Saturday, February 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Islamism of North Caucasus Underground Tactical, Not Strategic

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 22 – Like the declarations of Third World leaders during the Cold War of their undying commitment to communism, recent anti-Western and pro-Islamist rhetoric of Moscow’s opponents in the North Caucasus is a tactic designed to win friends at home and abroad rather than a reflection of any strategic reorientation.
Indeed, according to an analysis of these statements, Sergey Davydov, a Russian specialist on Islam, the attachment of North Caucasus “Islamists” to what they say they believe is so “superficial” that it could disappear just as quickly as did Third World support for communism (
And consequently, those in Moscow and the West who read these declarations as something permanent and irreversible are making a potentially dangerous mistake, one that will lead to the radicalization of opinion in the North Caucasus and make the resolution of problems there more difficult, if not indeed impossible.
In the articles and statements put on North Caucasus Islamist sites, Davydov says, there is no evidence that their authors understand the words that they employ or the philosophical and historical context in which these terms were developed and are currently used abroad.
Consequently, “it is obvious,” he continues, that “we are dealing with a sufficiently superficial ideological doctrine which does not have anything in common with the denial of this or that aspect of the political system and philosophy of Western states from an Islamic perspective.”
Instead, these statements represent a “primitive” use of terms by people who do not know what they mean. And “such a quasi-ideology arises from an effort to find a common language with the structures of ‘the world jihad,’ and can be easily changed if [these authors] acquire other sources [of support] for the continuation of the struggle.”
Should such alternative sources become available, then “the Islamist” commitment of the North Caucasus underground will disappear “like a morning fog,” just as African and Asian support for communism dissipated after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its massive foreign aid program.
“The fantastic mistakes committed by [North Caucasus Islamists],” Davydov continues, “in the areas of linguistics, Islamic law, and the history of Muslim peoples leads to the conclusion that here we are not dealing with the direct impact of foreign centers of Islamic extremism so much as with an effort” to extract resources from abroad.
Moreover, “certain passages” in these Internet declarations “surprisingly recall the articles of Russian ultra-patriots or masterpieces of Kremlin propaganda.” And that in turn leads to the conclusion” that these “Islamist” declarations actually reflect something “inherited from the Soviet past” rather than a new import.
Two other articles this week make a parallel if broader observation about the supposedly growing role of Islam and Islamist ideology in the North Caucasus. According to one by a journalist in Grozny, the current Chechen government’s approach to Islam is far more nuanced than most observers suggest.
While Ramzan Kadyrov does speak out in favor of Islam, the article says, he also supports other faiths such as Russian Orthodoxy in ways that make it wrong to assume that his commitment to Islam is more than a tactic to gain allies abroad and thus increase his freedom of action (
And according to a second, prepared by the Moscow-based Memorial human rights organization, even the limited Islamization of Chechnya is actively opposed by many people there, including students and faculty at the local universities (
None of this is to say, of course, that Islam is not playing a bigger role in the North Caucasus, but rather it is to suggest that dismissing the entire region as somehow “lost” to “the fundamentalists” not only ignores some important nuances but deprives those who do so of the understanding they need to address the region’s problems.

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