Vienna, June 18 – Muslims who have come to the Russian capital from the Caucasus and Central Asia including many who do not speak Russian are significantly more tolerant of people of other faiths than are ethnic Russians in general and ethnic Russian converts to Islam in particular, according to new research.
In a book entitled “The Muslims of Moscow: Factors of Religious Tolerance” (published in Russian in 400 copies by the Academy of Sciences Institute of Africa at the end of last year and reviewed in today’s “NG-Religii”), Darya Khalturina reports findings which both confirm and undercut many widespread assumptions (religion.ng.ru/printing/2008-06-18/11_islam.html).
Her study, the review says, found that Azerbaijani Muslims living in Moscow were more than three times as likely to be “actively tolerant” than Muslims from within the Russian Federation, 67 percent to 22 percent, and that the Russianization of new arrivals does not have a positive effect on the level of tolerance they show.
It is thus entirely possible,” her research showed, “to think in Uzbek or in Chechen and at the same time to tolerate letting ‘a thousand flowers bloom.’ And it is possible to think in Russian and to view every non-Muslim as a [threat]” – a finding that undercuts one of the most widespread assumptions on which Russian immigration policy is based.
Her work, which was based on a poll of 1,000 people in Moscow, also challenged the notion that “the more religious Muslims are, the less tolerant they are.” In fact, Khalturina said,, that is not the case: Those who are actively religious are “inclined toward a moderate position” toward non-Muslims. They’re not models of tolerance. But you wouldn’t call them xenophobes.”
Indeed, she found that only 11 percent of the Chechens living in Moscow, the nation most Russians and especially government officials believe are the most ineluctably hostile toward Russians, can be accurately described as xenophobic, a far lower share than found in other groups.
For three reasons, many people including “NG-Religii’s” reviewer, are certain to be skeptical of Khalturina’s findings. First, they are so at variance with what most Russians believe that many will assume they cannot be true. Indeed, the reviewer suggests she decided what conclusions she wanted before she began her study.
Second, the definitions of tolerance and xenophobia that she implies are at the very least problematic, flexible to the point that different scholars would likely “code” them differently, something that makes it difficult if not impossible to test her findings directly by repeating her study.
And third, the small size of her sample means that some of the percentages she gives are based on very small numbers – 18 for the xenophobes among Chechens, for example – and that too argues for a very cautious approach to her findings, one significantly more cautious than she herself employs.
Nonetheless, this book is important for two reasons. On the one hand, it serves as a reminder that many of the most widespread “truths” about the Muslims of Russia or more generally may not be true. And on the other, it suggests that more such research on these critical questions is likely be conducted by Russian scholars and may soon appear.