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Destructive Forms Of Religiosity In Kazakhstan As A National Security Threat Factor

Saturday, October 1, 2016 - 01:46

The religious situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan is undergoing tremendous changes due to the liberalization stages in this sphere (granting the right to freedom of religion and others). In recent years, one can observe intensification of ideologies of extremism and radicalism against the background of the spread of destructive religious movements of “export” nature. Whereas previously most experts were inclined to believe that the spread of various forms of religiosity was not large-scale and threatening, the recent 2016 events and particularly the series of terrorist attacks in Aktobe and Almaty have caused a rethinking of the seriousness of the threatening potential of the religious organizations in Kazakhstan.


For more than 20 years, the senior leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan has held the issues of national security as one of the priorities of the state policy. Specifically highlighted is the need to harmonize the sphere of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations in multinational Kazakhstan. Back in the early 2000s, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in his book “Critical Decade” put the security issues to the forefront of the domestic and foreign policy, simultaneously defining religious security as “a system of state guarantees and support for the spiritual potential of the people and nations with the simultaneous countering of the threats to religious freedom and inter-religious harmony.” After that, there was adopted the Law “On religious activities and religious organizations,” which prescribes clearly that the state is separated from religion and from religious groups, delimits the rights and obligations of the parties under the law, introduces stricter requirements for registration of religious associations, limits the possibilities of missionary work (which used to be almost uncontrollable) and dissemination of religious literature, and others. However, religious matters have always been secondary, so to speak: the public policy has been and remains focused on economic development and strengthening of the position of the ruling elite of Kazakhstan.


Kazakh theologian Smagulov E. M. connects the undermining of national security with the activities of new religious movements that were not present in the region previously. The religious “renaissance” manifests itself in Kazakhstan in two main trends that can be designated as “Islamization” and “Evangelization.” The first one – “Islamisation” – is associated with higher levels of religiosity of Muslims and is accompanied by the expansion of a number of trends that are positioned as Muslim (the Salafis, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, Ahmadiyah, the Nursists, etc.). Under the slogan of “Evangelization,” many Protestant churches have come to Kazakhstan primarily from the US, Western Europe and South Korea. The main idea of their activities is planting new globalist ideologies, reassessment of values, failure of the primary traditions. In the most radical form, the new religious movements advocate the rejection of traditional morality and socially useful work, which leads, in our opinion, to destruction of families, as well as harm to physical and psychological health of the population. Experts also note their ambiguity and hidden commercial orientation, which operates on the principle of network marketing. (Despite the fact that, according to the Law “On religious activities and religious organizations,” forcing the participants (members) of religious associations and religious followers to alienate their property in favor of a religious association, its directors and other participants (members) is not allowed and poses a great contradiction to the legality of such activities of these organizations).


Many experts point out that the religious sphere is undergoing a transformation; the new religious organizations are adapting to the changing conditions. Earlier, the spread of religion was carried out only by foreign missionaries, while nowadays Kazakh citizens are engaged in it as well. Most of these organizations receive financial and ideological nourishment from abroad. All this reinforces and completes the phase of institutionalization of new religious organizations in the Republic of Kazakhstan, while the liberal laws provide the conditions for an increase in the number of different religious organizations.


On the one hand, the growth of the number of adherents to non-traditional religious movements is due to the spiritual and moral needs of society. On the other hand, it is associated with the increasing intensification of the activities of various new religious organizations. The current situation in the religious sphere of Kazakhstan is characterized by the presence of radical religious communities, the stirring-up of foreign organizations of the missionary movement, and the expansion of the social base of sectarian organizations (in particular, the emphasis is on young people). Strengthening of the role of destructive religious organizations in the sphere of public life leads to increased danger in the choice of values that are the basis for social behavior. It also entails blurring of the line between traditional religion and pseudo-religions.


Another factor that represents a threat to the security of the Republic of Kazakhstan has been the emergence of various radical extremist groups, which often hide behind Islam. The first manifestations of the threat posed by radicals were observed in 2011 (the events in Aktobe; the suicide bomber that blew himself up; the attack on police officers by a group of extremists; the threat of terrorist attacks by supporters of the Taliban; the terrorist attack in Taraz in November 2011). According to the official reports, the terrorist attack that occurred in Aktobe on June 5, 2016 resulted in more casualties that the previous cases.


Kazakh political scientist Yerlan Karin said, “We are dealing with the activities of radical units. It is no secret that such units are active in our country; their members are followers of various radical ideologies. The root of radicalization is <...> the marginalization and criminalization of certain segments of the population. Some young people are falling out of the general process, are influenced by different ideologies. They are seeking answers to some questions, trying to make up for their lack of knowledge with the help of some pseudo-concepts – and as a result they find themselves involved in radical ideologies. We can speak about the criminalization on the basis of our 2011-2013 research, as well as judging by those people who leave for Syria. This is the result of a more primitive social consciousness, as well as the destruction of certain important norms, ideals and values. Most of these units are balancing between radical extremism and ordinary criminal activities.” The connection between criminality and various terrorist units directly affects the effectiveness of the techniques of recruitment to the ranks of terrorist groups in places of detention.


A real threat is represented by the Islamic State. According to the official data of the Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan, there is a tendency to an increase in the number of its supporters; people are continuously recruited and sent to the war zone in the Middle East. In 2015 alone, more than 400 citizens of Kazakhstan were sent to Syria and Iraq (the main combat zones).


The research agency has conducted a sociological study to discover the possible threats to stable development of Kazakhstan. According to the study, terrorism and extremism manifestations (18.95 points) were in the top three most significant risks to the sustainable development of Kazakhstan – along with the acute internal issues, such as destabilization of the power system as a result of uncontrolled collision of different interest groups (20.24 points), and the political and criminal provocations that result in numerous casualties (19.13 points).


According to Smagulov E. M., the integration of terrorism and radicalism with organized criminality that acts under different political, religious or other slogans is posing a threat to the political system. In the future, the non-systemic religious opposition can become a real factor in political life. For many people, the radicalization against the background of the general growth in religiosity may become a form of protest against low living standards, unemployment and corruption. Ultimately, it will result in emergence of new political forces appealing to the value of Islam on the political arena in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.


These trends and appealing to the principles of Islam on the political arena can lead to a breach of the secular status of Kazakhstan and other countries of the region. The models of social and political behavior promoted by Islamists often create conflicts and inconsistencies with state and political institutions. This may suggest formation of new government institutions (norms of social behavior and social organization).


As of today, manifestations of religious extremism and terrorism have become a serious destabilizing factor. According to the opinion of most experts, the integration of forces close to extremist and terrorist groups into the socio-political processes may pose a direct threat to the national security of Kazakhstan. The republic finds itself in a difficult geopolitical situation, which is due to the ethnic and national pluralism, as well as the growth in various destructive forms of religiosity.


Therefore, as the main priority tasks, the authorities put forward: solving the security issues; ensuring the ability to resist negative trends; implementing a sustainable ideological boosting of the population; ensuring the ability of the secular state to adequately respond to manifestations of radicalization in the socio-cultural, spiritual, moral, ethnic and religious environment. These factors are presented as the main threats to the national security of the Republic of Kazakhstan.


However, we cannot say that the radical forces are institutionalizing in Kazakhstan as a legitimate political force. Kazakhstan has a strong political power capable of confronting such trends. The multinational composition and religious pluralism inherent to Kazakhstan make it impossible for terrorists and extremists to obtain support of the general population.

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