Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Central Asia’s Islamic Re-Awakening Reflects ‘Degradation’ of Regimes There, Bishkek Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – The re-awakening of Islamic thinking in Central Asia has been slowed by the Soviet inheritance, but “the degradation” of the current regimes in that region has opened the way for this rebirth to happen and in fact is accelerating that political trend, according to a Kyrgyzstan expert.

            In an article in the current issue of “Medina al-Islam,” Kadyr Malikov, the director of the Bishkek Religion, Law and Politics Center, describes five factors inherited from Soviet times which have restricted this re-awakening until recently but argues that declines in the authority of the regimes there is now powering it (www.centrasia.ru/newsA.php?st=1355928060).

After the USSR disintegrated in 1991, Malikov suggests, there began a process of “the rebirth of national values and the restoration of the spiritual inheritance” of the peoples of Central Asia. But the restoration of the Islamic element of the two was limited by the continuing weight of the Soviet past when this region was kept isolated from the Muslim world.

            “An entire generation of secular Muslims in the countries of Central Asia grew up and absorbed Western culture (through Russian culture)” rather than Islamic culture of the Middle East and South Asia. As a result, these Central Asian Muslims were not attuned to developments in the worldwide umma.

            First of all, “Islamic thought in the former Muslim republics of the USSR was cut off by ‘an iron curtain’ from the revolutionary influence of the ideological movements of a popular liberation character in the Near and Middle East against colonialism,” a form of isolation that profoundly affected their national movements.

            Second, “the ideology of scientific atheism of the USSR was directed against religion in general and this led to a situation in which the greater part of the Muslim leadership was repressed while another part did not promote the development of Islamic thought but worked only for the preservation of Islam in general via popular traditions and religious rites and rituals.”

            That experience in turn led many in the Muslim community to accept the idea of “the complete separation of Islam from social-political processes in society and to a certain passivity or complete lack of political civic position among believers.”

            Third, with the exception of Tajikistan, the countries of Central Asia suffered from “either a deficit or the complete lack of their own contemporary ideological foundation” of which Islam could be a part or to which it could explicitly oppose.

            Fourth, again with the possible exception of Tajikistan, the Central Asian states lacked an Islamic political elite or intelligentsia interested in the state and “directed not at external project but toward national interests.” That lack meant that Islam as such was not in a position to speak to national issues.

            And fifth, despite all the changes after 1991, the states of the region maintained “the atheistic secular system of the complete separation of religion from the state” which led to “an inevitable ideological conflict” between the two and meant that the state viewed “the Islamic rebirth as a threat” rather than an ally, leading to the loss of authority of the former.

            “Now,” Malikov says, “we can observe the first indications” that within the umma in Central Asia, there is “a search for political and social answers from Islam as an alternative” to the existing regimes whose leaders view “democracy not as an instrument or form of political rule but as a type of ideology which contradicts Islam.”

            Democracy, he continues, “unlike Islam is not a religion or a religious system because the source of legitimation of law in a democracy is the people while in Islam legitimization of law is based on the authority of the words of Allah.”  As Central Asians have focused on that distinction, the governments in the region have lost authority among them.

            At the same time, the Bishkek analyst says, the political systems in the region are “degrading” not because of “the influence of political Islam but because of the internal contradictions of the system, the corruption of the elites, and their struggle for power and influence.

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