Since the mid-1990s, reviewing of an interesting European book on Islam in Central Eurasia means reviewing a German, or a German-language book. As far as Europe is concerned, it is in the Alemannic world that the most dynamic and productive research centres on Central Eurasia at large are now situated (in Berlin, Bamberg, Bielefeld, Bochum, Freiburg, Halle, Bern, Vienna. . .). Such a dynamism and such a productivity can be explained by the recent creation of numerous and well-equipped (notably with specialised libraries) institutions in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, directed by young and competent researchers. Another explanation of this dynamism is the high level of mutual cooperation between these centres and their respective scholars. This high level of mutual articulation at the scale of the three countries is interestingly illustrated by the present volume. It still shows the capacity of Alemannic universities to play the role of centres for international cooperation. Still, this evocation would be incomplete without mentioning a network of academic publishers and collections the equivalent of which would be difficult to find anywhere else on the continent. This exceptional set of assets allows Germany to enjoy a singular position towards both the Eurasian space and the worlds of Islam. It also materialises the investment that Switzerland has been granting in Central Asia since the country joined the Bretton Woods institutions in 1995.
Published by the German Orient Institute of Hamburg, the present volume is made of the proceedings of the high-level “Central Asia and Islam” colloquium held in Vienna on June 19-20, 2000 on the initiative of the Hammer-Purgstall Austrian Oriental Society and of the Diplomatic Academy of Austria. Edited in the aftermath of 9/11, it gives a large room to the social roles of Islam in present-day Central Asian societies, as well as to the impact of the politicisation of Islam in the current diplomatic realignments in the Central Eurasian space. One of the main lines of the conference has been made of a tentative dissociation between the so-called “Islamic factor” and the economic, social and political phenomena that it often recovers (Uwe Halbach, “Islam im nachsowjetischen Zentralasian: Eine Wiedergeburt? [Islam in Ex-Soviet Central Asia: A Rebirth ?], 9-20). The majority of papers by non-German contributors are in English, as well as those by several German authors. Each is followed by a list of used references. The lack of index, although quite common in this kind of publication, may be deplored, as well as that of bilingual summaries. A last detail: Perhaps would it have shown preferable to adopt the typographic convention of English language, instead of those of German (for inverted commas for instance), for the text published in English. From the viewpoint of the content, suffice to remark the extreme discrepancy between, on the first hand, a limited amount of substantial papers by Western authors (that provide interesting elements for comparison between the philological approach still prevailing across the Rhine with the Anglo-Saxon authors’ economic and political preoccupations) and, on the other hand, the representatives of Central Asian countries towards whom the Editors seem not to have shown very demanding.
The first chapter is devoted to the adoption of Islam in Central Asia, with a special interest in re-islamisation processes observed since the end of the Tsarist period. Bert Fragner (“Der Islam in Zentralasien: viel mehr als eine Religion [Islam in Central Asia: Much more than a Religion],” 21-29) questions himself on the signification of the boundaries of Persanophonie in Central Asia in the longue durée—a vision developed in a recent work by the same author (Die “Persophonie”. Regionalität, Identität und Sprachkontakt in der Geschichte Asiens, Berlin: Das arabische Buch, [Anor: 5]). In a paper that constitutes the heart of the volume, one of the best specialists of Tajik literature of the first half of the twentieth century questions the way anti-religious and atheist postulates of Bolshevik ideology took root in the formal literati circles of the Tajik SSR (Lutz Rzehak, “Bolschewismus als Glaubensform: Über Absichten und Wirkungen des sowjetischen Atheismus in Mittelasien [Bolshevism as a Form of Faith: On the Goals and Effects of Soviet Atheism in Middle Asia]:” 30-58). A specialist of the modern colonial history of Central Asia, Komatsu Hisao (“Reform and Rebellion in Central Asia at the Turn of the 20th Century: The Search for a True Islam,” 59-65) analyses the various modes of the politicisation of Islam that are expressed, first, in the armed upheavals against the Russian troops (e.g., the so-called revolt of Dukchi Ishan of 1898 in the Fergana Valley), second, in the didactical literature produced by the so-called Jadid reformist learned circles. This first chapter is closed with a short and curious contribution by Richsibai Junusov, from the Committee for Religious Affairs of Uzbekistan (“Die Renaissance islamischer Werte im unabhägigen Usbekistan [The Rebirth of Islamic Values in Independent Uzbekistan],” 66-71) in which the author gives in a concise way that makes it more attractive the official vision of the role of Islam in the present-day Uzbek society.
