Staunton, April 6 — Tajikistan is being pressured to shut down the Islamic Rebirth Party, something that will drive its members into the underground and make the Islamist threat there greater; and Dagestani leaders want to adopt an earlier Tajik policy and call home those from that republic now studying in Muslim schools abroad, something that will have the same effect.
These are the latest examples of a general pattern in which governments hoping to ward off an Islamist threat, steps that they can count on gaining support from many major countries around the world, are in fact doing things which will lead to exactly the opposite result and make the Islamist threat in those republics far greater.
An article in Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta by Viktoriya Panfilova pulls no punches on the dangers ahead if Dushanbe goes ahead with this idea. “If the authorities go ahead and ban the activity of the party,” as some in Dushanbe are now urging, they “will find that the radical underground” there will have gained new recruits.
Muslim leaders in Tajikistan, the Moscow journalist says, have taken the lead in pushing for the closure of the party, arguing that it politicizes their religion. But the idea is being pushed so frequently and so broadly that it is likely that some in the government are behind it, the journalist suggests.
The Islamic Rebirth Party has approximately 45,000 members, but it has not done well in elections, garnering less than five percent of the vote. Its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, argues that there is no basis for closing it down, and experts agree, Panfilova says, that doing so would do more harm than good.
Rahmatillo Zoyirov, a Dushanbe legal specialist agrees, and in his view, what is taking place is an effort by the authorities to show the Islamic Rebirth Party its place in the system. He suggests that what may happen is that the party will be required to rename itself, dropping the reference to Islam.
However that may be, Aleksandr Knyazev, a Russian specialist on Central Asia, says that the consequences of closing the Islamic Rebirth Party would affect not only the domestic situation in Tajikistan but have an impact on the region as a whole. By depriving Muslims of the chance to legally achieve their ends, it would lead more of them to choose illegal means.
The party, he says, “is a unique political instrument. In essence, the creation of this party was an experiment capable of becoming a matrix for other countries where the share of the Islamic population and the possibility of activism” by radical religious groups are both high.” It thus plays “the role of a kind of lightning rod.”
If it is closed, Knyazev says, Islamist radicals will have gained “a convincing argument that it is impossible to agree with the secular authorities and this means that the only remaining path is armed jihad.” And because the party is small and not a political threat, it should not be closed down.
Meanwhile, Interfax reports today, Ramazan Abdulatipov, the head of Dagestan, is pushing for another move against Islamism, one that Tajikistan has already tried with counterproductive consequences.
Abdulatipov wants to call home young people who have studied abroad and retrain them.
These people must be returned and warned that they will not be allowed to practice as mullahs until they have received “additional certification in religious educational institutions” in Dagestan.” Only those judged most talented will be sent for advanced study at Muslim institutions abroad.
Given that the MSD muftiate has no authoritative basis in Islam, many of those who might return under this policy almost certainly would ignore such requirements.
When Tajikistan sought to get the 6,000 young Tajiks studying abroad to return, many refused, and those who returned brought back their radical views which they continued to proselytize.
Moreover, as Aznaur Adzhiyev, the Dagestani press and information minister, told Interfax, “today the main place for the distribution of extremist ideology is the Internet.”
And there, as he did not say but as is obvious from any examination of religious sites in the North Caucasus, government officials have almost no influence at all.