Saturday, May 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Muslim Radicalism Product of Broader Radicalization of Russian Life, Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 31 – Russian analysts and officials invariably seek the causes of Muslim radicalism in the North Caucasus within Islam, but the real causes, according to a scholar in Kabardino-Balkaria, are to be found in the radicalization of almost all aspects of Russian life over the last 15 years.
At a hearing of the Russian Social Chamber in Nalchik last Tuesday, Khazhismel’ Tkhagapsoyev acknowledged that Islamic radicalism exists, takes various forms and is extremely dangerous but said it was a mistake to seek its causes within the Muslim community alone or to blame only one or two factors (
Typically, the social scientist said, analysts point to widespread ethnophobia, racism and chauvinism to explain the rise of Islamic radicalism in Russia, but they fail to recognize that practically all aspects of Russian life – including neo-liberalism, authoritarianism, and socialism – are becoming increasingly radicalized as well.
According to Tkhagapsoyev, “the main sources and determinants of any radicalism in contemporary Russia are the following ideological (‘foundation’) forms of radicalism: the radicalism of our capitalism (the ideology of enriching oneself at any price), the radicalism of ethnophobia and chauvinism (the idea that ‘everything evil is from the aliens and that Russia is for the Russians’), and the radicalism of the authoritarian state.”
The last, the Kabardino-Balkarian scholar said, involves the “unrestricted verticalization of power and administration” as “the salvation of Russia” despite the massive corruption it entails. None of these views stands up to close examination, but all of them taken together help to explain why Moscow prefers to talk about Islamic radicalism as if it were a unique case.
Life in Russia today, he continues, “is so filled up with radicalisms of these various types that society is losing its immunity against it. And that in turn means that “we are capable of recognizing only the crudest and most militant forms of radicalism” – like the “pseudo-Islamic” kind.
But what is most regrettable, Tkhagapsoyev argued, is that “we do not react sufficiently to the radicalism which is coming from the government and its structures.” And even when society does react, the government simply ignores it, as has been the case with the introduction of courses on Russian Orthodox culture in the schools.
“Civilized countries,” the North Caucasus academic said, “have not been involved in the strengthening of parties and the expansion of their powers for a long time. Instead, they have sought the strengthening of the role of civil society in the administration of the government. Without this, society cannot be healthy and free from the spirit of radicalism.”
In order to protect young people from radicalization, Tkhagapsoyev argued, Russian society “must act in the following directions: radically improve the life of the population by promoting a more just distribution of income and honestly and openly criticize all forms of radicalism – including that of the state -- rather than adopting a selective approach.”
Moreover, he said, “it is necessary to develop democracy and participation in civil society, because until a real civil society exists, radicalism will not decline.” And it is also necessary to promote among the young “a rational culture of consensus” about what forms of behavior are to be tolerated and what are not.
As a first step in this process, he appealed to Orthodox Bishop Feofan, who was in attendance,” that “the Russian Orthodox Church raise its authoritative voice against ethnophobia and intolerance in inter-ethnic relations.” Such a step by itself, Tkhagapsoyev concluded, “would undercut radicalism.”
And that he said would be something that would work “for the good of Russia and the good of all of us.”

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