Islam in Russia

23 september 2014

Changes in the Kremlin’s Rhetoric

Alexei Malashenko is Research Director of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, Berlin, Germany; a member of the Research Council of the Carnegie Moscow Center and the chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Religion, Society, and Security Program. He holds a Doctorate in History.

Resume: Islam is one of the forms of expressing social protest in Muslim regions. Religious phobias will have a negative impact on inter-ethnic conflicts. The Kremlin has little time left to update its policy towards Islam and the Russian Muslim community.

According to the 2002 census, the number of ethnic Muslim citizens in Russia stood at 14.5 million people. Now it has exceeded 16 million. If we add to this figure the number of migrant workers from Central Asia and Azerbaijan, the final figure will reach some 20 million people. This is exactly what Muslim spiritual leaders and Russian politicians, including President Vladimir Putin, usually cite.

Russian policymakers often speak of “Islam-state relations.” Although incorrect, it clearly reflects the approach of the state authorities to Islam and the relationship between the state and the Muslim community. This term implies viewing Russian Muslims and Islam as a single entity and makes it ontologically equitable to the notion of “state.” Russian-Muslim relations are viewed in the same vein. Hence such akin expressions as “relations between the United States and the Muslim world,” “relations between the U.S. and Islam,” “relations between the Muslim world and China,” “relations between Islam and Europe,” etc.

Islam-state relations embody a range of political and ideological issues that are inseparable from factors of ethnic tradition, culture and migration. These relations influence general stability in the country.

Unlike church-state relations, which, despite some contradictions, are fairly understandable and predictable, the state’s relations with Islam and Muslims are less straightforward. 

ISLAM IN THE SOVIET UNION

As distinct from the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation does not have a uniform religious policy. In Soviet times, religion was viewed as an ideological opponent of the state, and it was not merely separated from the state but driven into a “ghetto.” It was believed that it belonged to the realm of the older generation and that its decay was inevitable. At the same time, the attitude of the Soviet state to religion was pragmatic. While it sought to root out Orthodoxy, it viewed Islam in Central Asia and the North Caucasus as a logical consequence of the backwardness of the peoples living there which had to be put up with. In those regions, the authorities let people remain “unenlightened” for some time, but they were confident that Soviet modernization would sooner or later help the “aborigines” to overcome their religious misconceptions.

The first adjustment of the official policy with regard to religion was made (as a desperate measure) during World War II. Another one, directly concerning Islam, was made at the turn of the 1980s in the wake of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Those events made the Soviet gerontocracy realize that Islam, unlike suppressed Orthodoxy, is not just a religion but a real political force. Also, it turned out that Islam was ambivalent – it could be equally useful as a slogan of anti-Soviet resistance (Jihad) and an ideological tool in anti-Western revolutions.

Some Soviet Orientalists contributed to this by wading through the thicket of Marxism-Leninism and got the real situation in the Muslim world and the role of Islam in politics across to sober-minded senior officials.

Importantly, official Soviet science divided Islam into “foreign” and “domestic.” “Domestic” Islam was studied superficially by ethnographers, exclusively from the perspective of scientific atheism. “Foreign” Islam was analyzed from Marxist positions, yet scientists managed to avoid clichés and produce a more comprehensive picture of Islam as a religion. 

TURNAROUND IN THE KREMLIN’S ATTITUDE

By the end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the authorities’ attitude to religion had changed dramatically. Religion was no longer viewed as an eternal opponent or enemy, but as a custodian of moral values and, in a sense, an ally of the state. The turning point was the celebration of the millennium of the adoption of Christianity in Russia in 1988.

The religious revival began with Orthodoxy and later embraced Islam, albeit with more caution. The year 1989 saw the celebration of the adoption of Islam by the Volga Bulgars in the 10th century, and the 200th anniversary of the Religious Board for the Muslims of European Russia and Siberia (DUMES), which was one of the two most influential Muslim organizations in the Russian Federation (the other one was the Religious Board for the Muslims of the North Caucasus – Dumsk). On this occasion DUMES received congratulations from the Council of Ministers of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and of the Holy Patriarch of Moscow.

