01/24/2024, 10.55
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The legacy of 'modernist' Islam in Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

In Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, more and more documentaries, television series, publications and conferences present early 20th century currents such as Jadidism and the Alash Party as a source of inspiration. Between a 'moderate' image in the eyes of the world and a religious aura with which to cloak authoritarian regimes.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) - In recent months, the "modernist" Islam movement of the early 20th century has been making a comeback among the intellectual elites and power structures of Central Asia, as for example in the speeches of Uzbek president Savkat Mirziyoyev , then harshly repressed by the Soviet regime.

Many consider "Jadidism" (the "new doctrine") one of the foundations of the national self-awareness of countries with a non-radical Muslim majority, such as those in the Central Asian region.

According to several critics, the interest of authoritarian regimes in these trends is more of a cosmetic one, with the aim of covering their power with a non-aggressive and acceptable religious aura at home and abroad. In the two main countries, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, documentaries, television series, publications and conferences that present the image of a reforming Islam are increasingly frequent.

In Uzbekistan the Jadids have returned to the center of attention, as prophetic fathers of the country's statehood and independence, an example for the entire ruling class. The president's eldest daughter and main assistant, Saida Mirziyoyeva, spoke on several occasions with reports and speeches at various conferences, explicitly stating that "the ideas, dreams and desires of the Jadids today find a clear reflection in the policy of President Mirziyoyev."

Following this inspiration, Saida added in the main conference on Jadidism in Tashkent last December 22, "the new Uzbekistan moves with conviction towards the construction of a secular state of law, and of a civil society with a quality education system, guarantee of freedom of expression and openness to the world".

Similarly in Kazakhstan, the memory of the national liberation party Alash has come back into fashion in popular culture, which in 1917 united the Kazakh and Kyrgyz intelligentsia in a liberal state project after the centuries of oppression of the Russian empire, and was then suppressed by Soviets in 1920.

In the film Mirzhakyp. Wake up, Kazakh! released in theaters last autumn, the story about the founders of Alash aroused such public enthusiasm that it took the country's ruling class itself by surprise. The screenings were suspended in November, causing waves of protest and forcing Astana's culture minister, Aida Balaeva, to extend them by a few weeks.

What struck fear into the authorities was an episode that occurred in the town of Semeja in the eastern part of Kazakhstan, when at the end of the film a nationalist activist, Eldos Dosanov, improvised a rally acclaimed by all those present, comparing the repression of Alash with the ongoing persecution in the country against groups that seek to revive "the authentic spirit of our people", and inviting Kazakhs "not to allow history to repeat itself".

Dosanov was arrested and held in prison for a week, deeming him an extremist guilty of an unauthorized demonstration. In this case the reference was not directly to Jadidism, which was not an explicitly nationalist movement, but there are still many similarities.

The founder of the Jadid was an intellectual of the Crimean Tatars, Ismail Gasprinskij, who intended to provide religious interpretations to the "pan-Turanic" tendencies of the period, in a broader vision of the aspirations of individual states.

Today the ideas of a union of the Turanian peoples are proposed in different dimensions, together with the modernizing reforms of the various Central Asian countries.

The Jadidist appeal is not very welcome to Russia, which sees in it a fundamental challenge to imperial-Soviet domination, and could evolve into an ideological clash, and not only, between "imperial religions", between fundamentalist Russian Orthodoxy and liberal Asian Islam.


Photo: a Jadid in a Soviet concentration camp, in an Uzbek documentary

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