Must Kyrgyzstan Choose Between Islam and Stability?

In recent weeks, the mammoth Friday edition of Vechernii Bishkek,
the newspaper of record for Russian-speaking Bishkek, has featured two
full-page editorials warning that �the future of the secular state� is
in danger.
The editorials toe the dominant government line, reciting recent Security Council warnings about a dangerous lack of religious education among imams who could lead Muslims astray, and the number of extremists operating in Kyrgyzstan, as proof of the danger of increasing religious belief in Kyrgyzstan.
So one would have expected the October 14 editorial to reference the �terrorist� hunt last week,
in which one individual was shot dead near Osh and 10 more arrested.
Perhaps the government�s story — that the arrests disrupted a
multi-ethnic Islamic Jihad Union cell determined to destabilize the
country ahead of a presidential election on October 30 — was too much
for even Vechernii Bishkek to stomach. 
Yet the October 14 editorial does sound the alarm about �groups of
partisans of different varieties of Islam� working within the
state-sponsored Muslim Spiritual Board, or Muftiate. On this score,
Mufti Chubak hajji Jalilov appears to have gotten the message. 
Last month, after stoking protests over a de facto ban on headscarves
in public schools, the Muftiate quickly retreated and backed the
government line � that no ban was in place. Islamic civil society groups
were not satisfied, however, and some may now be taking their anger to
the mosque. 
On October 6, the mufti described what he called �provocations�
at mosques around Bishkek � presumably by radical elements � when women
wearing black hijab stormed into mosques and called on the congregants
to defend their rights. 
The mufti said, without providing specifics, that the protests were
�political games� aimed at destabilizing the country in the
pre-election period. A worshipper who witnessed a hijab-clad malcontent
at the city�s main mosque, however, told EurasiaNet.org her protest did
not appear organized, and that, besides, only one woman was involved. 
When even the country�s highest-ranking Muslim cleric feels
compelled to play the �destabilizing Muslim� card, it seems unlikely
society will quietly accept the growing influence of Islam in public
life. A genuinely �new conception of state policy in the religious
sphere,� as Vechernii Bishkek calls for, seems very far away indeed. 

Must Kyrgyzstan Choose Between Islam and Stability?

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