Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan

IWPR reports that Hizb ut-Tahrir is quietly gaining support in southern Kyrgyzstan. Here's an example of what's been happening:
"The group’s role in this event (Eid al-Fitr celebrations in a town called Nookat), and the response of local government, provide an object lesson in how the authorities struggle to find an adequate response – they do not want to allow Hizb-ut-Tahrir free rein, but using tough tactics to stop it can prove counterproductive...

"He (government official) said the trouble began on October 12, when about 300 party supporters turned up on the main square in Nookat along with ordinary Muslims keen to mark the end of the fasting period with a traditional feast.

"'At first, we welcomed the initiative to hold a big celebration of the Muslim feast,' said Aliev. 'But Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists started using this event for their own ends.'

"Before the Eid festival, about 1,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to fund the celebrations, and also to pay for a new state school for girls who want to follow the Muslim dress code.

"Hizb-ut-Tahrir members told IWPR they helped with logistical arrangements for the party.

"'When we announced the holiday, ordinary Muslims responded, with some giving rice and others [cooking] equipment,' said one of the organisers, 66-year old Jibek Asanova from the village of Kara-Oy...

"However, police stepped on and blocked the street celebrations. 'The police wouldn’t let the tightrope perform do their act, and made us cook the pilaf at home and bring it to the square.'

"Aliev confirmed that police stepped in but said they only did what was necessary and acted 'within the bounds of the law'.

"Hizb-ut-Tahrir says the authorities’ actions caused widespread discontent among Nookat residents, and the event transformed into a demonstration involving some 15,000 people...

"Activists say that having lost control, the local officials had to call in a different kind of authority – known Hizb-ut-Tahrir members – to pacify the crowd."

My read on this is that Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group dedicated to the peaceful promotion of often fundamentalist Islam, saw supporting local Eid celebrations as a chance to connect with religious villagers in the south. This is what the state feared. This kind of subtle mixture of religious observance with political goals is common, especially in Islam, but undoubtedly new in the formerly repressive environment of post-Soviet Central Asia, where governments are used to controlling a formal religious establishment and not having to deal with these sorts of popular movements.

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