To fight Islamist radicals, Tajikistan shaved the beards off 13,000 men

By ISHAAN THAROOR | The Washington Post | Published: January 21, 2016

In a bid to curb Islamist radicalization, authorities in the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan shaved the beards off nearly 13,000 men in the country. They also shut down about 160 shops selling traditional Islamic garb and supposedly "convinced" more than 1,700 women to stop wearing hijabs, or head coverings.

According to Radio Free Europe's Tajik service, the measures were taken in the southwest Khatlon region, which borders Afghanistan. The region's head of police said that 12,818 men with "overly long and unkempt beards" were "brought to order" in 2015.

The secular regime of President Imomali Rakhmon is known for its hard-line opposition to political Islam. From 1992 to 1997, Tajikistan endured a bitter civil war between government forces loyal to Rakhmon and an Islamist opposition. Estimates suggest that 50,000 to 100,000 people were killed.

As the Post reported earlier, the government has taken steps to push back against Islamic traditions it claims are being imported from Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department has estimated that more than 90 percent of its population is Muslim, and that religious adherence appears to be growing in the country. Rakhmon, a secular leader though a Sunni himself, has been in power since 1992. His authoritarian government has repeatedly expressed concern over the rise of Islam, linking it to extremism.

Rakhmon had even linked the wearing of the hijab to prostitution in a televised address. In September, the country's Supreme Court banned the only registered Islamist political party that was officially recognized. And in December, Rakhmon assumed further powers after parliament granted his family life-long immunity from prosecution and designated him "the founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, troubles remain in this deeply impoverished nation of about 7 million people. Hundreds of Tajik nationals are thought to be in Iraq and Syria among the ranks of the Islamic State militant group. Last year, the chief of an elite police unit assigned to combating Islamist extremists disappeared and is now thought to have joined the Islamic State.

The crackdowns in Tajikistan mirror measures carried out across the border in China's far-western region of Xinjiang, where Beijing has sought to curb the Muslim traditions of the local Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority.


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