Provocative billboard sparks religious debate in Kyrgyzzstan

DUSHANBE, July 14, 2016, Asia-Plus -- An article “Kyrgyzstan: Shock Billboard Sparks Religious Debate” that was posted on EurasiaNet.org’s website on July 13 says residents of Kyrgyzstan’s capital woke up on July 13 to find stark and, to some, provocative billboards on some of the city’s main thoroughfares.

The huge poster reportedly shows three groups of women in a variety of female head covers — some of them in the niqab veil that covers almost the entire — and the words “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?”

The meaning of the image is slightly cryptic, according to the article.  But the arrangement of the pictures — traditional Kyrgyz dress on the left, niqabs on the right and something looking like a halfway version of those two forms of dress in the middle — would suggest that whoever is behind the stunt is concerned at the stealthy spread of ultra-orthodox Muslim customs in the country.

The first public reaction to the billboard came from prominent religious affairs commentator Kadyr Malikov, who has made a name for himself forecasting the rise of radical Islam in Kyrgyzstan.  He described the poster as a “provocation.”

“Article 299 of the criminal code [on incitement to religious hatred and offending religious feelings) states that actions like this can lead to spread of hatred and cause divisions within the state. These are highly dangerous shenanigans,” Malikov wrote in a public appeal calling for the authorities to get involved.

While Malikov is concerned about the potential for a surge in radical Islam, he has also registered anxiety about a concomitant increase in Islamophobic sentiment, which he sees in the posters.

The pictures were, in any case, misleading, Malikov wrote.

“One photo is shot in Osh at an award-giving ceremony for women who have memorized the Koran — these sisters are Hafizas. Those in the first rows have covered their faces with a veil.  The status of Hafiza obliges them to cover their face during mass gatherings in the presence of men so as to preserve clean thoughts and prevent unneeded gazes. In everyday life, the Hafizas do not cover their faces,” Malikov said.  “Judging by the scale of this provocation and the enormous expense involved, it is clear that whoever ordered this is no simple person.”

At Malikov’s behest, the State Committee for National Security has launched an investigation into the billboard to check it for signs of incitement to religious hatred.

This article was originally featured on Media Group/Tajikistan Asia-Plus

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