Central Asia: Sept '09

Tajik authorities’ tactics for dealing with foreign Islamic groups under scrutiny.

Central Asia: Sept '09

Tajik authorities’ tactics for dealing with foreign Islamic groups under scrutiny.

Friday, 30 October, 2009
An IWPR report on how the authorities are targeting an Islamic missionary group they regard as subversive was praised for offering insights and opinions that questioned whether a hard-line approach is always the right one.

The article, Tajik Clampdown on Islamic Group Could Backfire, published on September 25, contained interviews with analysts in Tajikistan who raised concerns that a campaign of detentions and prosecutions of followers of the missionary group Tablighi Jamaat could prove counterproductive, and end up further radicalising members and driving them underground.

The authorities appear to be applying the same tough policies to Tablighi Jamaat as they have in the past to outlawed organisations like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In the article, an interior ministry official who asked not to be identified told IWPR that Tablighi Jamaat represented a real danger, although he did not offer evidence that members were involved in subversive activity within Tajikistan apart from distributing Islamist pamphlets.

“They’ve studied illegally in Pakistan, and since they were there illegally, it’s more than likely they received training in terrorist camps,” he said. “They have dangerous plans. There’s intelligence information implicating Tablighi Jamaat members in acts of terrorism in India and Pakistan. In addition, supporters of the movement who have been detained in Dushanbe have been found to be in possession of propaganda leaflets and religious literature.”

Radical Islam is an emotive topic in Tajikistan, and difficult to discuss without revealing one’s own prejudices. Responses to the article indicated that its author, Nargiz Hamrabaeva, managed to achieve a balance between official suspicions about Tablighi Jamaat and the views of commentators who question the wisdom of blanket bans on this or that group.

“The opinions of government officials, who always level one-sided accusations against representatives of non-mainstream religious movements, were set against the objective views of independent sources and experts,” said Khairullo Mirsaidov, Dushanbe-based correspondent for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Well-known journalist Rajabi Mirzo singled out the fact that IWPR spoke to Jamaat Tablighi activists rather than relying on second-hand information. “It’s the first time we’ve seen an interview with a member of the organisation,” he said.

Rashid Ghani Abdullo, a leading political analyst in Tajikistan, noted that the IWPR report gave a voice to opposing groups in this confrontation – the authorities and Islamic group members – which would not otherwise talk to one another.

“It’s good that the article contains a kind of dialogue between the different sides, albeit an indirect one,” he said.

Abdullo said it was impossible for the authorities to eradicate ideas they regard as unacceptable by using repressive methods alone; it would be better, he said, to try to understand why people are drawn to such groups.

“It is obvious that people who join this particular movement and others like it are unhappy about something,” he said. “The true reason for their discontentment needs to be identified and efforts made to address their problems.”

A former officer in Tajikistan’s security service who asked to remain anonymous warned that “applying repressive methods to even the most tolerant of Islamic organisations may end up radicalising them”.

In his view, it is important to air the full range of views of people involved in any confrontation.

Part of the problem in dealing with Islamic groups, especially those with roots outside Tajikistan, is that the security services are short of experts on the subject. As a result, said the former security officer, “no one can say for sure how big the threat is. Yet this article has several experts…. giving a very competent view of this movement.”

“Articles like this are a rarity in Tajikistan,” he concluded.

Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan.

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