The panel discussion, named “Zentalasien – Lage, Konflikte, Perspektiven”, after presentation of the Elke Windisch’s book (“Zentralasien. POlitische Reisereportage”) motivated me to make some notes on some of the raised questions.How radical is Islam in Central Asia?
Unfortunately I didn’t hear any satisfying answer to this question. The answers listed some of the opposition parties, the war in Tajikistan, IMU etc. Religion or radical Islam is the only way frustrated population can voice out their dissatisfaction with the government, is the opinion of the author.
A young man from the audience raised a question: there are interesting categories in which this region has been discussed, like ethnic conflict, environmental problems, clans, radical Islam; the question is why despite all that, does Central Asia not explode?
Again I didn’t hear a satisfactory answer to this brilliant question. Maybe this is due to my poor German, that I missed that point.
I will though, give it a try to answer this question. I think “radical Islam”, “ethnic and other conflicts”, “terrorism” and many other very scary and abstract terms make up a huge “myth”. Of course there is some threat to security, but it is far more exaggerated than it is in reality. I come from Central Asia, I lived there for more than 20 years. I have never experienced radical Islam. I have even been to Fergana valley, which is supposedly the most radical spot in Central Asia. But I am so sorry to disappoint many European, who want to hear terrible stories about crazy radicals, but I have experienced nothing of the sort. I have witnessed and experienced violence and discrimination on the basis of gender and age, which somehow could have alleged ties to Islam. I have also met several Central Asians who became somewhat more religious after having lived abroad. For me, radical Islam, fundamentalism is as exotic, abstract and terrible as it is for many Europeans. The discourse of fear (threat to peace) seems to be instrumentalised by ruling elites to legitimise their regime. By making people believe that they owe current regimes for peace they have, ruling elites maintain their power. Many in Uzbekistan complain about economic, political and other problems, but then when they release their frustration they say:
“… but thanks God, we don’t have war. Look at Tajikistan, Afghanistan, what they had to go through, there are so many wars everywhere, and there is nothing worse than war. And no matter how bad our president is, he provides us with piece. And there is no one else who could hold this country together.”
As long as this threat and fear discourse is there, regimes further strengthen their positions, through strengthening armies (Uzbekistan). The exaggeration of threat and security issues leads to an over proportional military control of the country. I think Central Asia doesn’t explode despite of all the threats, because those threats are abstractions from reality, they are exaggerated by regimes to keep people and countries under control. But it doesn’t really mean that there is no potential for conflict. I would say potential conflicts are of social and environmental character, rather than religious.