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Radical Islam in Central Asia: Between Pen and Rifle

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Radical Islam in Central Asia: Between Pen and RifleExcellent book looking at the development and role of three groups in Central Asia - the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); Hizb at-Tahrir al-Islami (HTI); and the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikstan (IRP). The first two groups operate(d) primarily in Uzbekistan, the IMU is violent whilst HTI claims it is not (Naumkin discusses the ambiguity of the evidence in this regard). HTI has spread to a certain extent to other countries in the region (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, and to a limited extent to Kazakhstan) whilst the IRP is mainly confined to Tajikstan.

The first chapter provides an introduction to the history of Islam in the region, and within this pages 1-6 provide an erudite and concise look at some of the problems of definitions within the field, covering 'salafis', 'wahhabis', 'fundamentalists' and so on. These discussions are shown to be useful in the nuanced coverage of the differences between some of the groups and the wider populations they operate within. The author shows how Muslims who would identify with these labels differ from each other. Although often blurred these distinctions are very important for understanding the different beliefs, as is demonstrated in the later chapters of this book where the author discusses competing Islamic groups in Central Asia.

The second chapter looks at the IMU, chapter 3 at HTI andchapter 4 at IRPT - a group which following two civil wars in Tajikstan entered into a power-sharing agreement with the government. The author combines information from interviews with local academics, politicians, police, members/sympathisers of some of the above groups as well as translations of leaflets and other material. Whilst also pulling in threads from some prominent Western academics, such as Olivier Roy, the author also accesses a number of Central Asian and Russian works which lie outside the circle of sources found within most Western accounts of Islamic extremism.

This is an excellent work which provides an in-depth look into radical Islamist groups in Central Asia, as well as linking their growth and development to the transnational flows of radical Islamic thought, especially through the Middle East and the influences of nationalist and (versus) religious groups operating there.

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