people talk for themselves, a little??

okay, just some thoughts on the field. my apologies again to mr. pickett, i don’t mean this as a critique of his work, just the state of the field in general.

[corrected per the author’s request –ed.]

Oldschool Boy January 6, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Hats off to you, Noah!
It was touché, TKO you name it.
I do not even need to add anything to what you’ve said

Oldschool Boy January 7, 2009 at 12:22 am

Great review Joshua, great points. Unfortunately very seldom whoever writes about Central Asia does not mention “islamic threat” or “islamic rise”. Even those great artciles you posted recently about energy and politics had some mentioning of this.
I am affraid that right now people and governments in Central Asia face more serious problems than religious threats.
Islamism with reference to Central Asia has become a buzzword like “Global warming”. If somebody can not explain something or need justification of his/her incompetence, he/she uses “islamic rise” or “global warming” as an universal explanation for everything.
I guess everybody watched “Mubai attack”. I do not know whether it was only me, but Indian counter-terrorist forces looked so incompetent, unprepared, confused, unfit for the job; their comanders croocked and incompetent. Although there are about a hundred of similar attacks in India each year (this one became famous, because foreigners were attacked). But instead of making serious conclusions about its own forces, Indian government started saying that those terrorists had serious (ha, three month!) preparation in Pakistan.
Same things, and you Joshua was the one who mentioned it several times, happen everytime. Some “scholars” simply too lazy to carefully investigate the situation, so it is easy for them just to say “islamism” or “authoritarian regime” or whatever…

Turgai Sangar January 7, 2009 at 3:22 am

“he’s right that Islam is becoming more and more important in Central Asia —it’s just a lot more complicated.”

Yes it is. So what? That’s inevitable. People look for an identity and Islam is and will be an inalienable part of that process. Is that ‘Islamism’ or ‘extremism’? No. Panicking about the decrease in the number of liquor stores… Is it better that people are alcoholics (for that is ‘secular’ isn’t it)?

Soviet Communism, though it had some good social achievements, is dead. The current regimes and their ‘national ideologies’ are stagnating and in any way not credible.

And face it: what have more than fifteen years of IFI-backed ‘transition’ and neo-liberalism brought to Turkestan and Tajikistan? Crime and massive corruption at all levels. Poverty and social degeneration including mass prostitution, homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs. What else? International financial institutions and consultants who have dislocated the economy and feed the ruling nomenclatura, and a fake Western-funded civil society that is only after Western grants.

“i’m saying that what passes for “expert analysis” in our field would get laughed back to the locker room in any other “sport.””

Bingo.

Christian January 7, 2009 at 4:53 am

“And face it: what have more than fifteen years of IFI-backed ‘transition’ and neo-liberalism brought to Turkestan and Tajikistan? Crime and massive corruption at all levels. Poverty and social degeneration including mass prostitution, homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs.”

Neo-liberalism causes homosexuality? Fascinating. Way to elevate the debate with this brilliant hypothesis.

Turgai Sangar January 7, 2009 at 5:16 am

Who said it causes it? One facet of the neo-liberal offensive is to fund a whole range of NGOs among whom are organizations that support and promote homosexuality (e.g. Labrys and Oasis in Bishkek), as part of a strategy to destroy the social tissue so as to control and exploit these societies better.

Turgai Sangar January 7, 2009 at 8:27 am

BTW, for some fresh views on the topic of Islam in the former USSR: Bruno De Cordier’s essay “A Eurasian Islam? A vision on the position and evolution of Islam and Islamism in former Soviet Central Asia and the Caspian”

http://www.ca-c.org/online/2008/journal_eng/cac-05/12.shtml

It exists in Russian as well.

Dolkun January 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

Honestly Joshua, have you no sense of perspective? You helpfully link to something you wrote yourself, and imagination pales at what Pickett might write about your work.

