Islamist Challenge Authoritarian Response: Politics and Policies towards Islamism in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the Post-Soviet Era
Yarbrough, Andrew Hastings
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Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the two Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have faced varying challenges with Islamism, the political manifestation of Islam. Likewise, both countries have enacted very different responses to this challenge to their secular, authoritarian rule. Kazakhstan has only faced a modest Islamist challenge, yet in response has engaged in widespread limitation of religious freedom. Uzbekistan has faced several robust Islamist challenges, so has engaged in a brutal campaign to crush Islamist opposition, including the use of torture. This paper traces the development of government policies towards Islamism, finding that while motivations for anti-Islamist policies are similar, the level of threat varies, leading to very different state responses. Using theories of religious freedom in transitional societies, this paper will further show how the two countries' governments negotiate the role of Islam, with both states using state Muslim Boards to build a dichotomy between proper national Islam and Islamism. Such definitions allow the governments an easy opportunity to target those outside the state definitions of legal Islamic practice, building a state threat that can be exploited to ensure the control of the authoritarian leaders. That both states use such rigid, state sanctioned definitions of Islam demonstrates how both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan view Islamism as a threat to state security and image, even as they exploit this threat for their own profit.