Weekend reads on Central Asia:
Keep it Kempt: Police in Tajikistan’s Khatlon have been busy fighting foreign influences and earlier this week they held a press conference to update the masses on their progress. Last year, amid allegations that officers were detaining men with beards and forcibly shaving them, authorities instructed police not to do so. RFE/RL’s Tajik service reported on the recent presser in which the police said they closed 162 shops selling hijabs and “convinced 1,773 women and girls to shun the alien headwear.” Police also arrested 89 hijab-wearing prostitutes and “brought to order” 12,818 men who “had overly long and unkempt beards.”
The obsession with clothing and well-kempt beards comes straight from the top. President Emomali Rahmon said last year during his Mother’s Day speech that black clothing was not traditionally Tajik. He pointed to “strangers” using clothing to push extremism in the country.
Tajikistan isn’t alone in beard-fear, though it’s perhaps the most serious about it. In October 2015 a passerby called the police on a group of bearded hipsters in Sweden, mistaking them for ISIS supporters.
Perspectives on Central Asia: The January issue of the Eurasian Dialogue’s Perspectives on Central Asia has three fascinating articles.
First, Diana Ukhina writes about an art exhibit in Bishkek displaying the works of Olga Manuilova and other female Soviet artists. She examines the ways art influenced and reflected the women’s emancipation movement during the Soviet era and how, with the resurgence of “traditional” patriarchal values, “We find ourselves in a situation where instead of moving forward, it is necessary to defend the freedoms that the previous generations already struggled for.”
The second piece, by Daniyar Kussainov, offers insight on how Kazakhstan needs to reform the process by which religious materials are censored. “The current model of religious censorship in Kazakhstan has not been effective in preventing jihadist recruitment,” he writes. His suggested reforms include measures aimed at increasing efficiency and legitimacy — for example, by focusing on materials identified by a court and being more transparent about selecting experts. He also notes that there needs to be a better method for religious communities to appeal decisions. Ultimately, Kussianov comments that “State authorities are being naive in believing that methods such as religious censorship are effective in controlling religious extremism.”
The last article, by Aitolkyn Kourmanova, makes the case for greater regional cooperation among private sector entities. Central Asia is one of the least interconnected regions in the world, a fact that stymies economic development. Kourmanova notes that “Central Asia has several competitive advantages to offer in hosting links in global production chains, including land, water and energy resources.” Protectionism on the part of regional governments has stood in the way of capitalizing on potential cross-border synergies.