Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Islamists Shun Taleban

Islamists in Kyrgyzstan say they have nothing in common with the men behind the New York and Washington terror attacks.
By Ulugbek Babakulov

The Taleban's message of violence strikes few chords among followers of the Khizb-ut-Takhrir party in Kyrgyzstan, but the authorities in Bishkek are not convinced.


Following the September 11 bombings in the United States, the authorities reportedly arrested several activists in southern Kyrgyzstan on charges of terrorist activity, fearing they might try to stage similar attacks at home.


The group gained notoriety in August after it circulated an open letter to President Askar Akaev, parliament, the judiciary, inviting them to reply to ten questions.


Among other things, they were asked whether they considered themselves Muslim; recognised the Koran as the only true constitution; and why they associated with non-believing nations - a reference to Western countries. Khizb-ut-Takhrir asked for an official response within 15 days.


Few people outside the ranks of the movement took the questions very seriously, however. "No one was expected to reply," said Abdunazar Mamatislamov, director of a youth foundation. "Khizb-ut-Takhrir was only trying to annoy and provoke the government."


As was expected, the arrests prompted the movement to circulate new leaflets in southern Kyrgyzstan, claiming their "brothers" were being victimised because of the open letter to the authorities.


A judge in Jalal-Abad, Ruslan Usukeev, said the arrests were justified by the threat the group posed to the country's stability.


"Their leaflets are designed to incite communal unrest," he said. "We should put more heat on them. The recent amnesty that enabled many Khizb-ut-Takhrir activists to walk free was a big mistake. We should be tightening the screws."


Activists in the movement, however, deny that they have anything in common with the men behind the New York and Washington terror attacks. One of them, Alisher, said such attacks were contrary to Khizb-ut-Takhrir's principles. "We deplore the massacre of innocent people," he said. "We condemn those whose terrorist attacks give a bad name to the Muslim religion."


Alisher said the Taleban's bellicose teachings were irreconcilable with Khizb-ut-Takhrir's doctrine of non-violence. "They may brand us traitors or apostates, but their methodology is at variance with true Islam," he said. "We will never act the way they do."


He said the climate of relative religious liberty in Kyrgyzstan had - to a degree - hampered the spread of the movement. "I wish the police beat us more and put more of us in jail to make people more receptive," he said. "We would then have proof of the way the government discriminates against Muslims."


Habibullo, another Khizb-ut-Takhrir activist, agreed, and compared the movement's slow progress in Kyrgyzstan with the situation in Uzbekistan, where police repression had boosted the Islamists' ranks. "Thanks to Uzbek president Islam Karimov's religious intolerance and persecution, Khizb-ut-Takhrir teachings have gained wide circulation in Uzbekistan," he said. "We'll have to work for decades to achieve the results Khizb-ut-Takhrir has made in just 18 months in Uzbekistan."


Human rights activists outside the country mostly accept Khizb-ut-Takhrir's profession of non-violence at face value. Vitaly Ponomaryov, a Moscow-based activist, noted that the Kyrgyz movement rarely, if ever, went further than issuing verbal declarations. "No Khizb-ut-Takhrir member has ever been arrested for the illegal possession or use of arms," he remarked.


"Their leaflets contain nothing but declarations. They never call for the overthrow of the government or for any kind of violence. Khizb-ut-Takhrir ideologues think it would be great to live in a caliphate but that's just their opinion."


Few, however, expect the nervous authorities to relax their vigilant stance, even if by doing so they inadvertently stimulate interest in the movement they so strongly oppose.


Ulugbek Babakulov is a human rights activist in Jalal-Abad