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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34.1 (2003) 132-133

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Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. By Ahmed Rashid (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2002) 281pp. $24.00

Despite its title, Rashid's latest book is not about how the growth of political violence in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union should be labeled a holy war; rather, it is a useful, journalistic account of violent political reactions, justified in the name of Islam, to the post- Soviet division of Central Asia into nation-states. As the author writes in his introduction, the study arose out of two previous works concerning whether political Islam or nationalism would succeed as an ideology for modern Central Asia and Afghanistan. Both those accounts and the present work are recast comments on an old historical argument that a fundamentalist Islamic movement might rise in this remote region to overthrow empires, nation-states, the global order, and so on.

A discussion of how Western authors and some Muslims misunderstand the word jihad in terms of its broader meaning for devout Muslims [End Page 132] introduces the two major divisions of the text. In the short space devoted to refuting the charge that Islam is a violent religion, Rashid draws the well-known distinction among Muslims between the much broader meaning of jihad as a struggle to live by the holy law of Islam and the narrow use of the term for military operations against the enemies of the faith. Why Central Asian Muslims might be inspired by the militant version of jihad is left to the two main divisions in the text.

Part I is an effort to underline the historical importance of Central Asia from the pre-Islamic period to the collapse of the Soviet Union as a means of preparing the reader for the rise of militant Islamic movements during the decade after 1991. What the author attempts to accomplish with this huge slice of Central Asian history is draw attention first to the importance of Central Asia as a platform for change in the political history of Islamic civilization and second to how Russian and Soviet administrations of the largely Muslim regions of Central Asia drove Islam underground. This repression of Islam then created internal pressures among Central Asian Muslims that often provoked unsuccessful uprisings. In 1991, this non-Muslim regime came to an end. But the first decade of independence produced no universal Islamic regime. Instead, non-Islamic nation-states emerged under the rule of administrations greatly resembling the old Soviet establishment. A decade of economic and social upheavals to follow provided much encouragement for a politics of an already embedded militant version of Islam.

Part II provides both a detailed coverage of Islamic movements in Central Asia from 1991 to 2002 and a reason why this text will assist scholars who apply interdisciplinary approaches to explain modern fundamentalist movements. The author discusses the origin and composition of three movements within radical Central Asian Islam: the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Party of Liberation, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. On the basis of his research, Rashid argues these parties are growing rapidly in size and spreading their influence across the national boundaries of the post-Soviet political system in Central Asia and the surrounding states. Why this is happening is directly related to the failure of the post-Soviet regimes to give political space to Islamic concerns, to resolve Central Asian economic and social challenges, and to oppose external powers.

In a concluding chapter entitled "An Uncertain Future," Rashid underlines how the recent events in Afghanistan may lead Central Asia away from an internal crisis. But this will happen only if current leaders expose the inability of radical Islam to meet modern challenges, and, simultaneously, if the world's economic giants seriously assist the heartland of Eurasia.


Andrew C. Hess
The Fletcher School



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pp. 132-133
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