GEO-POLITICAL AFFAIRS
POLITICAL ISLAM, ISLAMISM, FUNDAMENTALISM

This stratum predominantly determines the picture of the Islamic world religion in Western perception, A hostile image is directed internationally against Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism which is justified if it is exact in what it observes and if it focuses on a violence-orientated ideology of political combat under the guise of Islam. This precision however, is often not observed, and, as a result, the concept of a hostile force disappears in a cloud of Islamophobia in which the dividing lines between Islamism and Islam are blurred.

In the interest of a precision of perception the main features of this militant political Islamis, which is not identical with "fundamentalism", must be mentioned. These are:-

- in political terms: the seizure of power by means of religious slogans: the struggle for the "Islamic state" under the slogan of divine sovereignty and in hostility towards political systems which are based on secular sovereignty (people’s sovereignty), such as democracy:

- In legal terms: the enforcement of the shari’a, of divine law, which tolerates no secular power alongside it:

- in religious terms: limitation to the fundamental sources of religion, to the non-interpretable revelation, to the literal understanding of the Koran and the Hadith, and to an integralistic understanding of religion, according to which Islam represents a perfect system which regulates all matters relating to mankind and society;

- in historical terms: retrogressive utopia; reference to a transfigured early Islam from the age of the Prophet and to the first Islamic community, which was both a denomination and state; condemnation of all further development from this state of affairs as "Jahiliyya" as a relapse into "heathen ignorance"

- in terms of civilizational categorisation: vehement rejection of non-Islamic influences, especially of the cultural modernity of Western civilisation; self-absorbed limitation to one’s own civilizational area with the claim to its universal expansion;

- in terms of method: combatant, if need be, violent realisation of one’s own idea with recourse to the Jihad conception of Islam.

Movements described as "Islamist" in the ex-Soviet area were marked by one or other of the features listed here. However, they often differ with regard to key features, such as the call for the "Islamic state" and the willingness to realise this state by force against the existing secularist order. In Russian sources on the threat to Russia by "Islamic fundamentalism" this term is often interpreted very broadly, the degree of conceptual precision is limited, and the argument of threat often serves to legitimise Russian policing power in the "near abroad" in the south of the CIS.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union coincided with events which turned attention to Islamic dangers: terrorism in Algeria and Egypt, an Islamic regime in Sudan since 1989, the victory of Islamic parties in the parliamentary and local government elections in Western-orientated countries, such as Jordan and Turkey, and the self-laceration of Afghanistan. This perception was most strongly reinforced inside the CIS by the power struggles in Tadzhistan in 1922. In Russian as well as Western media, a heterogeneous militant opposition against a militant regime was equated with "fundamentalist rebels". Complex conflicts were simplistically categorised in the ideological scheme as "Islamism versus Communism".

All Muslim CIS states have constitutions which are orientated to the secular nation-state, and political elites which are certainly not orientated to the "Islamic state". Even among the broad mass of the population there is no sign of an option for a polity whose state, social, economic and cultural system should be based on Islamic foundations and on the norms of the Shari’a. The claim by Bassam Tibi that this polity currently corresponded worldwide to the political option of a majority of Muslims certainly does not apply to the CIS region, not even to Tadzhikistan.

As regards radical Islamism, most experts on Islam view its proliferation in the CIS as improbably at the present time. At most an "enclave Islamisation" could be observed in the early Nineties in narrow local dimensions, Islamic movements in the Fergana region and elsewhere whose ideological character was diffuse and which, in the meantime, have by and large been crushed by state repression. Various elements came together here: opposition to the Soviet and post-Soviet power elite described as hostile to Islam, complaints about the moral state of society, on ‘Jahiliyaa’, the heathen ignorance, a cliché of fundamentalism. The demands forwarded by such movements for societal frame work conditions for an Islamic rebirth are often confused with the demands for an "Islamic republic" e.g. Iran. The attempt of a pan-Islamist integration of Soviet Muslims by the union-wide Islamic Party of Rebirth failed: the party dissolved itself with the Soviet Union into regional - national branches, which, with the exception of Tadzhikistan, did not play a significant role at individual state level.

The expansion of Islamism in the CIS is confronted with cultural and political barriers in the form of the manifold differences between Islam in Russia, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia and the religious conditions in Iran and in Arab countries as well as in the results of Sovietisation and secularisation, in the ethno-cultural characteristics of the former Soviet Muslim peoples, and in the political constellations of power in the Soviet successor states.

