Monday, December 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Nationalism Greater Threat to Russia than is Islamic Extremism, Daghestan Historian Argues

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 27 – Russians currently devote so much attention to radical Islamism in the North Caucasus and elsewhere that they all too often fail to see that ethnic nationalism is a far greater threat to their interests both within the Russian Federation and abroad, according to a Daghestani historian.
In an online essay today, Sergey Israpilov gives as an example of this the fact that the Russian defense doctrine identifies “Caucasian Islamists [as] one of the three most probable threats” to the country, as if “an enormous power with a nuclear shield” is going to be attacked and destroyed by “a few dozen extremists” (
“Such great attention to the small number of terrorists and the level of the danger they represent does not in any way correspond to existing reality,” Israpilov says, and he argues that this “heightened attention to the danger of terrorists is a phenomenon not of reality but rather one of social consciousness.”
Of course, Israpilov says, attacks by Islamists do present a real threat to militia workers and to specific individuals, and they are thus unwelcome. “But in ‘the struggle with terror’ today have been drawn in not just particular individual militiamen but all of Russia, all of its budget, all of its political and financial resources, the special services and the army.”
In many ways, he continues, this reaction, which itself is having a negative impact on the economy and society, is like the one some people experience because of allergies to insect bites. The bites themselves “do not threat the life of the individual,” but “the severe allergic reaction can be extraordinarily dangerous.”
“The true danger for Russia” thus does not come from “Islam in its radical form,” either in the North Caucasus or abroad. There are relatively few Wahhabis in the former, and the greatest threats to Russia in the Muslim world come not from countries with “Islamist regimes” but rather from “secular” and “democratic” ones.
According to Israpilov, “the greatest real harm to Russia comes from contemporary ‘democratic’ Afghanistan … which sends to Russia drugs which every year kill 40,000 to 50,000 young Russians.” When the radical Islamist Taliban was in power, the Daghestani historian says, this danger was much less.
And “the greatest potential threat to Russia from the side of the Islamic world,” he continues, “also is represented by secular national regimes in countries like Pakistan and Iran which have or are building their own nuclear arms,” the kind of threat that no country can afford to ignore.
“When extreme and more radical Islamists come to power,” Israpilov points out, “they as their first act destroy the social structure of society which makes impossible the existence of a contemporary economy and even more the creation of its own military industry and contemporary forms of armament.”
Moreover, Israpilov says, “even millions of ultra-radical mujahids in a poor and starving country do not threaten their neighbors in any way. The mujahids in the entire world fight only with arms which they are able to steal or buy from ‘unbelievers.’ And therefore,” he argues, “in essence, they are not that dangerous for Russia.”
“If the citizens of some southern country or other consider it worthwhile to destroy their own national state as a non-Islamic error,” he argues, “this is their affair and their problem. But if their national state builds ballistic missiles and trades in drugs, then this is already a problem for Russia.”
The same logic holds inside of Russia. Nationalism, Israpilov suggests, “both among the ethnic Russians themselves and among the peoples of the Caucasus, represents the main potential danger.” The radical Islamists can carry out “an armed struggle in the forests” but they do not represent the truth threat for the integrity of Russia or the majority of Russian citizens.”
But “ethno-nationalism is an enemy which is really capable of destroying Russia,” Israpilov says. That is because “Russia today is in a difficult situation: [It] is the only country in Europe and one of the few in the world in which several autochthonian peoples are building a common statehood.”
“A century ago, there were five strong states in Europe which controlled almost the entire world – Britain, France, Austro-Hungary, Russia and Germany. But the successful development of capitalism destroyed these states. [And] today there are more than 70 mono-national states which have shed a great deal of bloof for freedom from ‘warmly beloved’ neighbors.”
Over the course of Russian history, there have been two periods when capitalism developed quickly – “the second half of the 19th century and the end of the20th century. Both these periods ended with the collapse of the country and the separating out from Russian of two dozen mono-national states.”
Given this trend, Russians need to reconsider the relative dangers of radical Islam and ethno-nationalism, Israpilov says. “As far as the Caucasus is concerned, the rapid Islamizaiton of the region does not harm the interests of Russia” because “Islam and ethno-nationalism and two irreconcilable enemies.”
“Where it can, Islam destroys nationalism, [and] where it can, nationalism struggles with Islam,” Israpilov points out. If Islamism is successful, nationalism ceases to function, but more than that, because Islamist norms drawn from the seventh century are successfully imposed, neither industry nor governing structures will be effective.
Indeed, “both in the international arena and within Russia, radical Islam is harmful above all not toward those of other faiths but in relation to their own nationalists.” That can easily be seen in the case of Daghestan and the members of its diasporas in Moscow and other Russian cities, the Makhachkala-based historian says.
Quite often, those who leave Daghestan are “well educated” and even have their own business. “They leave Daghestan abov e all because they feel themselves uncomfortable in the rapidly Islamicizing Daghestan.” In their “native” republic, they have come to feel themselves an “alien” element.
But often in Russia, these very same Daghestanis do not integrate into the larger society but instead stand apart from the Russians and some engage in criminality. They thus “create a source of threat for concrete Russians and for Russia as a whole” not directly but because “they provoke Russian nationalism.”
The sad fact, Israpilov continues, is that “precisely the most ‘Europeanized’ Daghestanis and Caucasians as a whole are infected by the bacillus of nationalism,” something that is “alien” both for the Caucasus and for Islam and that was “introduced into our life namely by European and Western education.”
“The nationalism of the small peoples of Russia is just as much an enemy for Islam and for Muslims remaining in Daghestan as it is for Russia and for Russia,” Israpilov argues, “and thus, Russia must not fight with radical Islam [at least in this context] but seek a dialogue with it and, if necessary, support it.”

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