Under Gorbachev, the Soviet state (and after 1991 – the Russian state) was tolerant towards the religious renaissance, as it first saw it as a uniform process. However, soon it turned out that the renaissance of Islam was quite peculiar and different from that of Orthodoxy. Most Russian citizens belong to the Russian Orthodox culture, and Muslims were – and still are – in a minority. The rise of Islam was accompanied by a rise of nationalist sentiment. Islam quickly became politicized and served as a form of social and political protest. In the early 1990s, Islam began to be used by separatists, especially in Chechnya but not only there. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, new hitherto virtually unknown ideas, including radical ones, flooded Muslim regions of Russia. Russian Muslims became aware of their religious identity and felt part of the global Muslim Ummah. Finally, whereas the Russian Orthodox Church was (and still is) a centralized institution loyal to the state, several competing religious organizations soon emerged within the Russian Muslim  community. 

ISLAMOPHOBIA

Faced with these challenges, the Russian authorities were confused about the  new situation and failed to work out a reasonable, pragmatic approach to Islam and to the developments in the country’s Muslim regions.

Despite formal “serenity” in state-Islam relations, the authorities have never learned to formulate clearly their attitude to Islam culture and religion. They view Islam as an ideology and a political movement that is threatening the stability and even integrity of the state and that is incompatible with the laws and the constitution. It is not admitted publicly but de facto the authorities regard Islam with suspicion and even fear. Incidentally, the same approach is characteristic of European, American and Chinese ruling elites. Very few of the people in power will dare admit this, yet their suspicious and even adverse attitude towards Islam is an open secret.

The flip side of the fear of Islam is the authorities’ demand of universal and unconditional loyalty from Muslims, which is impossible to achieve.

Firstly, because Muslims in Russia are part and parcel of the global Islamic community, with all inherent tendencies, including religious radicalism, Islamism, and the desire to create an Islamic state (a territory governed by Sharia law). These tendencies are present throughout the Ummah, and neither the North Caucasus, nor even Tatarstan which has existed in a Christian environment for half a millennium can be isolated from them. The Russian authorities never admit this, assuming that universal Muslim tendencies are foreign to Russia’s Islam. This approach was typical of other post-Soviet countries as well. In the early 1990s, I heard officials in Central Asia say that Uzbekistan was not Egypt or that Kyrgyzstan was not Syria, and in the North Caucasus officials used to say that Dagestan was not Algeria or Libya. They believed that post-Soviet countries had a kind of immunity against religious radicalism, fundamentalism, Islamism, Salafism, etc.

However, by the mid-1990s, these illusions began to fade (although, for example, in Kazakhstan, they persisted until 2012). In particular, religious radicalism has established itself in the post-Soviet space. Obviously, the very notion of “radicalism” is evaluative. The point at which a branch of Islam begins to be judged as radical and extremist or, on the contrary, moderate is arbitrary. Yet it is clear that contemporary radicalism stems from the concept of Islamic alternative born in the Middle East and in the Gulf countries. This concept provides for building a social system and state model on the principles of Islam. The search for a religious alternative was a response to the failure of the Western, Soviet and national models (Arabic, Ba’athist, Algerian, Yemeni and other kinds of socialism; the “Libyan path” based on Muammar Gaddafi’s The Green Book, etc.) in the Muslim world after World War II.

