Today, I am beginning a series of articles on the very complex topic of Russia and Islam, a topic which is mostly overlooked in the West or, when it is mentioned at all, is often completely misunderstood. I have been researching this fascinating topic for many months already and there is so much to say about it that I have decided to write a series of installments, each one covering one specific aspect of this topic. The nature of the current relationship and interaction between Russia and Islam is a very complex one, with spiritual, political, social, economic, historical and geostrategic aspects. Without already jumping to my conclusions, I will say that the dialectical relationship between Russia and Islam is, I believe, currently undergoing some profound and very dynamic changes which makes it impossible to confidently predict its future.
But first, it is important to stress here that Russia and Islam are not mutually opposite or mutually exclusive concepts. While relatively few ethnic Russians are Muslims, Russia has always been a multi-ethnic state, even when it was just a relatively small principality centered on the city of Kiev.
The word “Russian” in English is used to express two very different Russian concepts: the word “Russkii” means “Russian” as in “part of the Russian ethnicity or culture” and the words “Rossiiskii” which means “part of the country of Russia”. Likewise, when Russians speak of “Russkie” they mean the Russian ethnicity whereas when they speak of “Rossiiskie” they refer to the nation-state, to a geographical area. Take for instance the current Minister of Defense of Russia, Sergei Shoigu. He is an ethnic Tuvan through his father (and an ethnic Russian by his mother). If we ignore his maternal lineage, we could say that he is not a ethic Russian (“Russkii”) but he is a Russian national (“Rossiiskii”). By the way, Shoigu is not an Orthodox Christian, as most ethnic Russians, but a Buddhist. Likewise, Russia’s Minister of Internal Affairs between 2003 and 2011 was Rachid Nurgaliev, an ethnic Tatar, who was born as a Muslim but who eventually converted to the Orthodox faith. Again, he would be considered as a “Rossiianin” (Russian national) but not as a “Russkii”.
So while relatively few ethnic Russians are Muslims, there have always been many other (non-Russian) ethnic groups included in the Russian nation, including many Muslims, and these ethnic groups have often played a crucial role in Russian history. From the Vikings who founded the Kievian Rus’, to the (mostly Muslim) Mongols who helped Saint Alexander Nevsky defeat the Teutonic Knights of the Papist Northern Crusaders, to the two Chechen special forces battalions who spearheaded the Russian counter-offensive against the Georgian Army in the 08.08.08 war – non-Russians have always played an important role in Russia’s history and the existence of a fully legitimate historical “Russian Islam” cannot be denied. Put differently, if “Russkii Islam” is really a minor, almost private, phenomenon, “Rossiiskii Islam” is an phenomenon present throughout the 1000+ years of Russian history and an integral part of Russia’s identity.
This is particular important to keep in mind when one hears the mis-informed opinions of those who would have Russia as a part of the so-called “Western Christendom”. Let’s make something clear, the most frequent and meaningful form of interaction the Russian nation has had with Western Christianity was war. And every single one of these wars was a defensive war against a Western aggression.
It is true that a good part of the Russian Imperial nobility, which was often of Germanic ethnic extraction, and almost totally composed of active members of the Freemasonry, wanted Russia to become part of the Western civilization. However, this has always been a fashion only amongst wealthy elites, the already very westernized classes, what Marx would call the “superstructure” of Russia. The Russian Orthodox masses, however, were culturally far closer to their Muslim or Buddhist neighbors than to the westernized elites who took over the reigns of power in the 18th century under Tsar Peter I.
While before the 18th century nobody would seriously claim that Russia was part of the Western civilization, after the 18th century there has been an almost continuous effort made by certain members of the Russian upper classes to “modernize” Russia, which really meant *westernizing* it. From Tsar Peter I, to the Decembrist Freemasons, to the Kerensky regime, to the Eltsin years, Russian “Westernizers” never gave up their struggle to turn Russia into a Western state. I would even claim that the entire Soviet experiment was also an attempt to westernize Russia, albeit not along the usual Papist or Masonic models, but along a Marxist one. What all these models have in common is a visceral dislike for the real Russian culture and spirituality, and a obsessive desire to “turn Russia into Poland”. The perfect expression for this disdain/hatred for the Russian culture and nation can be found in the following words of Napoleon who said : “Grattez le Russe, et vous trouverez le Tartare‘’ (scratch a Russian and you find a Tartar). Coming from the “Masonic Emperor” who used the sanctuaries of the Russian Orthodox Churches as stables for his horses and who, out of spite, attempted to blow-up the entire Kremlin, these words reveal the roots of his real aversion for the Russian people.
In contrast, 500 years before the (mostly Muslim) Mongols who invaded Russia usually treated the Russian Church and the Orthodox clergy with utmost respect. Sure, they did not hesitate to burn down a monastery and kill everybody inside, but only if the monastery was used by Russian insurgents in their struggle against the invaders. And yes, some Mongols did force Russian princes to walk through their pagan “purification fire”, but these were not Muslim, but pagans. The undeniable fact is that when Russians were subjected to the Muslim yoke it was always far less cruel and barbaric than what the Papist, Masonic or Nazi invaders did every time they attempted to invade and subdue Russia. This is why there is no real anti-Islamic current in the Russian popular culture, at least not before the Soviet era which, unfortunately, fundamentally upset a delicate balance which had been reached before 1917.
In the past, westernizing forces saw themselves are “Europeans”, as opposed to “Asians”, and it is quite remarkable to see how these westernizing forces have become anti-Muslim nowadays (more about that later). While they wholeheartedly support the freedom to organize so-called “Gay pride” parades or the actions of “Pussy Riot” group, these Westernizing forces are categorically opposed to the right of young Muslim girls to wear a scarf on their heads while in school.