You conten.d that “systemic” torture occurs within an “institutional vacuum” and is not state policy. Maybe I’m a bit anal with adjectives? Widespread, common, ubiquitous, sure, but not systemic … if one accepts that torture is not state policy, despite much evidence (like statements from the president, or lack thereof, i.e. the Tashkent EBRD meeting — look it up) to the contrary.

When western governments lecture the Uzbeks on justice, it’s a bit naive to think the Uzbeks take this advice to mean increasing the conviction rate through torture. The call to stop lecturing on human rights fits the “Karimov is Uzbekistan’s best bad choice” hypothesis, but I’d prefer to see more proof that this is in fact the Uzbek political system, rather than lazy analysis that Uzbekistan more resembles a collection of strongmen than a dictatorship (particularly when a bit further down you write that Turkmenistan has been run by dictators What, Berdy seized power at the business end of a dentral drill? Or is his coronation proof that T-stan may also be an “oligarchy”?)

You state that no US official has acknowledged the use of the Termez base? You mean other than Robert Simmons, Amb. Norland and a few others. All you have to do is Google.

You describe Turkmenistan as west of Uzbekistan? As in Mexico is east of Hawaii? (OK, in fairness it’s southwest, but what the hell.)

Obviously, it’s impossible that nobody knows what happened in the Ashgabad shootout. You and I may not know, but at a minimum the people involved do.

Outside the Kazakh government I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to agree with your assessment of meaningful progress in electoral and media law.

And T-bashi’s statue didn’t rotate with the sun, but the other way round.

Petty? Of course, but no less than what you do on a regular basis to writers with a higher reporting-to-analysis ratio than you could claim for yourself.

Joshua Foust January 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

“Tolkun,” far be it for me to quibble with your expertise, but really — think about what you’re complaining about. It seems you have a problem with me noting that spending a summer surveying drinking rates in the Ferghana Valley doesn’t form much of a foundation on which to claim Islamism is “on the rise.” It also seems you don’t like me linking to my own writing as a way to avoid writing a 4,000 word blog post (with the important note that even your own group has noted the Central Asian republics routinely use “Islamism” as an excuse for political crackdowns).

Then you pick apart my WPR piece. Which is fair game, and that would have been a great discussion to have in the post where I originally linked to it (I’m all about more knowledgable people correcting me with more accurate information). But here, that is completely off-topic, and surprisingly childish of you.

Dolkun January 7, 2009 at 8:22 pm

I was trying to point is that you spend a lot of time critiquing English-language mass-media articles, while adding little to the debate. I suspect this is why this blog has shifted south: because there’s more written in English about Afghanistan than Central Asia, there’s more easily accessible material to critique.

The intricacies of whether Islam/ism/ists are on the rise in some pocket of Central Asia gets less attention than it used to on this blog, and then when someone takes a shot at discussing it, the reaction seems to invariably be to tear him down. If I want to read about Afghanistan, there are plenty of sources, but on Central Asia, this blog used to be one of the most interesting. Now it’s become little more than a place to take shots at other authors, and then when the conversation takes a turn into homophobic attacks on the World Bank, this goes unchallenged (though perhaps that is in fact not worthy of a response).

Joshua Foust January 7, 2009 at 8:30 pm

T/Dolkun, there is something to be said about not feeding the trolls.

As for coverage… well, if you don’t think I spend enough time covering post-Soviet Central Asia, you are always free to contribute a post as regularly as you’d care to. In fact, I know everyone here would welcome it. That is not my mega-specialty, and I have limited time, so I cover what I know best and what interests me. That’s the beauty of a blog!

But as for complaining about criticism… well, that was actually Nathan’s original intent behind the site. If you recall from 5 years ago or so, he spent a big percentage of his time complaining about the lazy and misleading reporting about Central Asia. He also tracked issues about the region, and posted some of his original work.

