Policy Memos

Three Perspectives on Political Islam in Central Asia

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This memo explores political Islam in Central Asia from three perspectives: that of (1) U.S. government analysts; (2) Central Asian government leaders; and (3) everyday Central Asian Muslims. Drawing on public statements and field research, I demonstrate that these three perceptions of political Islam in Central Asia differ markedly. U.S. government analysts consistently identify two groups, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), as Islamist organizations. Central Asian leaders have a more expansive conceptualization of political Islam and identify Tablighi Jamaat and the variously named reformist/conservative/Salafi movement as co-travelers of the IMU and HT. Everyday Central Asian believers, in contrast, rarely dwell on the political Islamist tendencies of any of these groups. Paradoxically, ordinary believers do perceive the state muftiates (the closely controlled institutions of “official” Muslim belief) as highly politicized. Table 1 summarizes these differing U.S. and Central Asian state and society perspectives (see below). I explore the views of each of these groups in turn and conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of these diverging views for U.S. policy toward Central Asia. [...]

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About the author

Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government
George Mason University