Secondly, Islam in Russia cannot be completely obedient to the state, because in this country, as elsewhere in the global Muslim Ummah, it is used for expressing social and political protest against the ruling system unable to protect the interests of the Muslims, ensure social justice and build normal relations with society. The incumbent Russian authorities, plagued with corruption, cannot or do not want to ensure compliance with the laws they themselves have adopted and guarantee security for Russian citizens. Protest in this case is inevitable, and since it cannot always be expressed in a secular form – through parliament and real, rather than puppet opposition parties – in Muslim regions it often takes a religious form. The authorities, however, blame this protest on foreign influence and the invasion of ideas and their radical missionaries from the Middle East, the Gulf region, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Of course, foreign influence cannot be denied. The fall of the Iron Curtain after the breakup of the Soviet Union occurred not only on its western but also southern borders, causing an inflow of previously unknown religious and political ideas into Russia’s Muslim regions. These ideas, which did not correlate with “traditional” Islam, brought confusion into the minds and souls of Muslims, especially young people. They had a strong social and political impact and looked attractive and even effective. “New Islam” fell on the fertile ground created by the socio-economic and political crises of post-Soviet times. Internal discontent was unavoidably combined with Islamist (fundamentalist, Wahhabi) ideas. An Islamic opposition began to form in the country, primarily in the North Caucasus. The First Chechen War served as a catalyst of this process. 

CRACKDOWN ON ISLAMISTS

The authorities were not prepared for that. Their inability to build relations with Islamic dissent explains the Kremlin’s persistent desire to blame the growth of radical sentiment among Muslims and the crisis in the North Caucasus on the external factor. The authorities focus on political Islam, fundamentalism, Wahhabism and Salafism (the most common term recently). According to Leonid Syukiyaynen, Professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, “the state’s policy with regard to political Islam is often reduced to law enforcement measures and operations by security agencies, and is rarely converted into positive steps to include Islamic values ??in the process of political stabilization.”

In 2001, the president of Chechnya outlawed Wahhabism in the republic, and later in the same year neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria followed suit. Earlier, in 1999, a similar law was adopted in Dagestan. At the same time, there is no federal law against Wahhabism as some members of the clergy and experts have convinced legislators that such a law could further increase tensions in Muslim regions of the country.

A survey conducted in 2010 by the Media-Orient agency in the North Caucasus showed mixed attitudes towards Wahhabism among local Muslims. Seventy-three percent of those polled reject it as religious and political extremism, while 22 percent are positive about it. The percentage of negative responses was the highest in Dagestan and Chechnya – 97% and 86%, respectively, and the highest level of positive views was in Kabardino-Balkaria – 39%. At the same time, as Dagestani sociologist Zaid Abdulagatov writes, the figures for Dagestan showed “a great difference in the percentage of people who favor banning Wahhabism as an extremist branch of Islam, and in the percentage of those who want Wahhabism banned as a religious teaching in Russia – 82.8% and 42.2%, respectively.”

In Russia, all Islamist organizations have been banned, among them Supreme Military Majlis ul Shura of the United Mujahideen Forces of Caucasus, People’s Congress of Ichkeria and Dagestan, the Base (al-Qaeda), Osbat al-Ansar, al-Jihad (al-Masri), Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Muslim Brotherhood, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (or Islamic Party of Turkestan), Jamiat al-Islah al-Idzhtimai, Jamiat Ihya at-Turath al-Islami, and al-Haramain. Regional authorities have banned organizations operating on their territory. For example, in Dagestan these include Djamaat of Dagestan, Jamaat Shariat, and Jannet. Most of these organizations were engaged in terrorism. At the same time, many organizations and, most importantly, ordinary Muslims have been accused of terrorism as well, although they had no relation to terrorism but shared the ideas of “New Islam,” criticized the authorities and the traditional clergy loyal to them, and rendered support to members of their clans who participated in the resistance movement.

The authorities, especially local ones, do not always observe the law in combating Islamic fundamentalists. In some instances, houses that belonged to families suspected of having links with Islamists were destroyed (burned down), and militants or people suspected by police of being linked to the Islamist opposition were tortured. One can judge about the methods used against the opposition by the words of Chechnya’s Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alaudinov. Speaking on a TV channel in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, he said: “I swear by the Quran sent by Allah, if anyone has even the slightest resemblance to Wahhabis, I have personally said: wipe them out. If someone can be imprisoned, imprison them. If you can plant something on them, do it. Do what you like and kill whoever you want.”

