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Francesco Zannini, L'islam nel cuore dell'Asia

Francesco Zannini, L'islam nel cuore dell'Asia (Islam in the heart of Asia), Ed. Lavoro, 2007

To a Western ear, Central Asia’s many whatever-stans sound like some kind of post-Soviet leftover. In reality the region is complex and fascinating, very much shaped by two features that more than any other make it modern, namely its (almost) total Turkic character and Islam. Turkic languages are spoken in several Central Asia countries (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, plus China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, home to ethnic Uyghurs), and together they constitute one of the main if somewhat forgotten sub-systems of Asia’s Islam.

 

In L’islam nel cuore dell’Asia Francesco Zannini systematically looks at the Muslim East’s many faces, especially in Central Asia, a region where religion, ethnicity and language are indissolubly intermeshed. In this part of the world Soviet state atheism made religion appear on the way out, but beginning with Perestroika everyone has felt the wind of an Islamic renaissance, blending the religious and the political, providing a “chance to break with both Soviet Communist ideology and Russian-Slavic culture to allow local communities to reassert their own identities.”

 

The dictators who now run the show and who were once members of the Communist nomenklatura successfully recycled themselves into born-again Muslims, using religion as leverage to prop up their shaky power base and re-shape local national identities. But in so doing they exposed their societies to the danger of Islamist infiltration.

 

And yet despite such risks Zannini remains an optimist for in his book he highlights the role played by deeply-rooted indigenous Muslim traditions in underpinning local cultures’ resistance to outside forces.

 

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