chapter  7
20 Pages

Contexts and outcomes: towards a genealogy of ideas

I have traced the development of Western thought concerning Soviet Islam during the period from the death of Stalin to the accession of Gorbachev, describing the ‘construct’ or ‘image’ of Soviet Islam and arguing that Soviet Central Asia was interpreted against the background of ideas concerning colonialism and modernisation. Theories of Soviet Islam were developed within the context of an assumed conflict between a coloniser and a colonised group. This dichotomy was initially couched in terms of nationalism and issues of national identity. However, as the national identity of Central Asians came to be associated with their Muslim identity, the religious issue came to the fore. The debate shifted from being one of the place of Central Asians in a multi-ethnic state to a discourse about the fundamental conflict between the Marxism of the dominant Russians and the Islam of the ‘subject’ Central Asians. These were seen as irreconcilable ideologies, one of which must ultimately destroy the other. If Marx saw economic factors as the primary motivation for political action, most Western scholars of Central Asia preferred to ascribe it to ideological or even quasi-spiritual considerations. Only thus could the relative economic disadvantage of independence be reconciled with the demands for home rule expressed in Western colonies.