Wider Eurasia
Religious Radicalism in Central Asia and Russia: Ideological and Political Factors

While adhering to secular principles, it is still important to support the development of traditional religious schools and promote the education of the clergy themselves. Indeed, often, representatives of the traditional clergy are unable to answer the pressing questions of young people, Marat Abdyldaev writes.

Russia and Central Asia face similar security and development challenges. This is understandable, because we are united by a common past and maintain and develop close relationships; therefore, we share security issues too. There is no doubt that the joint understanding will help us find ways to ensure the conflict-free development of Central Eurasia.

Among these challenges, religious radicalism, and its propensity for leading to extremism, occupies a special place. Throughout the history of mankind, it has time and time again served as the ideological catalyst for unleashing bloody wars in various regions of the world.

Experience shows that radical tendencies in society tend to accumulate smoothly and imperceptibly, but then suddenly explode into dangerous extremist manifestations, including terrorism, armed uprisings and other forms of violence. At the same time, it may not be so important under what flag this radicalisation occurs: religious, nationalist or other. Its essence is the desire to “solve” existing social contradictions using the most extreme methods, involving illegal and often inhumane activity.

Turning to the history of the emergence and spread of radical religious and nationalist ideas in the final years of the existence of the Soviet Union and after its collapse, we should state that all our peoples suffered from the corresponding diseases and, in general, have not yet fully recovered from them.

We see that the creeping virus of destructive radicalism has an external nature, but it gains strength only under favourable internal conditions.

Thus, the propaganda of others and the discrediting of the socialist way of life and values fell on the fertile soil of the dominance of bureaucracy in the USSR. A great power with enormous achievements in economics, science and culture was unable to respond to important but relatively narrow problems in organising a harmonious society, as well as effective public administration and management.

When the post-Soviet countries were faced with the harsh realities of integration into the surrounding capitalist world, they had to remember about its objective flaws, which were discussed by in classical works of political economics.

Against the backdrop of economic difficulties and social inequality that have arisen among large sections of the population, the desire of ordinary people to search for alternative models of social development has intensified. For Muslim regions, including Central Asia and the Russian Caucasus, this has translated into growing interest in Islam and its political component.

In this situation, it was not the local traditional Islam that became attractive to many Muslims, but the fundamentalist Islam of the economically prosperous countries of the Middle East, as well as extremist Islamism. Moreover, there were religious and clerical circles, international radical and other subversive forces interested in actively supporting this trend. As a result, there has been a rise in both more moderate and pro-terrorist Islamism in almost all of our countries.

All this brought about civil wars in Tajikistan and Chechnya, an invasion of illegal armed groups of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan, and dangerous armed uprisings by international terrorist organisations in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. To this day, the threat of terrorism motivated by pseudo-Islam still remains. In this regard, the impact of the situation in neighbouring Afghanistan also raises serious concerns.

In recent years, our countries have done a lot to prevent the further escalation of Islamism. Particular emphasis is placed on organising preventive measures.

Thus, in the Kyrgyz Republic, medium-term concepts on state policy in the religious sphere, on the development of civic identity, on countering terrorism and violent extremism, as well as a number of other documents in this direction have been adopted and are being implemented at the interdepartmental level.

However, can we say that the risks of the growth of religious radicalism have thereby been eliminated?

This is probably not true.

In particular, in my opinion, all states in the region and Russia itself are characterised by persistent ideological and political factors that favour radical Islamism. This, first of all, concerns external influence in the form of hidden and overt propaganda of the ideas of Salafism and jihadism in the religious education and work activities of young people abroad, on social networks, etc. The situation in Palestine, where peaceful Muslims are suffering right now, and the international community is unable to help them, also provides negative reasons for extremist propaganda.

At the same time, some sectarian trends in other non-Islamic religions, as well as certain pseudo-religious teachings, pose a great and probably underestimated threat. Many of them are totalitarian in nature and cause significant damage to the mental health of their adherents and family relationships. In this regard, attempts to impose a human rights agenda on them are puzzling.

It is clear that religious radicalism needs not only to be counteracted by forceful, prohibitive and condemning methods, but also we need to develop an ideological and social alternative.

While adhering to secular principles, it is still important to support the development of traditional religious schools and promote the education of the clergy themselves. Indeed, often, representatives of the traditional clergy are unable to answer the pressing questions of young people. And the “gates of ijtihad” (interpretations of religious primary sources) in today’s very complex and interconnected world remain closed to the majority of believers, including religious scholars.

In addition, it seems useful to harmonise the spiritual, moral and behavioural values common to all religious denominations and public organisations, to develop ethical standards of community life, as well as state principles and mechanisms for maintaining social justice, and to continue moving towards the harmonisation of international relations.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.