In his article “Roots of Rage: Militant Islam in Central Asia” Edward W. Walker pictures historical development of Islamic religious ideology and discusses current problems and controversies connected with religious life in five post-Soviet Islamic countries in Central Asia, namely: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
In the beginning of the writing the author briefly explains present situation in the above mentioned states underlining that everyday life and social order in those Muslim societies in post-Soviet Central Asia can be characterized with such factors as a lack of democracy and liberalism, deep social respect to governments and Islamic laws, high level of religiousness and respect to personal values, rather low level of social well-being, and so on.
Also, he introduces a series of important pieces of terminology which must be taken into consideration when discussing the problems of modern Islamic societies. He describes “traditionalist” Islamism as the tendency to support traditional Muslim practices, behaviors and customs, and also he defines “fundamentalist” Islamism as the idea to practice original “pure” Islam which was not modified under any historical circumstances and new traditions of modern social environment.
Finally, the author suggests distinguishing the following levels of modern Islamism: moderate, radical and militant forms, which basically differ according to the degree of tolerance to other religious beliefs and traditions. Therefore, moderate Islamism accepts and tolerates other religions, radical Islamism is quite prejudiced against other beliefs, and militant Islamism can be characterized with obvious aggression and total intolerance to other religious ideologies. The article also provides very interesting information regarding historical development of Islamic thought in Central Asia.
According to Walker, Islam started being practiced in those territories in the beginning of the seventh century, and two centuries later it became a dominant religious belief in Central Asia making the region an important center of Islamic culture and enlightenment. At that, Islamic ideology was spreading quite fast in more stable regions of Central Asia (modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), but nomadic nations (Turkmen, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) were adopting Islam a little slower.
Generally, Sunni branch of Islam was prevailing throughout the area but there were small minority groups in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan which preferred practicing Shia Islam. Colonization of Central Asian nations by the Russian Empire started in the end of the nineteenth century. A great campaign directed on massive destruction of Islamic religious traditions, institutions and establishments was unfolded in the 1920s after the Great Russian Revolution and continued within the period of dictatorship and repressions of Josef Stalin.
However, after the World War II governmental policies changed and, despite official prohibition of the clergy, Soviet authorities seemed to become more or less tolerant to religious traditions in the republics of Central Asia. The author also underlines that, unfortunately, in those times a number of improper practices, everyday behaviors and habits (like drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, eating pork, etc. ) entered the life of typical “Soviet Muslims”.
The collapse of the Soviet Union marked a new epoch for all its member states, and for the Asian nations this new era could be characterized with the revival of Islam and Islamic religious values. It is necessary to mention that the transition from Soviet regime to a regime of independence in southern countries of the region (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) was accompanied with repeated periods of political and economic destabilization, continuous acts of aggression and even armed conflicts.
Thus, the Tajik Civil War was a serious military conflict which resulted in more than 50,000 civilian victims. Besides, after the war a share of power was given to a certain group of militant Islamists (the Islamic Renewal Party). In northern states the situation was more stable and secure. In particular, in Uzbekistan governmental efforts were directed on cooperation with the US in its fight on terrorism and monitoring of the activities of Islamic groups, especially on the territories of the Ferghana Valley, one of the most crowded and volatile regions in Central Asia.
In conclusion, the author names a number of internal and external factors influencing the situation in Central Asian region. External determinants include, first of all, close location of Afghanistan as the country of militant Islamic rule, as well as availability of Islamic terrorist training facilities and weapons, active propaganda of radical Islamism, support of foreign Islamic radicals, etc. Internal factors include low social well-being, various economic problems and hardships, dictatorship, pressure and even abuse from the side of national governments, and so forth.
In my opinion, the writing can be suggested as a very well-organized, clear and informative piece of research, which will undoubtedly be interesting especially for those specialists who are studying the problems of Islamism and its development in Central Asian region. If I were supposed to ask some questions regarding the subject of this presentation, I would ask, first of all, what exact factors and determinants caused Turkmen, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz convert more slowly to Islamic traditions in historical framework?
And another question related to the research is the following: why territorial integrity of those counties matters a lot in terms of keeping moderate Islam intact? I consider the discussion of the problems related to radical and militant Islamism to be very educative and helpful, especially on the background of recent events connected with the activities of Muslim militant groupings and terrorist organizations, such as the Taliban and others, on global level.
Therefore, I am sure that these issues must be discussed and studied seriously, and the results of such researches must be publicized in order to destroy common imagination about all Muslim communities as very aggressive, violent and intolerant religious groups.
Walker, Edward W. “Roots of Rage: Militant Islam in Central Asia”. University of California, Berkeley. Presentation from “Central Asia and Russia: Responses to the ‘War on Terrorism”. 29 Oct. 2001. 2 Jan. 2008 <http://socrates. berkeley. edu/~bsp/caucasus/articles/walker_2001-1029. pdf>.