On the other hand, the authorities, both federal and regional, understand that hard pressure on the opposition is not always productive and that there has to be a carrot along with a stick. Dialogue with the opposition is inevitable. The Kremlin embarked upon  it back in 2001, when Vladimir Putin made ??a compromise with part of the Chechen opposition and ventured to appoint Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, who had for a long time fought against the feds under the banner of jihad, as the head of the Chechen administration. The experience proved a success – Kadyrov and, later, his son Ramzan achieved stability in Chechnya, while maintaining loyalty to the Kremlin. How this stability was achieved is a separate issue, but the fact remains that Chechnya has become a relatively calm region.

Of course, the Kremlin’s experience of dialogue with the Chechen opposition for obvious reasons cannot be used in other North Caucasian republics, but dialogue, as such, remains one of the main and inevitable ways to ensure stability. Today, this dialogue, held in the traditional triangle of Islam, Salafism and the state, is sporadic and of little effect, yet it is becoming a factor in the religious and political situation in the North Caucasus.

While focusing its attention on the North Caucasus, the federal center has underestimated the threat that the situation in Muslim areas of the Volga region, as well as in Bashkortostan and the Urals may deteriorate. Meanwhile, the Muslims, especially young people, become radicalized. This process has both internal and external causes. One important factor is domestic (from the North Caucasus) and foreign (from Central Asia) Muslim migration which brings into Russia more and more emissaries of such organizations as Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose members and supporters hold mass public events in the Volga region. Islamic radicals interact with local nationalists. There is a growing struggle between the followers of traditional Islam and “New Islam,” that is, Salafists. In 2012, the mufti of Tatarstan, Ildus Faizov, was seriously wounded, and Valiulla Yakupov, a prominent ideologist of Islamic traditionalism, was assassinated. In 2012, policymakers and experts began to speak of “Caucasianization” or “Dagestanization” of the Volga region, above all Tatarstan. This judgment is somewhat alarmist, but religious radicalism, which is growing increasingly active, cannot be ignored. 

ISLAMIZATION OF MIGRATION

The early 2010s saw a relatively new phenomenon – Islamization of migrants, who emphasize their religious identity and express the desire to observe religious rites and follow the “Islamic way of life.” Today, about 100,000 people, mostly migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, gather annually at the Moscow Cathedral Mosque for the Ramadan Bayram and Kurban Bayram holidays. Describing the situation in Moscow on the day of the Kurban Bayram, journalist Alexander Korchnitsky wrote that “Moscow is in a state of siege.”

In addition, Moscow lacks mosques: there are only four mosques for the city’s 1.5-million Muslim population (according to other sources, there are five or even more mosques in the capital). Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin believes this is quite enough, because most of the Muslims in Moscow come from other regions of Russia. It is them who request the construction of more mosques in the city. Other Russian regions lack mosques, too, among them the Urals, northern Russia, and Siberia. This problem is expected to become more and more acute as the number of migrants in Russia increases. Non-Muslims oppose the construction of new mosques. In 2013, more than 1,000 people gathered in Moscow’s Mitino District to protest against the construction of a mosque in the area. By way of comparison, demonstrations organized by the Russian Communist Party in the same area usually attract 100 to 200 people.

Nationalist sentiment is growing among the Slavic population. This has resulted in a growing number of conflicts and pogroms; they involve more and more nationalists and become increasingly violent. The most glaring examples were the July 2013 riot in the town of Pugachev, Saratov region, where local residents demanded the expulsion of Chechens, and the October 2013 anti-immigrant pogrom in Moscow’s Biryulyovo District, which involved thousands of Muscovites. Formally, those events had no relation to Islam, and there was almost no Islamophobic sentiment among the protesters. Nevertheless, migration, both internal (from the North Caucasus), and external (from Central Asia), is associated in the public mind with the religious affiliation of immigrants.

