The Importance of Remembering that Not All Muslims in the Post-Soviet Region are Radical Islamists or Chechen Nationalists

Muslims in Russia are often alleged (most recently by President Putin) to be potential Islamists, ready to support the radical Chechen separatist project of establishing an Islamic state in the Caucasus. This article challenges this claim, which assumes that Muslims in Russia form a coherent group based on religious identity, and as such, share a set of common political preferences that oppose the central state. The article demonstrates instead that: (1) Russian Muslims practice various forms of Islam; (2) religious belief and practice is not always correlated with anti-Moscow political mobilization; (3) ethnicity, rather than always reinforcing Muslim identity, interacts with Islam in complex ways throughout Russia’s ethnic republics, and (4) Muslims in Russia have largely opposed radical Islamic movements during the past 15 years and most likely will continue to do so. These points are supported by an analysis of Islam, identity and politics in Dagestan and Chechnya, the two republics in Russia that have witnessed the largest amount of Islamic mobilization.

This is the abstract of a 2005 Nationalism and Ethnic Politics article by political scientist Elise Giuliano.  As rumors and information circulates about the identity of the Boston marathon bombers - described by CNN as “ brothers from the Russian Caucasus” who previously lived in Chechnya and as other sources confirm their “Chechen origin” – Giuliano’s research seems particularly important today. As she confirms in her research, the residents of the Russian Caucasus are a diverse bunch; we should take our time before assuming we know anything about the motivation of these two particular individuals for the heinous acts of the previous days.

4 Responses to The Importance of Remembering that Not All Muslims in the Post-Soviet Region are Radical Islamists or Chechen Nationalists

  1. jonathan April 19, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I’m not sure what the purpose of this post is. Rational people know not all Muslims desire to blow up children. And since millions of Russian citizens are Muslim and some Chechens supported Moscow during the war, not all Russian Muslims are fanatics. It would be silly to think they all are.

    But I have no idea what that is supposed to mean for today. These two are Muslim. They are actually from Dagestan but are Chechen. I have no idea how or if Dagestanis differ from Chechens.

    • Scott Monje April 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

      Most of the autonomous republics in Russia are built around an ethnic group, such as the Chechens in Chechnya. Dagestan is an exception. There really is no Dagestani ethnic group, it’s kind of a hodgepodge of ethnic minorities, including Chechens, without a majority.

    • Nameless April 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      They are not from Dagestan. They are Chechen “expats” (not sure if this is the right word?) who grew up in Central Asia and lived in Dagestan briefly, less than one year, before coming to the U.S.

      Chechens in general are anti-Moscow only to the extent that they are separatist. Russia has a large Muslim minority (percentage wise, there are more Muslims in Russia than there are blacks in the U.S.) and most Muslims are not separatist, partly because most of them are more “assimilated” and less radically religious than Chechens, partly because separation often does not make sense. For example, Tatarstan is majority Muslim, but it would be silly and impractical for them to separate – they would be enclosed by Russia from all sides, and they haven’t been independent since the 16th century anyway. They briefly dabbled with the concept of full sovereignty in the early 90’s but, in the end, settled in an autonomous, symbiotic status. They get a lot of autonomy, Islam is treated by the central government as one of the core religions (unlike, say, Protestantism, which is extensively persecuted), and that keeps Tatars and other Muslims fairly happy.

  2. Jim Rose April 20, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    In days gone by, the sterotype was that all Irish catholic migrants were Finians.

    Many migrants from troubled lands come to the new world to escape the troubles of the old country. most want a fresh start. some still carry the old wounds.