Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | October 19, 2007

Why doesn’t Central Asia explode?

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.



  1. […] Asian Borders shares some thoughts on how radical is Islam in Central Asia. Share […]

  2. I agree %100. I lived in Central Asia for almost 3 years, most of that time spent with very observant Uzbek Muslims. However, even though they did not drink alcohol, they were very forgiving to those that did. Some of their female relatives wear hijab, and some do not. I don’t think there is a one-to-one relationship between observing a religion and religious extremism.

    Also, I would also like to emphasize my agreement with the statement that Muslims there are just as afraid of radical Islam as the rest of us. It’s absolutely true. You know that most Catholics are confused and terrified by those that bomb abortion clinics, for example. I think that Muslims there are asking only for their rights to be observant in countries that are, at least nominally, majority Muslim. It’s not unlike people in America asking to have scriptures from the Bible displayed in public places; and no one is calling these lobbyists terrorists!

  3. I share the most of your thoughts in the blog as well as in the comment. Some instances ago I met with a tadjik politician who told me the following. He wouldn’t any more stand all this issues about radical islam in CA. What does Europe say about the radical Orthodox since Putin rediscovered it as an important pillar of his governance. Who would say Germany became radical christian when the pope was elected, and a certain german newspaper wrote We are pope!? Now, how would the west dominated international press react if we hear the same from Iran! “We are Khomeney!”?

    Its all about legitimation when people point out to some others problems…

  4. […] —Nafisa […]

  5. […] Меня более волнует, что запугивание идет со стороны местных правящих элит, которые обосновывают этим свою легитимность. Заставляя людей верить в то, что именно их усилиями поддерживается мир, они остаются у власти. В Узбекистане это означает больше власти в руках армии. Многие в стране жалуются на экономические и политические проблемы, но всегда под конец добавляют: «…хотя, слава Богу, нет войны. Посмотрите на Таджикистан, Афганистан, на все, через что они прошли. Вокруг столько войн, хуже этого нет ничего. Каким бы плохим не был наш президент, он дает нам мир. Никто другой бы не мог так сплотить народ». —Nafisa […]

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