The Twin Towers attack has not been an American tragedy, but a watershed in the worldwide history as well. The USA reaction has determined a series of fundamental changes in international affairs. In several areas in the world the radical Islamist terrorism has been identified as the enemy, real or presumed it was. This is particularly the case of Central Asia, where the fight against the radicalism grafted itself onto a complex relation between religion and ethnicity in the construction of the national identity.
The Central Asian Republics didn’t search for independence from Moscow; to be honest they didn’t want it not even. The fallen of USSR has forced some communist bureaucrats to reinvent themselves leaders of independent states, aggravated by the necessity to build an identity to justify the very existence of these new entities. Immediately the ex-communist governors defined themselves ad Muslim, making Islam a pillar in the process of State-building. But at the same time religion has soon appeared as an option dangerous for the power of ruling classes.
The use of Islam, however, crossed with the ethnic differentiation under way in the construction of the national identity, from here an uphill struggle of governments against the Pan-Islamism. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the radical Islam has been associated to Uzbeks, a very large minority in the country. This division between “good” Islam and “bad” Islam overlapped on cultural differences originating, inter alia, from the Kyrgyz nomadic tradition and the Uzbek sedentary one. This interweaving of religion and ethnicity highlights the complexity of Central Asia.
During the first decade of the ex-Soviet Republics’ independence, however, there are not been many alarms concerning dangers coming from “stranger” religions. The issue arose with the outbreak of Taliban in Afghanistan, especially with IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) activities in 1999 and 2000, when it made military incursions in Kyrgyzstan from bases located in Tajikistan. These events, including the famous facts of Bakten, has allowed to Kyrgyz rulers to enter fully in the international coalition against terrorism, reaping the resultant benefits.
The war on terror waged by USA means funds and geopolitical influence as well, in a region where American, European, Russian and Chinese goals are clashing. To make the situation worst, there’s the Western commentators‘ incapacity to go beyond stereotypes concerning Central Asia. The emphasizing of ethnic and religious differences in Kyrgyzstan, with a South closer to Uzbek orthodoxy, surely don’t help to undermine tensions, the same tensions that blow up in bloody clashes periodically, as at Osh in 2010.
While some scientific studies show the perception of Islam is not so different among the various ethnic groups of the region, interested or shallow analysis make more combustible the situation in Central Asia, area bordering with the unstable Afghanistan and characterized by often corrupted autocracies. Of course the issue is complex and there’re not simple and immediate solutions, but the real risk is that, one time again, the people of Central Asian republics become victims of interests of others.