Islamic threats in Central Asia

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Islam in Central Asia

Written on Italian language for East Journal

The New Year’s attack in Istanbul not only claimed so many lives, it also splashed across the screens all over the world a region unknown to many people: the Central Asia. The Turkish authorities identified the person responsible in a Kazakh first, then in a Kyrgyz and finally in an Uzbek. They detained a lot of suspects in the Zeytinburnu city district, mostly inhabited by people of Central Asian ethnic background. An Islamic threat from Central Asia republics actually exist? Perhaps there isn’t an answer and this it’s just the umpteenth spectre roaming valleys and steppes of that region.

The presence in Central Asia of fundamentalist groups is undeniable, it’s sufficient to recall the most famous of these namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, culpable of raids in Kyrgyzstan from its bases in Tajikistan between 1999 and 2000; the almost inaccessible Tajik gorges were in fact very good hiding. Ever since in the Central Asia Islamic world much has changed: the IMU has entered in the radical galaxy gravitating around Syria after have passed through al-Qaeda (a real Jihadist international) and the fragmentation of the Afghan backdrop in an endless series of large and small militant groups.

To better understand the Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia we have to look exactly at the close Afghanistan. Virtually ignored by the media, a conflict between the nationally oriented radicalism of the Taliban movement and the globalization of Jihad supported by the Islamic State is in progress for some time. This is a struggle splitting the fundamentalist front and of particular relevance in Central Asia where ethnic hatred are strong.  Nevertheless is indubitable the return of the fighters from Syria, the caliphate losing ground, might prove a serious problem of instability in the Central Asian republics.

In this regard the governments in the region have to give clear responses, otherwise the choice of using the Islamic fundamentalism threat against every foe or for controlling political oppositions will be absolutely counterproductive. In these countries security is often the watchword to halt modernising policies stating that there aren’t the conditions to proceed with reforms. In reality, precisely the foregoing reform, for the most part pursuing personal interests, often cause social change leading to popular unrest therefore repressed exactly on the pretext of the fundamentalist danger.

In Central Asia the disruption of life could push many people towards the siren calls of radicalism rather than poverty. This is pointed out by the fact in many cases radicalization doesn’t happen in the homeland but during emigration to Russia particularly, when the fundamentalist network becomes an important base for rediscovering the individual identity. The new radicals – there is no point in denying it – at this stage assume a negative role in the society nurturing dreams of revenge. A second-class citizenship that doesn’t necessarily mean poverty could be at the origin of militancy in the radical groups.

Closely connected to the above a false myth concerning the Islamism in Central Asia, namely the absence of democracy as condition helping the choices in favour of jihadism. Instead, you should talk about the lack in redistribution of roles in autocratic societies, secretive and ruled by family clans holding an almost absolute power. The connection between peace and progress is a typically western vision, overlapping it to the Central Asian social structures is short-sighted and – maybe – a bit arrogant also. Democracy is only one of the missed identities in the post-Soviet Central Asia.

Image source: Inside Islam

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