Frankly, I do not want to spend any more time discussing the pro-Western forces in Russia mainly because they really have been weakened to the point of representing less than 1 or 2 percent of the population by now. I have to mention these forces here, mostly as a leftover from almost 300 years of unsuccessful attempts to westernize Russia, but this is not were the “interesting stuff” is happening nowadays. Nowadays, it is the heated debates about Islam inside and amongst the various anti-Western or “patriotic” groups which is so interesting, and this will be the topic of a future installment. But next, we will need to look at the current spiritual condition of the majority of the Russian people.
A very fascinating and informative article. Many thanks.
More of a threat of radical Islam that tends to have the opposite effect of what is intended whether it be in Russia, Algeria, Iraq or elsewhere is the promotion of pan-Turkic ethnic nationalism in Russia, Crimea, Caucasus, Central Asia and Northern China.
Most famous of which is the Gulen movement but there is various lobby groups and misnomer government funded NGO’s promoting the idea of pan-Turkic identity.
What about the Circassian issue?
Strategic Culture Foundation has produced a couple of articles in how US based organisations, universities and others are promoting the Circassian genocide and repatriation to areas around Sochi in the lead up the winter Olympics in 2014 that marks the 200 year anniversary or something since they were expelled.
Russia already has had a small repatriation of Circassians from Kosovo since the collapse of the USSR.
“Frankly, I do not want to spend any more time discussing the pro-Western forces in Russia mainly because they really have been weakened to the point of representing less than 1 or 2 percent of the population by now.”
This statement is not consistent with your previous assessments in various writings and sayings that the “pro Western forces” or “Liberals” currently account for around half of the people in the Russian political power structure. I am assuming that the “pro Western forces” and “Liberals”, are the same people. Is this correct?
The term “pro Western forces” or “Liberals” needs a bit more explanation. You have, on other occasions described them as fifth coloumnists which is a bit odd if this ideological struggle has been going on for 2-3 centuries. As a derogatory term for the other side it is understandable but is not very helpful in helping to understand the issue. If the struggle has been going on for so long then surely it is already part of the multi-faceted culture/ideology of Russia? What are the fundamental issues/philosophy that divide the two groups?
Are the “pro Western forces” or “Liberals” similar to the Ataturk phenomenon of Turkey? Or similar to what the Shah of Iran tried to do for Iran?
Perhaps in USA language no other has written more serious than “NORMAN DAVES”, a Stanford historian, about Central & Eastern Europe.
Thanks for the suggestion. I will look into it.
Chinese proverb: “The first step to the truth (wisdom) is to call things by they proper name”, e.g.
America is the Continent NOT a country.
U.S. Americans are not only Americans in America(s), North and South.
A wonderful beginning to an extraordinarily vital global need to understand Islam as springing from human generational needs paganism never addressed. Neither did either Judaism nor the form of Judaism, Roman Christianity, it’s offspring, address. The rights of the live chattel, women and the herd animals who also promoted human lives are ritually and actually cherished, protected.. Islam compared to Judaism or Roman Christianity was and still is, revolutionary, and necessary to human global survival.Russian Orthodox Christianity in it’s ancient forms are very close.
Re: “these Westernizing forces are categorically opposed to the right of young Muslim girls to wear a scarf on their heads while in school.” The Koran states that only the breasts and sexual organs must be covered, any thing else or other covering is from tribal customs not of muslim origins.
Thank you, Saker, for addressing this absorbing subject. I followed your link to the wikipedia article about the Decembrists, and I would strongly recommend readers to also go there. I had a very limited understanding of their role in Russian society – the article makes a strong case for how important that role was. Here is just one segment of it:
“. . .The Siberian population met the Decembrists with great hospitality. Natives played central roles in keeping lines of communication open among Decembrists, friends, and relatives. Most merchants and state employees were also sympathetic. To the masses, the Decembrist exiles were ‘generals who had refused to take the oath to Nicholas I.’ They were great figures that had suffered political persecution for their loyalty to the people. On the whole, indigenous Siberian populations greatly respected the Decembrists, and were extremely hospitable in their reception of them. . .”
I am not entirely convinced that the argument can be made that east vs. west was the operative factor in the Decembrist uprisings, since there was therein, it would seem, not anything like a ‘CIA underground incursion’ or ‘decadence’ motivating that movement, but rather idealistic anti-imperialism as we would understand it, a resistance to autocratic rule over the serfs, joined by both elites and the lower classes. Were these ideas, (admittedly also occurring in western countries,) and the positive results the wikipedia article points to, a bad thing?
It wasn’t a walk in the park to be sent to Siberia. I’m just intrigued that there was an integration accomplished there in spite of all the hardship.
I received full medical scholarship to study 3yrs of PG medical studies at Pavlov (First) state medical university in Leningrad, USSR. My professors were Armenian, Kazakh, Russian and Jewish which i only learned after i left USSR in 1984. Although by then the soviet union was facing +undergoing intense sociopolitical Osmosis , Being Muslim & Black(Jiorneye jalavek) and Only when I came to Canada for PhD studies did I realized how lucky I was welcomed and lucky to have studied in the Great Soviet Union .
In 1963 Both my eldest brothers were Sent to TOKMAK AirForce Academy in Kyrgyzstan SSR where they spent 3 yrs as Fighter Pilots – MiG-17+21 + later on they return in 1973-6 for Advanced Air force training at FRUNZE Airforce Academy. I have 2 nephews who r Half(Somali) and Half (Kyrgyzstan) who r now teaching universities in Canada and US. They never felt any ISLAMOPHOBIA like the WEST currently which is ZIONIST Warfare on Islam – created, funded, controlled, and DECIMATED via Neocon Zionist MSM + Deep State and Hollywood Complex post 9/11
Big BALSHOYA to you SAKER & to my beloved Soviet Union.