A short section is then devoted to the “diversity of Islam”. True to form, Shirin Akiner offers a tentative account on varying forms of politicisation of religion in Central Asia today, with a special attention to Uzbekistan—of which the complex political substratum remains poorly studied, agrees the author (“ Islam in Post-soviet Central Asia: Contested Territory ”, p. 73-101). A specialist of Christian, mainly Protestant proselytism and of “new religions” in Kazakhstan, Jakov Trofimov proposes a quick skimming over the islamisation processes in this former federated republic of the USSR, with notations on the recent progression of the Ahmadiyya (“Tendenzen in der Entwicklung des Islam im postsowjetischen Kasachstan [Tendencies of the Evolution of Islam in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan],” 102-8, with a very incomplete bibliography that omits to mention significant works by the author himself—see notably his “Sovremennaia religioznaia situatsiia v Respublike Kazakhstan [The Present-Day Religious Situation in the republic of Kazakhstan], Tsentral’naia Aziia 1997/6: 60-6)—, and by Bruce Privratsky who has been questioning numerous lasting stereotypes on the religiosity of the ‘steppe peoples’, and on the Islamic holy places of southern Kazakhstan—cf. his Muslim Turkistan: Kazak Religion and Collective Memory, Richmond: Curzon, 2001).
The next chapter, on juridical systems and conflict resolution mechanisms, is opened with a study by Oskar Lehner, a member of the OSCE mission in Tajikistan, on the risks of reopening of the conflict as a consequence of the inner divisions of the Party of the Islamic Revival; the author insists on the particular character of the resolution of the Tajikistani civil war, and attributes them to international politics (“Tajikistan – A Successful Example of Incorporation of a Militant Islamic Movement into the Constitutional Framework?,” 109-15). After a short theoretical detour through Pakistan (Erwin Orywal, “Ein Staat – ein Recht? Probleme der Rechtspluralismus in allgemeiner und spezieller Sicht (Pakistan) [One State, one Right? Problems of Juridical Pluralism from a General and Particular Viewpoints],” 116-20), one can read a brief survey of Kyrgyzstan’s official policy in matter of “anti-terrorist” struggle (Kanaa Aidarkul, “State Policy of Kyrgyzstan in Its Struggle against Islamic Extremism,” 121-126), then an analysis by a jurist from Kazakhstan of the problems created for the defence of human rights by the excesses of this struggle, in a country hastily credited by the author of a weak receptivity to Islamist activism (Roman Podoprigora, “Islam in Kazakhstan from a Legal Perspective,” 127-35). In a rubric entitled “Re-Traditionalisation and social Transformation,” one can measure the dynamism and “undulating character,” as would have written Montaigne, of Central Asian rural communities confronted with the state’s ascendancy, through the case of Kazakhstan (Peter Finke, “Wandel sozialer Strukturen im ländlichen Mittelasien [The Transformation of the Social Structures in Rural Middle Asia],” 137-49). The following study offers a synthetic panorama on the current reversal of gender roles in Central Asian economics, and on the increasing pressure exerted on women by the partiarchal tradition reinforced by political Islamism (Anara Tabyshalieva, “Central Asia: Increasing Gender Inequality,” 150-8). The third elements of this reflection on the place of Islam in the processes of valuation of tradition is a remarkable article in which William Fierman subtly analyses the way the press of Kazakhstan expresses an acute sense of the country’s ethnic heterogeneity through an obviously disproportionate worry about proselytism by new religions (“Perceptions of Threats from ‘Alien Faiths’: An Analysis of Reactions in the Kazakh-Language Press,” 150-71).
A short chapter on the theme of Islam and political identities begins with a comment on the best known, mostly Anglo-Saxon recent studies on the variations of the politicisation of Islam in Central Asia (Paul Georg Geiss, “Islam and Political Community in Central Asia,” 173-89). This section is closed with a polemic text by Mumtoza Abdurazzakova from the former “Party School” in Tashkent (renamed “University of World Diplomacy”), in which the author does not forget to quote President Islam Karimov for denying the ‘Wahhabis’ and other opponents any real influence in the Uzbek youth, and any possibility to get out the marginality in which they are confined by the country’s political authorities since 1992 (“Islam and the New Generation in Uzbekistan,” 190-7). The volume ends with a last section on Islam and foreign policy: Roland Dannreuther, from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, pleads for a better cooperation of the Western powers with Russia in the name of a necessary common struggle against common threats (“Political Islam and the Geopolitics of Russian – Central Asian Relations,” 199-214); Sally Cummings insists on the dangers represented for the region’s stability by the inner evolution of each Central Asian states toward more authoritarianism (“Perceived Threats and the Prospects for Cooperation in Central Asia,” 215-23).