ISLAMIC EXTREMISM AS A POLITICAL FORCE IN CENTRAL ASIA

Islam in Central Asia does not constitute a uniform religious, social, or political force. While all titular Central Asian ethnic groups, i.e., the nations that states were named after, eventually embraced Islam, the religion did not penetrate the traditional cultures and social systems of these groups to an equally encompassing extent. While sedentary groups generally embraced Islam fully, and often acquired a reputation for Islamic scholarship as well as occasional bouts of fanaticism, nomadic and pastoral groups more typically assimilated Islam in a more perfunctory manner.
These different degrees of Islamisation remain visible today. The Tajiks are generally regarded as most Islamic, followed by the Uzbeks. The Kyrgyz, Kazaks, and Turkmens, in roughly descending order, are comparatively less Islamic in their
attitudes. The difference between sedentary and nomadic groups with regard to Islam can also be discerned among the non-titular ethnic groups. So are, for instance, the sedentary Uighurs, who are regarded as far more Islamic than their
formerly nomadic neighbours. This traditional ranking in Islamic piety continues to affect the development of Islamic extremism in Central Asia. In newly independent Tajikistan, Islamic extremism was an important factor among those that caused the 1992-1997 civil war. Uzbekistan produced an Islamic extremist guerrilla group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which in its struggle against the secular regime had to relocate abroad and grew into an important part of the terrorist network around Al-Qaida. Uzbekistan is also the Central Asian country that appears to have been most susceptible to Islamic extremist politics in the form of the illegal Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan have been relatively little affected by domestic groups of Islamic extremists, while Turkmenistan so far may have been altogether spared. Among Uighurs, an established but secular independence movement is currently losing ground to groups of Islamic extremists…

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