Jihad, the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia

Jihad, the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia – Book Review

Youssef H. Aboul-Enein

JIHAD, The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 272 pages, 2002, $24.00.

Ahmed Rashid’s books are always good references of counterterrorism and Islamic militancy for Near East Asia experts. Jihad, The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia delves into religious radicalism in the former Soviet Central Asian Republics.

With the Soviet Union’s collapse came newfound freedoms in the former republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Ironically, these republics fought Gorbachev-era reforms and feared that disintegration of the Soviet Union meant economic ruin and political legitimacy erosion for the loyal apparatchiks who ruled the region for Moscow. Rashid discusses the vacuum left behind after the Soviet Union’s fall, which included not only economic, but also the rediscovery of social and religious values that had been suppressed under communism.

Before Soviet domination, Central Asia Muslims followed a more liberal form of Sufi Islam. The Turkmen Basmachis challenged Soviet authority and led Joseph Stalin to redraw the map of Central Asia to make this rebellion more manageable. The Basmachis’ form of Islam was driven underground. Many did not understand Arabic and knew little of Islam, yet they were thirsty for information about their identity. Saudi Wahabis filled this religious void and began to erode the more tribal and liberal Sufi interpretations. In its place came the Wahabi-brand of strict observance and intolerance that spawned religious militancy in the region.

Several former communist leaders used symbolism, religion, and outright dictatorial tactics to remain in power. Rashid takes the reader through each Central Asia republic, discussing corruption, economic mismanagement, and outright megalomania, conditions in which Islamic militancy throve and which led to the creation of several Islamist groups.

The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in Tajikistan, engaged in a civil war between 1992 and 1999. Several IRP leaders had seen the benefits of working with the government to bring about change. The question then became: “Would it be one election, one vote, one time, meaning once in power, would they eliminate all opposition or would they accept eventual democratic defeat gracefully?”

Hizb-ul-Tahrir is an underground movement with a unique mandate to restore the Caliphate and unify all Muslims in Central Asia and from there the entire world. They are the most vocal and have their own website.

Hizb-ul-Tahrir was originally founded by two Palestinians, but has since found a home in Central Asia. Rashid discusses the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement (IMU) and its leader Juma Namangani. What made the IMU unique was its close association with al-Qaeda and its fighting alongside the Taliban against U.S. and Northern Alliance troops. The IMU supporters received extensive combat training in coordinated armored assaults, heliborne tactics, and combined infantry assaults from Taliban and al-Qaeda trainers and gained combat experience against Taliban enemies.

Rashid’s book is a must for anyone interested in Operation Enduring Freedom, foreign area officers, and intelligence personnel. They will find this book a valuable guide.

LCDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN, Gaithersburg, Maryland

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Army CGSC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group