Self-determination and revenge in the name of Allah
Cross-regional and Blogosphere, Culture and HistoryNo Comment
Editor’s note: Is the “return of Islam” part of a deeper drive for national and regional self-determination, or worse, the yearning for revenge against corrupt post-Soviet systems of authority? neweurasia’s Paksoy, an Oxford-educated scholar, gives his two somoni in response to an earlier post by neweurasia’s Averroes.
This is in response to Averroes’ post, “Of crescent moons and J-curves”. He makes some interesting points, but I don’t really agree with his analysis. I think that a lot of what’s really at stake in the “return of Islam” in Central Asia are: (1) the question of regional and local autonomy and (2) the politics of revenge. Here’s my “plus and minus” analysis.
(1) The plus side: prior to the arrival of outside authoritarianism in the form of various external clandestine services, the political systems of the region were designed or evolved according to local realities. These “Oriental” governance systems, labeled “unsophisticated,” “primitive,” and so on, had been in existence for millennia, long before their “discovery” by Western powers. For example: when Bismark established factory unions and workplace representation, the reforms were hailed as revolutionary on a global historical level — even though such entities had long been functioning already in Afghanistan! So, many of the so-called Islamic radicals are just trying to reclaim what they perceive to be more legitimate local forms of government before the Tsarist and Communist displacements of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries and reassert their region’s or nation’s natural right to self-determination.
(2) The minus side: Corruption is an inevitability in political life because it is basically the attempt to subvert the rules of governance, essentially to jump the queue and divert resources for the benefit of a sub-group or individual at the expense of the rest of the polity. Different societies try different methods to control it. In the case of Central Asia, these methods typically employ secret police, the irony here being that in the former Soviet republics this is really just one group of thieves enlisting another group of thieves to track down and beat all the other thieves. The real problem is that the entire polity suffers, both from the corruption endemic in the governance system itself, and in that system’s attempts to maintain its authority vis-à-vis other clandestine forces.
Both the defenders of the defective status quo and its opponents resort to exploiting traditional belief systems. Given the fact that most Central Asian governments are just accidents of the former Soviet system, the clandestine oppositional forces can easily frame the conflict as one between an indigenous governance system, i.e., the Islamic, versus the foreign “infection”, i.e., the authorities. In the case of a country like Uzbekistan, where there really was a long-standing native tradition of governance before the arrival of the Tsarists and Soviets, the adherents of the older system may actually be more legitimate. But whatever the legitimacy, the “return of Islam” is therefore also about revenge.