May 24, 2006
You Say You Want A Revolution? Chechen Sufism vs. Islamist Terrorism
In a hilariously ironic turn of events, it seems that the Russian Federation central government is now encouraging Chechens to return to observance of their indigenous flavor of Sufism , after 200 years of official anti-Islam policy ranging from denial that observant Muslims even existed to active persecution of believers. Well, I suppose that if you think your alternative is acceptance of a line of thought held by the charming folks who held a theater full of innocent civilians hostage, anything must seem like an improvement.
However, if a sign of a lasting trend rather than a few isolated occurrences (or a simple central government failure to control local Sufi observances), this turn of events would represent a significant departure from Moscow’s past policy toward Islam in the North Caucasus.
Historically Moscow has actively discouraged North Caucasian Sufism and treated it as a threat to state security. In fact, Shamil , the Caucasian leader of the anti-Russian resistance during the Caucasian Wars leading to the incorporation of Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus into the Russian Empire, was a Naqshbandi Sufi and the Third Imam of Dagestan and Chechnya. And for that matter, it’s no coincidence that Shamil Basayev, current Chechen resistance leader and anti-Russian terrorist, was named for him.
Perhaps Putin thinks that the Sufi zikr is a preferable alternative to the violence that has resurfaced in the North Caucasus along with the influx of outside strains of Islam (not to mention military support) since the collapse of the USSR; perhaps he simply thinks relaxing existing policy may serve as a safety valve to release some of the popular dissatisfaction and frustration with the pro-Moscow Chechen administration. In any case, current policy in Chechnya re: Islam isn't working very well, so it may be time to try something else - but I'm surprised to see an attempt at something so far from the norm. Is it desperation at the continued violence, or is Putin even more calculating than I previously thought?
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Amusing & interesting. I'd vote for desperation, myself, but Putin is one calculating bastid, so I'm sure there's a subtext to this.
Posted by: pantom at May 24, 2006 11:48 PM
I have a hard time believing that the flavour of Islamic practice is going to make anyone happier about the brutality and criminality of the Russian military presence.
The Wiki link on dhikr is queerly Perso-Urdu centric. Probably the core is written by a Indo-Pak fellow.
This caught me eye:
A group dhikr ceremony in Arabic countries is usually called the hadrah ("presence", referring not to God's presence but to that of the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad and to the awareness of each participant). The hadrah marks the climax of the Sufi's gathering regardless of any teaching or formal structure.
I guess in Machriq.
I wish Wiki authors were a little more aware of their limitations.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at May 25, 2006 12:42 AM
That Putin. It is beyound me why some Muslim governments would cozy up to him given how Russia has generally dealt with the Caucasian Muslims. Shameless. If Putin becomes Jewish than perhaps we can see some resistance. Yes, I am cynical.
Where are my Somali heads at?
Posted by: Bikhair at May 25, 2006 12:43 AM
Religious solidarity is a sham, and always has been.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at May 25, 2006 09:57 AM
Looks like he's taking a page from the Central Asian playbook. Note this article on Uzbekistan from 2000 :
Posted by: Tamerlane at May 25, 2006 12:47 PM
Tamerlane - thanks for the pointer. Have I ever mentioned that I want Paul Goble to bear my children?
I'm curious to see what kind of unintended consequences might pop up, both in Chechnya and in Central Asia. One of these days I'll get around to an update post on Andijan, for that matter.
Posted by: Eva Luna at May 25, 2006 01:09 PM
I don't think it's a good move in the long run for the Sufi orders to visibly become part of the Kremlin's strategy.
There will be a backlash to that too, although of what strength I don't know. And while becoming embroiled in Chechen official politics undoubtedly has some perks (such as getting to perform zikr in a big mosque named after Ahmad Kadyrov), it also brings a lot of new dangers.
Strategies of co-opting traditional power centers (tribes, ethnic minorities, religious sects) will often lead to them entering in coalition with specific regional, political etc factions of the government. That then both contributes to fissures in the system, to the traditionals being exposed to inter-administration rivalries, and to the government as a whole becoming entangled in tribal or religious vendettas. (Darfur is a terrific example.)
And while I know little about the Chechen local gov, it seems precisely the kind of weak coalition that could produce purges and infighting if crisis should erupt. It is not based on common goals, but on Moscow pressure and mediation, and a temporary alignment of interests -- both of which are inherently unstable as a base for government.
Posted by: alle at May 25, 2006 02:27 PM