Monday, August 20, 2018

Siloviki, Official Muslim Establishment Losing Out to Radicals in Kazakhstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 20 – During the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islamic radicalism was a far smaller problem in Kazakhstan than it was in other Central Asian republics; and even more recently, far fewer Muslims from that country have enlisted in the ranks of ISIS, only 800 compared to the thousands elsewhere.

            But according to two experts, the balance between traditional Muslims and radical Islamists is changing, both because of official policies that have been more concerned about crime than about extremism and because the Muslim establishment has proved incapable of competing ideologically with the radicals (

            In fact, commentator Maksim Kaznacheyev says, “the Kazakhstan siloviki are one of the key reasons for the growth in the attractiveness of religious radicalism in the marginalized youth milieu;” a position with which fellow specialist Talgat Mamyrayymov agrees, adding that the official Islamic establishment must share the blame.

            “In the course of the 1990s and the early 2000s,” Kaznacheyev says, “the siloviki were concerned with the risks of penetration into Kazakhstan of trans-border criminal structures” and their focus on them allowed for the development of a religious portion of this kind of crime and its strengthening over time.

            That happened, he continues, because the authorities did not give “sufficient attention to the processes of the growth of the radical religiosity of those confined in prison.” As a result, in some prisons, radicals formed almost a third of the prisoners, recruited others, and eventually sent them back into society.

            The security service understood what was going on, Kaznacheyev says; but the interior ministry failed to do anything about it. As a result, Islamist radicalism has exploded in the last decade. Yet another reason this has occurred, Mamyrayymov says, is that the authorities wanted to use Islam as one of the means to strengthen national identity. The radicals exploited that.

            Mamyrayymov adds that “the policy of our authorities in the sphere of religious radicalism hardly can be considered a success. It is directed more to the forcible resolution of problems in this sphere and in principle rejects the application of soft power” which in ideological questions can be more successful.

            “Therefore, it is not surprising that almost all terrorist actions in our country have been directed against the siloviki,” but if one is honest, he says, these are less terrorist acts than acts of revenge against what Kazakhstan’s siloviki have done to the radicals.

            According to Kaznacheyev, “the traditional Islamic religious leadership of Kazakhstan has already lost the competition in the ideological marketplace.” That happened because its members are poorly trained, there not being any national theological school, and because of the obvious corruption of the “official” Muslim establishment.

            According to Mamyrayymov, “the position of the official religious leadership is close to the methods of the siloviki. The Kazakhstan MSD has more than once called for banning the Salafites, calls that only highlight how much that institution is simply continuing Soviet-era attitudes and practices that failed in the past and will fail once again now.

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