I feel comfortable saying I’ve continued in that same vein. In this particular case, especially when compared to other examples of my own criticism, I was I think very respectful in wishing James had discussed the topic in more detail and with less generalization. In fact, Noah even went so far as to complain I was too nice! That is indeed a rarity, and I just don’t get why you’re choosing now—of all posts—to complain that I’m being mean on teh internets.

As for Afghanistan… well, over the last year, there has been a flood of coverage on Afghanistan, and much of it is rubbish. It is a valuable and useful exercise to pick it apart and see why it is so—and I sincerely doubt you can complain I’ve contributed nothing of substance to Afghan discourse, or that I never do original research. But a flood is a flood, and even if I’m reduced to beating back the flood of appallingly bad press coverage of Afghanistan with a broomstick, I’m going to keep on doing it.

As always, should none of this strike your fancy, you’re free to spend your (quite valuable, I would imagine) time, energy, and keystrokes elsewhere.

noah tucker January 7, 2009 at 10:03 pm

dolkun and josh (and all),

I agree, obviously given what I wrote above, that in spite of the heavy tilt of this particular blog there is a general shortage of critical analytical thinking about Central Asia that brings a solid and well-researched perspective. I also agree that Josh can be mean, I think we’ve established that, it’s sort of his thing.

Christian did comment on the ranting about homosexuality, and I chose not too–though I was very disappointed to see what I had hoped would evolve into a thoughtful discussion flying off into the rant-osphere. As Josh suggested, I chose not to comment myself (though I categorically disagree with the statements) because I didn’t want this to turn into… well, whatever that would have turned into.

I too lament that CA is less covered in this space now, but I also accept some responsibility for that. I mean, not that I ever wrote nearly as much as Nathan or Josh (no one writes as much as Josh, I’m not sure he’s really human), but I have ideas every few weeks and good intentions that just don’t make it up here. I used to blame grad school, then my kids, then work, then the shitty condition of my laptop, I don’t know. I still work, still have kids, and still have a shitty laptop, but I have a few papers (one on the state of CA Islamic studies in particular) that I’ve been meaning to turn into posts, or a series of posts, and I just need to do it.

So, “watch this space” and bring on the comments, but also I know there are a lot of other regular readers who used to contribute but haven’t for a long time, and of course we all miss Our Great Father, the Founding One, His Royal Registaness, etc etc. So, Dolkun, I agree with you. Let’s get this party started.

For everyone interested in this particular topic, by the way, I highly recommend keeping an eye on John Schoeberlein’s new Project on Islam in Eurasia.

http://islam-eurasia.fas.harvard.edu

Most of us who are attached to CA in one way or another probably already know about this via the Central Eurasian Listserv (and if you’re not on that, very highly recommended as well), but the new project is kicking off with a conference in Boston in March that should be very, very interesting. I’m definitely going to try to be there and would love to meet up with any of you in person.

There is an exciting crop of new, young scholars out there doing serious work on this stuff… Julie McBrien, Eren Taser, Ben Loring, Sarah Cameron, Sarah Kendzior… these are all grad students who are working on or have just finished their dissertations (well, Ben is already Dr. Ben) and are doing some really great things. I know Julie and Sarah have several articles out there on Islamic practice in CA in particular that I would highly recommend, if my recommendation is worth anything to anybody.

If you don’t have access to these things, send me an email at ntucker@post.harvard.edu and I can forward them to or put you in contact with them directly.

I say all this to maybe balance out some of the negativity in my comments above… yes, things are bad, but there are some bright and very promising people who are out there doing the real research and doing it well.

tictoc January 7, 2009 at 10:09 pm

You’re mistating the point of Pickett’s article. His anecdote illustrates the increasing social polarization in these communities. The way some (mostly the young) are trying to impose their newly found religious views on the entire community. If everyone were becoming more “islamic” of their own volition, then liquor sellers would go out of business simply from a lack of customers. The fact that someone might be resorting to arson to force out those they find socially unacceptable shows how this isn’t a passive spread of religious ideas but an active fight for social control.

