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Back to Islam? Women's Sexualities and Body-Politics in Muslim Central Asia

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In this paper I examine the commonly held assumption that the developments we witnessed in Central Asian societies since the disintegration of the Soviet Union could be interpreted as a "return to pre-Soviet Islamic traditions". I am specifically concerned with reports about the increasing violations of women's sexual rights and mounting control over their bodies, developments that are accompanied by a "conspiracy of silence" about sexual matters.

This essay is based on anthropological fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan, various reports from other Central Asian republics, a review of Soviet sex and gender policies, and analysis of Islamic Scriptures on the issue of sexuality. Even though some Muslim practices regarding sexualities can be seen as having a basis in the Qurān, the interpretations and translations into daily practice are to a major extent influenced by political, economic, and socio-cultural forces. I trace these processes in the case of Soviet and post-Soviet Central Asia and argue that the rhetoric of a "return to Islamic traditions" does not take into account the significant impact on other forces on the current practices of policing women's bodies and silencing discourses on sexualities.

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