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Home / Analysis / "Deradicalization in Uzbekistan: it is about ...

"Deradicalization in Uzbekistan: it is about economy"

A good job or a confidential conversation with an imam can be the best weapon against extremism
The article with this title was published on February 8 at the web-site of The Diplomat popular international magazine. Its author - already known to the Uzbek reader American expert James D. Durso, managing director of the "Corsair LLC" consulting company, a former military expert in Middle Eastern countries.

Durso writes that in 2017 Uzbekistan was included in information reasons not because of tourism opportunities and economic, state reforms. Three acts of terrorism - in Istanbul, Stockholm and New York, which killed 52 people - were the work of Uzbek immigrants. This led to the fact that many, panting, began to assert that the country is "a hotbed of extremism and radicalism". In fact, the author notes, the most dangerous part of the visit to this republic is a trip to and from the airport.

Uzbekistan faced violent extremism shortly after gaining independence. This happened in 1998 with the formation of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The movement had two goals: to overthrow the secular regime of Islam Karimov and establish an Islamic state, where the Sharia law operates.

The IMU organized a series of attacks on Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. Having received a hard rebuff, the movement moved to neighboring countries. Karimov's regime set the priority of internal security and stability, while excessive vigilance alienated many citizens and helped the IMU to attract dissenters into its ranks.

In 2004, jihadist groups organized a series of terrorist acts in Uzbekistan, Islamists probably inspired the protest in Andijan in 2005. At the same time, according to the former ambassador of the United States, the country is in fact "quite a safe place."
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev said about the threat of extremism already at the beginning of its activity. In June 2017, he noted that ensuring the social stability, protecting the purity of our sacred religion is the imperative of the times. He recalled that Uzbekistan is the ancient cradle of Islamic science and culture, separately indicating imams, officials and representatives of civil society that protecting young people from the influence of religious extremist groups is one of the main tasks for all.

Secular Uzbekistan can successfully implement measures for the de-radicalization in the established cooperation of imams, the government and civil society, since it will not have to reprogram the wayward citizens who have received education with intolerance. Nevertheless, the Soviet legacy of atheism has deprived many in Central Asia of religious traditions, which in turn form a counterbalance to extremism.

Realizing this, the government established the Center of Islamic Civilization in Tashkent in addition to Islamic educational centers in Samarkand, Ferghana, Bukhara and Kashkadarya for the training of qualified imam-hatibs.
Mirziyoyev counts on the fact that economic opportunities, citizen participation in governance, proper Islamic education and - at the very least - the timely intervention of imams and local officials will avoid the formation of stray souls on the path of extremism.

Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states, having withdrawn from the atheistic Soviet Union in 1991, were forced to urgently build relations between the state and religion, the author writes.

After gaining independence, Kazakhstan revived traditional religions, Hanafi Islam and Orthodox Christianity, opening up space for religious ideas. After a number of threats were revealed to the young state, in 2011 it was decided that all associations should be re-registered, and religious service in private homes was banned, the expert said.

Uzbekistan has come to the attention of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom about accusations of restricting the rights of religious groups, an attempt to control religious activities and censorship of religious materials. On the basis of this, the State Department included the country in a special list.

The commission's position was questioned by scientists who believed that the existing procedures in Uzbekistan help protect moderate Muslims, women and minorities from religious coercion. This also applies to the recommendations of the sanctions commissions for a country where the separation of religion and state is strictly observed, and secular laws and regulations are in place (unlike, for example, non-NATO allies like Afghanistan and Pakistan).

This attitude of the West towards religious movements that encroach on the existing way of life in the region is perceived with alarm. Uzbekistan has a good control over borders, it is a barrier to the spread of radicalism through the Internet. However, according to Durso, it is necessary to create opportunities for people to be less receptive to recruitment (while emphasizing that none of the attackers in Istanbul, Stockholm and New York was recruited in Uzbekistan). It is also important to take young people with education, work and family so that they cannot listen to the radicals preaching.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev's course on improving the economy will help to bring home about two million Uzbeks working in Russia. This will not only help to return migrants to families, but will also give the country more freedom in dialogue with Moscow. In Uzbekistan this year, an economic growth of 5.6 percent is expected, according to the World Bank, supporting Tashkent's efforts to modernize agriculture and develop the private sector. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the largest institutional investor in Central Asia, returned to the country. Agreements on support of small and medium-sized enterprises, trade finance and agribusiness were signed with it. In 2017, agreements were reached on investments of $ 12 billion and trade agreements worth $ 3.8 billion with Russia. Agreements for 20 billion dollars were signed with China.

According to Durso, Chinese and Russian trade and investment opportunities should be compensated by similar activities of Western companies for diversification of foreign economic relations of Uzbekistan. Western investors can attract measures for the de-radicalization in Uzbekistan, in concert with the efforts of the entire community to protect youth from extremism.
Uzbekistan is able to create a "virtuous circle" (as opposed to a vicious circle), relying on financial injections, the author notes. In this case it is important to generate opportunities and continue measures to counter extremism, thereby attracting Western investment for further growth.

The Trump's national security strategy sounds as if written for Uzbekistan: "... we aspire to the states of Central Asia that are resistant to domination by competing powers, resisting the establishment of safe havens of jihadists and giving priority to reforms." According to the expert, the Americans must recognize that some of the best weapons against extremism are not launched from an unmanned aerial vehicle, but can be as simple as a good job and a confidential conversation with an imam.
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