01 January 2017

The Church in Central Asia: Caught in the Middle of Islamic Struggle


While the 1990s brought an era of cultural libertarianism and market economics, the sudden onslaught of Capitalism, its values and effects, led to a degree of social reaction.

One unforeseen aspect of the collapse of the USSR for Central Asia was a revival of Islam, and this was in no small part affected by the jihadist fervour just to the south of the Soviet border. Though the Afghan War ended for the United States in 1989, it did not end for Central Asia. The United States had funded numerous groups, some of which agitated even within the borders of the USSR, something largely forgotten today. The spread of Salafi, Deobandi and Wahhabi forms of Islam greatly affected the region and there was something of a revivalist spirit in the air.

The 1990s also brought a new wave of Christianity and contacts with the West and as Capitalism began to disappoint and indeed the Central Asian '-stans' had little or no context for it, a degree of bitterness set in. This found outlet in not only anti-Soviet but anti-Western narratives and ethical imperatives. Christianity so unfortunately associated with Western Capitalism would also suffer as a result.

While many of the ex-Soviet bureaucrats were happy to do business with the West, they were forced out of pragmatic concern to embrace mild and secular forms of state-sponsored Islam. As the radical movements grew in power and influence they targeted morally compromised secular regimes. To maintain legitimacy the governments of Central Asia embraced Islam and trying to wrest away the narrative from the radical fighters. The state became zealous for Islam only to counter the more fanatical claims of the terrorist-fighters.

One is reminded of Conrad Adenauer's government in West Germany. Though he himself had no ties to the Third Reich, his government (and military) was actually filled with numerous ex-Nazis. He didn't like them but for the sake of expediency (and often at US behest) he accommodated them. And though few today realise it, there was substantial support for them in the German public. This continued for several decades after the war. The fear of Communism kept the German Right alive.

The embrace of Islam by governments in Central Asia was in many cases probably less than genuine, for these same figures were in most cases, ex-communist party members who were simply trying to maintain power.

Sadly, the Christians of the region have been caught in the middle. The state in embracing a pragmatic Islam is unfavourable to them and doesn't want to show favour to them in any way shape or form. And of course the radicals want to eliminate them or at the very least drive them away.

US calls for human rights only add fuel to the fire, embittering the state bureaucracy and further identify religious minorities with Western imperialism and thus decadence.


  1. The initial foray of the Gospel into Central Asia was those brave Syrians who, now being detached from Byzantium, spread through Arabia, Persia, the Central Asian steppes, even into Chang'An, the heart of China. They had fruitful lives and growing communities, even though they are not as obscenely visible as the forced conversion of the Franks in Europe. It's sad to see the so-called Christian America end up destroying many of these ancient churches, sometimes accidentally other times intentionally. I think it's for a reason that the American media seems to void the presence of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and among Palestinian Arabs. It makes it easy to make them into the Other of a wild and uncouth people, needing American benevolence and missionaries to tame them. It's similar to how the British had a weird imperial strategy with missionaries in Africa and Asia. On the one hand, the government was an active proponent of missionaries, and on the other, it was rather timid and reserved about mission progress. On the one hand you want people to submit to the missionary as an imperial emissary, but on the other, you don't want them to take it too seriously and begin the social process of replication. You want an English church, but not an indigenous church. Perhaps, this is the dialectical origin of the Strategy of Tension.


  2. In regards to your post on the other blog about Enlightenment and Fundamentalism:

    Are you familiar with Ephraim Radner? One of his projects is to recover reading Scripture as the Scripture describes and how this process was accepted by most Christians over the centuries. He explains this most forthrightly in his new book "Time and the Word". I'd be curious to see how you interact with him. Contextually, he's following the post-liberalism of Lindbeck and Frei, but trying to move beyond them and their malaise, typical of most linguistic-turn post-modernisms, that lacks grounds in any sense of Real. His books are kind of expensive, but there's some stuff online you can find for free. Anyway, I'd be curious to see your take on him.