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Scholars Warn of Danger of Radical Islam in Uzbekistan

(Washington, DC--July 28, 2003) A group of Uzbek scholars agreed that the government of Uzbekistan must continue to use a combination of military force and social programs to deal with extremist Islamic groups, who have the "objective of overthrowing the secular state." The scholars, visiting Washington at the invitation of The Nixon Center, reviewed several aspects of the threat these groups pose to the stability of Uzbekistan and its Central Asian neighbors during a RFE/RL briefing last week.

Abdujabar Abduvakhitov, the Rector of Westminster International University in Tashkent, reviewed the history of Islamic extremist groups in the region. Abduvakhitov focused his remarks on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb-ut Tahrir, which both evolved out of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Abduvakhitov explained that Islamic groups became more evident in Uzbekistan after the fall of the Soviet Union, when people were able to take more of an interest in their religious roots. He said that groups like IMU and Hizb-ut Tahrir (Party of Freedom) have taken advantage of that religious interest, and now there is a "dangerous clash between radical and traditional Islam in the country."

Zokhidilo Munavvarov, the Chairman of the International Fund of Imam al-Bukhari, described the leaflets and other "propaganda materials" that Islamist extremists distribute in Uzbekistan to promote their views and recruit members. Munavvarov said that the stated goal of groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir is to promote a "total jihad against non-believers," including Jews, Christians and other non-Muslim groups that have traditionally had good relations with Central Asian Muslim societies, in order to create an Islamic state under Sharia law. They distribute leaflets that promote "intensive anti-Americanism" and seek to establish "the most radical ideals in the mass consciousness," Munavvarov said. According to Munavvarov, Hizb-ut Tahrir believes that the Uzbek government's pro-Western policies are "a betrayal of Muslims" and that democracy is "a social state system of unbelievers." He referred to the group as the "most dangerous" in Uzbekistan, noting that Hizb-ut Tahrir openly calls for the Uzbek government to be overthrown.

The panelists all mentioned that a key factor in fighting Islamic fundamentalism in Uzbekistan would be to cut off funding, saying their "financial resources should be stopped." Marina Pikulina, the Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan country coordinator for FAST, a project focusing on conflict analysis and prevention and funded by Swisspeace, noted that all of the Islamic terrorist groups in Uzbekistan "tolerate earning money by all possible means." All three experts agreed that the Islamic fundamentalist movement in Uzbekistan is largely funded by the drug trade, which passes through Uzbekistan from Afghanistan en route to Russia.

While freedom of conscience is guaranteed under Article 31 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan, Pikulina said, there is also a prohibition against organizations advocating the forcible overthrow of the government. This explains the government's concern with maintaining stability in the country. All three experts said the Islamic fundamentalist groups are the main source of instability in the country. Pikulina said that "there is no terrorism without radicalism" and that the government of Uzbekistan is "trying to combat radicalism and extremism of any kind."

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