An Interview with Sadykzhan Kamuluddin by Igor Rotar
Sadykzhan Kamuluddin (Kamalov), president of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and former Mufti and member of the Kyrgyzstans Supreme Council, is one of the most influential religious leaders in Central Asia. Uzbek by descent, Kamuluddin resides in the town of Karasu, located on the border with Uzbekistan and a center of the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) movement in Central Asia. Sadykzhan Kamuluddin is famous for his independence from the Kyrgyz authorities. For instance, he does not hide the fact that he has contacts with HuT members, which is prohibited in Kyrgyzstan and which aims to unite all Muslims in the world into a unified Caliphate. The local press often calls him a fundamentalist and an Islamic radical.
IR: How would you assess the influence of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party in Central Asia?
SK: Unfortunately, the influence of this organization in Central Asia is growing. As of today, according to my estimates, there are approximately 2-3 thousand members of this party in Kyrgyzstan. Several years ago, practically all members of this organization were ethnic Uzbeks; now they are able to recruit increasing numbers of Kyrgyz and even Russians into their ranks. It must be noted that the Hizb ut-Tahrir started to operate actively in the north of the country, where just several years ago the influence of this organization was negligible. Recently I visited Bishkek and had conversations with local members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, including Russians who had converted to Islam.
IR: What is the reason for the success of this party?
SK: There are many well-educated and proficient propaganda specialists in Hizb ut-Tahrir ranks. There is simply no real counteraction against their influence on the part of the official clergy. Experiencing severe economic hardships, imam-khatybs [other Muslim clerics] have neither the power nor will to expose the ideology of this party. To my way of thinking, by imprisoning and persecuting the members of the party, the authorities are, in effect, providing substantial assistance to the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which, as a result, enjoys the aura of martyrdom. Recently the head of the Committee of National Security of Kyrgyzstan stated that the Hizb ut-Tahrir is the fourth force in the struggle for power. I wish you could have seen what kind of euphoria this statement caused among the members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. It seems to me that the authorities advertise this organization, and if they were to pay less attention to it, the popularity of Hizb ut-Tahrir would begin to fall.
IR: The majority of members of Hizb ut-Tahrir whom I have met left an impression of being not very educated people. Hence, the majority of my interviewees from this organization did not even speak Russian. In Soviet timse anyone who did not speak Russian was simply unable to get a good education. It is not clear how these people are able to spread their views so successfully.
SK: It seems to me that you socialized with the rank-and-file members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of members of this organization (approximately 80 percent) are marginal social elements, who could not find themselves suitable occupations under the new economic situation. However, people of an entirely different pedigree represent the top tier of this organization. Practically all of them received a good education at prestigious universities. They are not only fluent in Russian but also in English and Arabic.
IR: Following your logic we can say that the Hizb ut-Tahrir should be particularly influential in Uzbekistan, where any individual found in possession of a proclamation from this organization is sentenced to many years in prison.
SK: I think that in terms of numerical proportions there are still more members of this organization in Kyrgyzstan than in Uzbekistan. In fact, Tashkents repressive measures aimed at this organization actually made the Uzbekistani members of Hizb ut-Tahrir even more resilient. Today the members of this underground organization in Uzbekistan are real fanatics, who will happily die for their convictions. It is practically impossible to repress such people. And, of course, it is nonsense that the Uzbekistani authorities allegedly managed to dismantle the underground network of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
IR: How would you assess the influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir in different Central Asian republics?
SK: In terms of the influence of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, I would align the Central Asian republics in the following manner: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan. It is noteworthy that both in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan the initial members of Hizb ut-Tahrir were Uzbeks, but now the organization is increasingly recruiting the representatives of the titular nationalities of those republics. That the activities of the Hizb ut-Tahrir in Tajikistan are less noticeable despite the high level of religiosity among the Tajiks, I would explain by the fact that the Tajik Muslims have their own ideological umbrella organization the Islamic Revival Party. Let me remind you that of all Central Asian republics, only in that republic have we witnessed the creation of a party that aims to represent and defend the interests of Muslims.
IR: In the proclamations and pamphlets of Hizb ut-Tahrir, such countries as the United States and Great Britain are called the creations of Satan. Another characteristic element of the ideology of this organization is an explicit anti-Semitism.
SK: As it is well known, Hizb ut-Tahrir considers Western-style democracy a farce unacceptable for Muslims, and the United States and Great Britain are the main proponents of such a political model. In regards to the anti-SemitismI do not think that the Hizb ut-Tahrir does not like the Jews as the people. It would be more correct to say that Hizb ut-Tahrir members are fierce opponents of Israel and Zionism. Hence, the Hizb ut-Tahrir explains American policy in the Muslim world by stating that the Zionist lobby controls the United States.
IR: If Hizb ut-Tahrir does not feel resentment toward the Jews, then why is it that the much hated by them president of Uzbekistan in their pamphlets is described as a Judaic kafir?
SK: They claim that they found some sort of Jewish roots of Karimov allegedly on the maternal side. I do not know whether this is true or not. For me personally it does not really matter.
IR: I heard that after the events in Afghanistan and Iraq there was a split between the members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir there is a faction that thinks that under the new conditions it is necessary to abandon nonviolent tactic and to take up arms.
SK: This is not correct. There is no division in the ranks of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Hizb ut-Tahrir consciously chose to struggle for the creation of the Caliphate only by nonviolent means of ideological propaganda. According to the ideologues of this party, they and the Islamic militants fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have different tasks but they are moving toward the same objective the creation of the Caliphate.
IR: How significant was the impact of the military operation led by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq on the situation in Central Asia?
SK: The people are very indignant. In Kyrgyzstan graffiti Down with American imperialism regularly appear on the walls of houses, and the authorities cannot do much about it. In Uzbekistan so far people are afraid to say something openly because they fear repression from the authorities, but believe me, they think the same as Kyrgyz Muslims. I predict that sooner or later the crowds of people will go into the streets to demand the closure of the American military bases both here and in Uzbekistan. The United States policy can be characterized as Islamophobic. Up until recently I had doubts about this. However, recently I had an opportunity to experience it personally. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek has refused to issue a visa for me for three months by now (I visited the U.S. three times in the past). At the same time, the embassy employees in private conversations with me hint that I am a very religious person. By the way, this shortsightedness of U.S. policy is actively exploited by the Hizb ut-Tahrir. They explain to people that the real goal of the so-called (in their opinion) Western democracy is the elimination of Muslims.
IR: Do you think spontaneous mass demonstrations are possible in Uzbekistan?
SK: Recently I visited one of villages in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan. So this is what I can tell you: out of fifty families in this village only two can afford to eat meat once a month. The economic situation in that country is very dire. Fear is the only factor that is restraining people from staging spontaneous demonstrations. But the patience of the people is not infinite. In the East there is a good saying: A knife should be sharpened against a stone not against a melon.
IR: Is there still a danger of a new incursion by the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) into Uzbekistan?
SK: During the Hajj to Mecca this year I had an opportunity to meet with some influential people from that organization. They assured me that their organization has not been dismantled and indeed is preparing for new military operations. Juma Namangani was in fact killed, but after his death the organization did not lose its military capabilities. At present the main IMU camps operate in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, in the border area between these states. To my way of thinking, in order to prevent new incursions it is necessary for the president of Uzbekistan and the IMU leaders to sit at the negotiating table. The intermediaries should be prominent Islamic leaders of Central Asia. I personally would gladly take part in such negotiations as an intermediary.