CONCLUSION

Of these barriers, those most frequently cited by Russian and Western experts on this region and by Islam researchers and their colleagues from the Central Asian states are the deep roots of popular Islam and of Sufism, the deprivation of the Muslims by force of the written foundations of religion in the Soviet era, but also the limited degree of Islamisation in a number of Muslim regions in the pre-Soviet period. Features which are constitutive for Islamic fundamentalism in the Near East, such as the hostility towards Western civilization and enmity towards Israel, exist to differing degrees among the ex-Soviet Muslims. Anti-semitic currents are more widespread in Russia than in the Muslim regions of the CIS. The same probably applies to hostility towards Western civilization. However, the question of the extent to which Islamic movements will act as militant political players will not be decided merely on the basis of the cultural dispositions of individual regions and people vis-à-vis Islam and its fundamentalist variant. Social and political crises create favourable conditions for a growing popularity of preachers of salvation. During the analysis of Islamism in the Middle East this context became apparent as did the inability of nation-states and regimes there to cope with crisis. Western studies of Islamism confirm: "Lack of political freedom, poverty, poor prospects for the future, and feelings of inferiority encourage fundamentalist concepts of the world. They provide simple answers to difficult question."

In the CIS too, there is a need for simple answers to difficult question. Allowing for everything said about the very limited evidence of "Islamic fundamentalism" in this region it must be conceded that the efficacy of a political Islamism also depends in this context on the success of failure of post-Soviet political models. In the Middle East, the Islamism which had already received its theoretical foundation in the Twenties and Thirties, first became virulent among the masses in the second half of the century. In this sense, it is also impossible to sound a definitive all-clear yet for the CIS regarding the often claimed "fundamentalist danger".

Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been identified as Islamic players in those Central Asian and Caucasian which are now independent. The West expected particularly negative ideological emissions from Iran, which has, however, turned out to be an astonishingly pragmatic player in the regions concerned and which has given economic and security policy interests priority over religious missions. Saudi Arabia and a number of other Arab states have been more missionary in this respect. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that countries such as Kazakhstan and Kirghizistan became spheres of activity for missionaries from all possible denominations and sects and that they were by far not only subject to Islamic influence.

The "Afghanistan" of the region is often cited as the main threat to regional stability. Attention focuses here on the development in Tadzikistan. However, what does Afghanistan stand for in this context: for the "Islamic state" which the country has officially called itself since 1992 or for the non-state, for anomy and for the disintegration or statehood? Is it Islam which threatens from Afghanistan or the fact that neither Islam nor the secular nations have been able to hold this sorely afflicted country together? The fact that indoctrinated teenagers calling themselves "Taliban" (religious pupils) participate in the Afghan chaos with Islamic slogans and are said to be munitioned by Pakistan and that ordinary power struggle between tribal and ethnic factions of the Afghan civil war are presented as a "holy war" does not allow the reduction of the Afghan tragedy to Islamic fundamentalism. It is certain, however, that the development in Tadzhistan and the tragedy in Afghanistan extend far beyond the frame of regional conflicts and that they deserve international attention. Through its involvement in the Afghan tragedy in the days when a proxy war was being waged in the Hindu Kush as part of the bipolar international order the west shares responsibility for the preservation of stability in Central Asia.

REFERENCES

1. Islamic People of the Soviet Union: by Sherin, Akiner, London, 1983.
2. Muslims of the Soviet Empire by Alexander Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush, London, 1985.
3. Muslim Eurasia. Conflicting Legacies. by Y. Ro’i (ed) London, 1995.
4. The Nationalities factor in Soviet Politics and Society by L.Hayda and M. Beissinger (eds) Boulder Col: Westview 1990
5. Transition, December 29, 95. (The Islamic Threat in Central Asia: Myth or Reality) by Yeni Safak.
6. "The Patterns of Political Islamic Identity. Dynamics of National Loyalties and Identities", by M. Hakan Yavuz. Central Asian Survey, 14(3) 1995.
7. Post Modernism, Reason, and Religion, by E. Gellner, London, 1992.
8. "State Interests US the Umma. Iranian Policy in Central Asia". by Freij. The Middle East Journal. Vol. 50 No. I, 1996.

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