The situation in Russia’s Muslim community has been influenced by the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which can hardly be considered finished. Despite some setbacks, radical Islamism still has a strong appeal and a sufficient political and military potential. For example, many Russian Muslims have joined the Syrian opposition to fight against the ruling regime. The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, has estimated their number at 200 people. Other sources say the number ranges from 800 to 2,000. According to the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, 3,300 people from the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia, are fighting side by side with the Syrian opposition. Some of them return to Russia, where they look for where to use their unspent energy and join the radical and extremist segment of Islam.

The authorities see the complexity of the processes going on in the Muslim community and fear a rise in radical sentiment. The activity of radicals, the latent civil war in the North Caucasus, regular terrorist attacks, the Islamization of migration, the aggravation of inter-ethnic relations, and the influence of the Arab Spring on Russian Muslims – all of these factors require a coherent policy and a rethinking of previous approaches towards Islam and Muslims. 

BUILDING BRIDGES WITH MUSLIMS

The Kremlin indicated that it was willing to amend its view on Islam and Muslims ??in October 2013 when President Vladimir Putin met with the heads of leading Muslim spiritual boards. The meeting was timed to coincide with the 225th anniversary of the establishment of the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly in 1788 by order of Empress Catherine the Great. The Assembly, headquartered in Ufa, Volga region, was the first state institution set up to organize the life of the Muslim community and, at the same, to control it. There is symbolism in this coincidence. Back in May 2013, Putin spoke of the need to give state status to this memorable date, as it concerns Islamic-state relations. Thus he demonstrated a desire to determine, clearer than before, the place of Islam in the life of the state and society.

After the usual remark that “Islam has made an invaluable contribution to the spiritual and cultural development of our society,” Putin outlined some issues facing the Muslim community, among them “socialization of Islam,” which in his opinion is “the development of the traditional Muslim way of life, thinking and views in accordance with the contemporary social reality, as opposed to radical ideology.” This definition needs to be specified and this is apparently what Muslim clerics will have to do. The question is whether they can do it, as they are divided by “internal discussions and debates about leadership,” as Putin put it.

Putin reiterated the official division of Islam into traditional and non-traditional. The authorities keep ignoring the fact that many scholars, imams, theologians, and even politicians, especially in Muslim regions, seek to move away from this simplified dichotomy, which they think is incorrect and even dangerous as it is splitting society. However, at the federal level it is easier to divide Islam (and everything else) into “ours” and “theirs.” Sooner or later, perhaps sooner, the Kremlin will have to renounce the dualistic interpretation of Islam and replace it with something more complicated. Obviously, a new interpretation should be based on the thesis of “unity of Islam in its diversity.” What is particularly interesting is, what branch will prevail in Islam in Russia and, consequently, what kind of Islam the state will have to deal with. More likely, it will be a synthesis of traditional and non-traditional Islam, with some predominance of the latter. Will it be so-called “Modern Islam” capable of meeting 21st-century challenges? And what kind of relationship will it have with the secular authorities?

Meanwhile, traditional Islam is conservative, less dynamic and supports ethnic Caucasian, Tatar and Bashkir traditions. It loses to the rival branch in the field of theology, which was also acknowledged in the president’s speech. (Putin pointed to the general low level of Islamic theology.) Traditional Islam is unable to meet contemporary challenges. In the eyes of the younger generation it loses to non-traditional Islam in attractiveness and energy.

At the same time, despite their confrontation, followers of the two branches have certain things in common. This can serve as the basis for an Islamic-Islamic dialogue aimed at improving the religious climate and reducing tensions in the Muslim community. 

