The president of Kyrgyzstan has warned that radical Islam as preached by Islamic State (IS) group militants poses a “special threat to the identity of the resurgent Kyrgyz ethos.”
Speaking to Kyrgyzstan’s Defense Council, President Almazbek Atambaev issued a stark warning about the dangers of IS and its radical Islamic ideology.
“Society must clearly understand that too much Islamization will lead directly to mankurtization,” the president said, using a term that refers to a Kyrgyz legend whereby prisoners of war were turned into unthinking slaves -- mankurts -- by wrapping their heads in camel skins. When the skins dried, they tightened, enslaving the prisoners forever, according to the legend.
Atambaev said that Islamization would therefore force the Kyrgyz people to “abandon their national characteristics, national dress, spiritual wealth, and national identity.”
Referring to the rise of IS and to fears of increasing Islamic radicalization in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz president said that radical Islam had “nothing to do with real Islam.”
Atambaev said that Kyrgyzstan would be reexamining the relationship between the state and religion, in the light of the rise of IS and amid fears of radicalization.
The president said that in recent months things had changed rapidly in terms of religion, not just in Kyrgyzstan but in other parts of the world.
“Recent events in the Middle East, the creation of the so-called Islamic State group, the actions of extremists that are incompatible with basic human norms, force us to reconsider our approaches and demand a fundamental review of the methods and principles of interaction between the state and religion,” Atambaev said.
The Kyrgyz president said that the government had put together a working group composed of representatives of government agencies, experts, and religious organizations.
The aim was to consider approving the adoption of a state policy concept paper on religion for 2014-20, as well as on border security.
Atambaev said that the concept paper had provided a detailed discussion of the idea of the “secular state” in Kyrgyzstan.
The paper also explained that the concept of a secular state meant that the government did not interfere in religion.
Atambaev pointed out that Kyrgyzstan celebrated many different religious and secular holidays, not just Islamic ones.
“Now we are being called on not to celebrate New Year and only celebrate Ramadan and Kurban Bairam [Eid al-Adha]. But we have other holidays -- Independence Day, Norouz [the Persian New Year, celebrated as a national holiday in Kyrgyzstan], Victory Day. If we celebrate them, does that mean we are infidels?” Atambaev said, making ironic use of a term used by IS militants who forbid the celebration of any secular holidays or those of other religions.
The Kygyz government, security services, and nongovernmental organizations have all expressed concerns about the rise of IS and about Kyrgyz nationals -- including women -- fighting with the group in Syria. Among the many claims that have spread through the Kyrgyz media concerning IS is that Kyrgyz citizens are being attracted to join IS not because of ideology but because the group pays them money.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk