KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 12 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

KESTON NEWS SERVICE SPECIAL REPORT

UZBEKISTAN: HOW STRONG IS THE ISLAMIC OPPOSITION? The
main challenge to the rule of Uzbek president Islam Karimov is likely to
come from the Islamic-inspired opposition, either from the Uzbek branch
of the international Islamic organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir or from the armed
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. One analyst told Keston News Service
that most people �are preoccupied primarily with how to feed their
families and they don't have anything to do with wider politics�.
According to an Uzbek religious affairs official �the main social
background of Islamic fundamentalists is the most deprived section of the
population,� and others agree that deprivation may provide the catalyst
for the potential destabilisation of Uzbekistan, despite tight control by
secular authorities over religious life. Young radicals told Keston they
had concluded that "only an Islamic state can give people a life of
dignity".

UZBEKISTAN: HOW STRONG IS THE ISLAMIC OPPOSITION?

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

"We have studied the situation in Uzbekistan carefully and have
concluded that contrary to the predictions of many political
commentators, most of the population has remained indifferent to the
anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan," an analyst for the International
Crisis Group, Azizulla Gaziyev, told Keston News Service in the southern
Kyrgyz town of Osh. "People are preoccupied primarily with how to feed
their families and they don't have anything to do with wider politics."
Many commentators have predicted that the main challenge to the rule of
Uzbek president Islam Karimov will come from the Islamic-inspired
opposition, either from the Uzbek branch of the international Islamic
organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir or from the armed group the Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

Keston's correspondent, who was in Uzbekistan between 23 November
and 2 December, broadly shares Gaziyev's assessment. While leaflets for
the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party calling on Muslims to come to the help
of the Taliban began to appear on the streets of Tajik and Kyrgyz cities in
the wake of the launch of Washington's anti-terrorist operation in
Afghanistan, Uzbekistan's law enforcement agencies managed to nip such
actions in the bud. "We have to acknowledge that our nation is asleep.
Even Islam Karimov's co-operation with the United States in the
destruction of Afghan Muslims did not rouse the Uzbeks," underground
activists of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Uzbekistan admitted to Keston. "The
majority of true Muslims have already been behind bars for a long time.
Those who are still free have forgotten about God and think only about
where the next crust of bread will come from."

The complete control exerted by Uzbekistan's secular authorities over the
official Muslim clergy has allowed the government to unleash a concerted
propaganda campaign since the start of the anti-terrorist operation in
Afghanistan. In all mosques, imams delivered a speech during Friday
prayers condemning terrorism. The chief imam of the Uzbek capital
Tashkent, Anvar-haji Tursunov, welcomed the launch of Washington's
anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, declaring that it would assist
stability in Uzbekistan.

However, it is too early to rule out the possibility that the situation in
Uzbekistan may destabilise. "The danger of spontaneous uprisings is as
real as ever," Gaziyev believes. "The main catalyst for a potential
destabilisation of Uzbekistan is the very low quality of life for the
overwhelming majority of the population."

The Uzbek authorities also recognise that social problems may account
for the growing influence of Islamic radicals. "Since the acts of terrorism
on 11 September in the United States it has become clear that if a third
world war erupts, Islamic fundamentalists will be responsible for it," the
first deputy head of the Uzbek government's committee for religious
affairs, Shoazim Minovarov, told Keston on 25 September. "In my view,
the West must understand that the main social background of Islamic
fundamentalists is the most deprived section of the population.
Accordingly, if the developed countries want stability in the world, they
must give economic aid to needy Muslim countries. Islamic
fundamentalists first appeared in our country in the early 1990s, at a time
when we were experiencing temporary economic difficulties."

Founded in 1953, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party campaigns for the unification
of Muslims throughout the world under one Islamic caliphate. The party
rejects armed conflict and its main activity is to disseminate its views
among the population. The aim of the IMU is to overthrow the current
regime by armed means and create an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. Its
fighters have been based in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan.
The overwhelming majority of members of both organisations are from
traditional Uzbek society. Most of them live in traditional villages
(kishlaks) or in mahallas. The mahalla is a distinctive social institution in
Uzbek society: members live in a single city sector in privately-owned
accommodation and develop their own type of community. Historically,
mahalla members have resolved many issues collectively, celebrating
weddings and funerals together. It is customary for mahalla neighbours to
offer each other financial support: the entire group generally helps to
build a new house for a mahalla member and collects money if a
community member is in urgent need.

A distinctive characteristic of Uzbek Islamic radicals is that many of them
speak almost no foreign language, including Russian, and most have
never been outside Central Asia. Russian remains the main language of
international communication in Uzbekistan today, playing an even greater
role in Uzbekistan than does English in former British colonies. Almost
all educated people are fluent in Russian, and at least up to now, far more
world literature is translated into Russian than into Uzbek.

Members of both Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU react very negatively to
western civilisation. Keston was told many times that countries such as
the United States and the United Kingdom are the work of Satan. Another
characteristic of members of both organisations is their outspoken anti-
semitism. Activists have frequently tried to prove to Keston, with
reference to the Quran, that Jews cannot be friends to Muslims. One
member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir even told Keston that he was very sorry that
Hitler had not managed to eliminate all Jews.

Members of both organisations tend to be young people aged between 25
and 30. Those who spoke to Keston declared that even five years ago they
were not true Muslims, did not observe fasts and even drank alcohol.
However, the rapid impoverishment of Central Asian society over the
past decade, and the flourishing of hitherto-unknown prostitution and
drug abuse have led them to conclude that "only an Islamic state can give
people a life of dignity". Those Keston met gave the impression of being
sincere and fanatically committed young people, somewhat reminiscent
of Komsomol (Soviet communist youth league) members of the 1920s.

Given that the economic situation in Uzbekistan is unlikely to improve in
the near future, and that young people constitute the majority of the
population, the membership of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU in Uzbekistan
seems certain to grow. (END)