Staunton, October 22 – Islam is an increasingly important component of the identities of urban Kazakh youth, Asylbek Izbairov says; but their attachment to Islam is not leading them to extremism. However, if they ever conclude that the government is against Islam as such, they will turn to the political opposition and back a Maidan, but certainly not an Islamic state.
In an interview with Togyn Nurseitova of Kazakhstan’s Zakon journal, the prominent religious specialist who heads the Kazakh Institute for Geopolitical Research says that Islam is spreading among young Kazakhs in the cities but that it is the same Sunni school as found in modified form in the villages (zakon.kz/4942660-religioznost-molodyh-kazahov-moda-ili.html).
Such an increase in religiosity is not found among ethnic Russians, Uzbeks or other ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. Amon them, attachment to their faiths “is not particularly growing or falling.” But for young Kazakhs, Islam and national identity are so closely intertwined that they turn to Islam as a way of underscoring their attachment to the nation.
The Islamic beliefs of newly urbanized Kazakh young people, Izbairov says, is much closer to the doctrines of Hanafi Islam than are “the syncretic forms of every day religion found mostly in rural areas and among the religiously illiterate part of the population.” Urbanization is destroying that kind of Islam even as it promotes a more textual one.
“Attachment ot Islam, even if it sometimes is symbolic is an important and socially significant component of identity for present-day Kazakh youth,” he continues. It reflects urbanization and nationalization, two very different causes than those which stand behind any rise of radicalization.
As international experience shows, the causes of radicalism among believers are “ignorance, poverty, social problems, oppression and injustice.” Those who want to fight radicalism must recognize that they will achieve little or nothing by fighting Islam as such. Indeed, they may help the few radicals who have emerged to recruit others.
“The radicalization of numerically small and profoundly marginal groups is one thing; the natural growth of religiosity of society, in this case, of Kazakh youth, is something entirely different,” the scholar says. The special services should fight the first, but there is no need to fight the second.
Those who fail to understand that, Izbairov says, will produce what they do not want – not a drive toward an Islamic state which they think they are blocking but rather a move to a Kazakhstan Maidan which could overturn the existing order. Fortunately, he concludes, those who fail to understand this distinction are relatively few among Kazakhstan’s elites.