And local governments, are “muted” in their response in that they aren’t acting to counter rising religious intolerance. The way I read this, his reference to a “muted response” has nothing to do with the actions governments have taken against the political opposition. These governments may act against dissidents and the opposition under the name of opposing Islamic extremism, but (even as you acknowledge) it’s just an excuse they use to justify their actions.

Pickett could have made more explicit the “internal debate” over Islam, but that’s sort of implied in the use of the word “polarized”. More importantly, though, I think you’ve completely missed his point about how this interest in a more fundamentalist Islam among the young (I’d say ages 35 years and younger) is NOT a return to “religious roots after a period of imposed atheism”. (That’s the reason for the whole Sufi background bit.)

I wouldn’t call what’s happening in the ‘Stans “rising Islamism”. I see it as rising arabization of local cultures. You see young women wearing hijabs instead of the more traditional headscarves where some hair shows around the edges and young men wearing shalwar kameez, traditional Pakistani dress. Young people aping arabic culture isn’t any more “legitimate” than young people aping western culture.

The rise of this brand of fundamentalist Islam in Central Asia wasn’t “inevitable”. It was the result of all the foreign money that’s been poured into these countries to support foreign-built mosques and their foreign-trained religious leaders.

Joshua Foust January 8, 2009 at 12:04 am

Noah, you forgot that I don’t sleep, either.

TicToc, that’s a fair point to raise. What I was highlighting in my post was that looking at vodka sales at a couple of shops in Ferghana for a summer doesn’t really make for a useful basis on which to discuss the rise of Arab-style Islamism. Your other points, about the distinctions between traditional Sufism and Wahhabist-type revivalist movements, is exactly what I said I wish Pickett would have included. As it is, it’s pretty vague, and not really all that revelatory, and jumps to a conclusion that is not really supported by the text.

That is the heart of my problem with the post. He calls it “rising Islamism” (or something very similar), but then doesn’t really say what that is or how one would measure it.

noah tucker January 8, 2009 at 12:05 am

tictoc,

if it’s true that this is fundamentalist islam–and I think it would be useful for this discussion if you would define that statement–and moreover that it’s a result of “foreign money pouring in,” how do you explain the popularity–and in my own observation, increasing popularity–of these same outward signs of “piety” in uzbekistan? do you assert that it’s been affected in the same way?

generally, while i respect your giving mr. pickett a bit more careful attention, even if he were exactly right about the situation in this one unnamed town in kyrgyzstan, there is no evidence presented that this town is actually a good indicator of what’s happening across the entire region. or, for that matter, that a ferghana town in southern kyrgyzstan tells us much of anything about Bishkek or any of the rest of the country.

Turgai Sangar January 8, 2009 at 3:02 am

I don’t understand why my comment about homosexuality and its instrumentalisation in a wider neo-imperialist and neo-liberal agenda causes so much irritation and unease. I expect people here to know better.

Renowned scolars like Mark Duffield (cf. ‘Governing the Borderlands: Decoding the Power of Aid, Disasters, 25(4), 308-320), to name one, pointed out to a Western agenda of controlling the global periphery by changing the behavior of its population.

For that purpose, there is a whole range of activities, most of it through Western-funded NGOs, that are to promote Western liberal values and concepts including ‘gay rights’, ‘religious freedom’, neurotic feminism a.k.a ‘gender’ etc… Duffield does not mention the latter examples explictly but anyone who has spent enough time in a baket case aid colony like Kyrgyzstan, for example, has seen this at work.

The sad consequence is, that young liberals and well-meaners end up being stooges of interest groups with far less nobel purposes.

Ian January 8, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Not to feed the troll, but.

Turgai, you are completely misrepresenting the Duffield article you cite by saying that it is about the “instrumentalization” of homosexuality. I suggest you reread it if that’s what you came away with.

Your comment comes off as deceptive AND homophobic. Well done my friend.

