New Age Islam
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Books and Documents ( 13 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A New Look at Islam and Kazakhstan

By Isidore Rogalski

“At about the same time that the Berlin Wall came Crashing down a new threat began to emerge as a new global conflict started to take shape replacing the Cold War as the eye of the storm in world politics. In turn, that change allowed new countries – and new forces – to emerge, among them Kazakhstan, that despite a difficult beginning has turned into a model for the rest of Central Asia to look up to,” writes American author and journalist Claude Salhani in his latest book, Islam Without a Veil: Kazakhstan’s Path of Moderation, published in Washington, DC, by Potomac Books.

The end of Soviet rule, says Mr. Salhani, “brought about a tectonic change within the geographic area once occupied by the Soviet system.”

The disappearance of communism failed to bring peace and stability and the expected new world order. As new nations arose, so, too, did new political trends, “Before long militant Islam – also called Islamism – took over center stage. Islamism became the new menace to world peace. Some scholars began to project this new conflict as one between the Muslim world and the West; others did not hesitate to call this conflict a clash of civilizations between Islam and the non-Muslim world.”

Mr. Salhani, a specialist in terrorism, politicized Islam and the Middle East, who has spent 15 years of a career spanning 30-plus years in the Middle East, rejects that notion. Rather, Mr. Salhani tells the reader in this educational and captivating work that the unrest is principally one within the house of Islam and unless reforms are introduced and greater efforts given to education, the rift will only grow.

Islam Without a Veil is a notable study by an author who has a deep understanding and respect for Islam and for Muslim tradition and culture. It should be helpful reading for anyone who professes to know anything about Islam or Kazakhstan.

Mr. Salhani fights a dual battle in his latest book: trying to explain to a Western audience the real face of Islam and at the same time alerting the Muslim world that they need to get their house in order to be able to compete on an equal footing in today’s demanding world economy.

He also stands up for Kazakhstan, explaining to those who keep pointing to only the negative aspects of what it takes to mold a society such as Kazakhstan’s into a modern vibrant state.

“Bill Clinton coined the phrase ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’

Nursultan Nazarbayev coined the phrase, ‘The economy first, politics second’,” says Mr. Salhani.

The author explains through his engaging narrative that there is far more to Islam than what the average American has been fed on the Six O’clock News every night since the 9/11 attacks, just as there is more to Kazakhstan than most Western reporters tend to report.

It is far easier to criticize when one does not understand the intricacies of a country such as Kazakhstan. It is much harder to explain its successes, as Mr. Salhani does, particularly to people with pre-set biases.

During his assignment in Astana, Mr. Salhani interviewed most of the country’s leadership, and spent countless hours talking to Kazakhstan’s religious leaders, as well as everyday people in the streets. He discovered that Kazakhstan was very active on two fronts, two topics he had spent decades covering as a journalist with a degree in conflict resolution: religion and terrorism and how they interact and how they can be utilized to explore a solution to the current dilemma.

After the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the emergence of Islamophobia, Muslim bashing became common. Telling the world that the majority of Muslims are decent people who just want to get on with their lives turned into a difficult task. Islam in Kazakhstan gives us a very different picture. A visit to Kazakhstan, a country at peace with itself and with its neighbors, should be compulsory for any Western pundit who wishes to call themselves “experts on Islam,” Mr. Salhani says.

The author reminds the readers of President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech delivered in Berlin at the height of the Cold War, when Kennedy said:  “Those of you who believe that communism is the wave of the future, let them come to Berlin.” Mr. Salhani predicts that like communism, militant Islam will eventual yield to the more pragmatic side of Islam. He writes: “Allow me to paraphrase President Kennedy and say to those of you who believe that there cannot be a gentler, kinder and more pragmatic face of Islam, let them come to Kazakhstan. To those who believe that all Muslims are a threat, let them come to Kazakhstan.”

Source: The Astana Times