Turgai Sangar January 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Number one, there’s no troll here my friend, it’s dead serious matter. Number two, re-read my comment: Duffield’s article is not about the instrumentalization of homosexuality is se, but describes the overall framework in which it takes place alongside many other things. If that’s homophobia for you, pfff, so be it.

Ian January 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Turgai, nonsequitur logic is apparently your habit. The fact that you are coming off as homophobic isn’t because of what Duffield’s article is about, it’s because you’ve used this post to make an equation between prostitution/drug use and homosexuality.

Second, the Duffield article in no way describes any framework for the instrumentalization of homosexuality. It has to do with economics and governance issues. That you are projecting social issues into it demonstrates that you need to work on your critical reading skills.

Turgai Sangar January 9, 2009 at 2:50 am

YAWN! OK met me quote from Duffiled’s article:

“With the ending of the Cold War, strategic alliances between metropolitan and Third World states, an important aspect of the former balance of power, lost their geopolitical rationale. Rather than enfeeblement and paralysis, however, out of the crisis of state-based security a new framework has taken shape. *This security paradigm is not based upon the accumulation of arms and external political alliances between states but on changing the conduct of populations inside them.* Within this new public-private security framework, stability is achieved by activities designed to reduce poverty, satisfy basic needs, strengthen economic sustainability, create representative civil institutions, protect the vulnerable and promote human rights: the name if this largely privatized form of security is ‘development’”.

(Mark Duffield, “Governing the Borderlands: Decoding the Power of Aid”, Disasters, 2001, 25(4), p. 310).

You see what I mean? BTW, another reknown academic, Olivier Roy, says something similar that supplements Duffield’s well IMO:

“The overall aim is to create the conditions for an indigenous democratization process, but one that has to be based on universal – that is, essentially American – political and ethnical values. *This willingness of social engineering presupposes paedagogical voluntarism that often appears to be naïve if not pushy. We see a proliferation of training programmes on democracy, human rights and gender.* Young and often left-wing Western volunteers and NGO cadres are instrumentalized to put this new development theory in practice – ironically reminding the way the Soviets and Communists sent young urban intellectuals to explain ‘progress’ to the elders and villagers. *The basic idea is that democracy is a kit that can be assembled from scratch: once liberated from ideologies, ‘the other’ can be molded and reshaped at will.*”

(Olivier Roy, Le croissant et le chaos, 2007, pp. 44-47)

Oldschool Boy January 10, 2009 at 12:58 am

Gentlemen,

I am not critisizing but when you write that you see something in Central Asia, could you please specify which country it is? The regions’ countries are drifting appart culturally; actually they have never been homogeneous. There have been a few years since I left the region and I am curious, what and where things happen.
Last time when I was in Kazakhstan and Kirgizstan I saw a few young people who looked like if they were in some islamist cult, I did not see more women in hijabs than in 1990th; I do not know if you can call it arabization. I also saw more strip-tease clubs and more western restaurants.
I also met two mullahs who had performed hajj and who sold vodka among other goods, and according to them there was no contradiction, since Mohammad the Prophet never opposed trade.
As for the burnt alcohol kiosk, there are plenty of other reasons, at least three of them are much stronger than religious beliefs: competition, racketeering and an accident.

Turgai Sangar January 12, 2009 at 9:54 am

I agreed with Oldschool Boy that this psychosis about the ‘arabisation’ of Turkestan and Tajikistan through Islam is complete nonsense.

It fails to take into account that Islam — despite its Arabic orgins, the setting of its holy places in Arabia and despite the status of Arabic as it liturgical lingua franca — is no longer an Arab monopoly or specific ‘Arab’ religion just like Christianity is no longer a ‘European’ religion.

Only about one-third of the Islamic Ummah today is Arabic and that figure includes North African Berbers and Somali who are heavily Arab-influenced too. For the rest, the heavyweights are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.

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