The rigid division of Islam into traditional and non-traditional is arbitrary to some extent. After all, both traditionalists and their Salafi opponents advocate the Islamic way of life and Islamic traditions, including Sharia as a regulator of life and as a source of precepts for human conduct both for men and women. The difference is that, firstly, traditionalists are more tolerant and tend to forgive violators of Islamic ethics, whereas Salafis consider such violations unacceptable and severely punish for them (for example, the sale of alcoholic beverages may entail a death sentence). Secondly, traditionalists believe that an Islamic space can be created within the Russian Federation, whereas their opponents argue that this would be possible only by creating an independent Islamic state (imarat). Yes, there are great differences between traditionalists and Salafis, yet a “bridge” between them has begun to be built, although the road towards each other is very difficult and winding.

Another important part of Putin’s speech concerned political Islam. Although he criticized radicals, he nevertheless said, albeit cursorily, that the politicization of religion “is not always a positive process.” Thus he recognized the legitimacy of political Islam and acknowledged that political Islam is not necessarily negative. This change in rhetoric became particularly noticeable under the influence of the Arab Spring which demonstrated the high political potential of Islam. After the victory of Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, at presidential elections in Egypt, Putin met with him, thereby acknowledging that dialogue with Islamists was possible. (The Kremlin had already had experience negotiating with Islamists, for example, the Palestinian Hamas movement.)

Quoting Dagestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov, “although religion is constitutionally separated from the state, the state itself is not separated from believers.” If we agree with this approach, it becomes obvious then that Islam is a “political factor;” therefore, it can be used to express various political views and mobilize people for any action, including the most radical one. First of all, this is characteristic of the North Caucasus, but Islam serves as a political tool also in other Muslim areas, among them southern regions of Russia, the Volga region and, since recently, the Urals and Siberia.

Also noteworthy was Putin’s request (or order?) to Muslim leaders to contribute to “social adaptation of people who come to Russia to live and work.” This request indicates that the Kremlin has finally turned its attention to the Islamization of migration from Central Asia and is seeking to influence migrants through Russia’s Muslim community. However, the question of how to do it remains open. Some Tatar clergymen are discontented and even scared by the fact that a majority (sometimes about two-thirds) of believers who attend Friday prayers and sermons are people coming from other regions – Central Asia and the North Caucasus. Some Tatar imams have even refused to preach at their mosques.

When formulating tasks facing the Muslim clergy, Putin expressed dissatisfaction and even annoyance at constant conflicts between the two largest Muslim organizations – the Central Religious Board for the Muslims of Russia and the Council of Muftis of Russia. The secular authorities have long given up the idea of establishing a single spiritual board for the Tatar-Bashkir area, as well as its analogue for the North Caucasus, as it was in Soviet times. All the present organizations, including the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus and the Muftiate of Tatarstan, have always been loyal to the federal authorities and actually compete with each other for their favor. Interestingly, the two organizations accuse each other of supporting Wahhabism and showing compassion for extremists. On the other hand, some officials have always supported the Central Religious Board, while others, especially in Moscow, favor the Council of Muftis.

Incidentally, more and more members of the Muslim clergy advocate integration. In 2010, the League (Union) of Muslim Journalists of Russia conducted a study which revealed that 55 percent of Muslim leaders favor the establishment of a single religious organization to be headed by one mufti. Another 20 percent shared this idea with reservations. Some Muslim leaders favor the restoration of the Soviet system of control over religious life. For example, the head of the Astrakhan Muftiate, Nazymbek Ilyazov, believes that “in Soviet times, it was much easier for the clergy to work.” “It is vital to restore the Soviet tradition of administering the religious sphere of social life,” he said. Ilyazov proposed setting up a state body, an institution of authorized representatives. “Spiritual boards of Muslims must work in the interests of the state,” he said.

The Muslim clergy loyal to the Kremlin and experts close to the clergy hailed Putin’s speech. The website Islam.ru published an article headlined “Putin’s Speech as a New Milestone in the History of Relations between the Russian Federation and Islam.” Its author Yuri Mikhailov welcomed the president’s “unprecedented emphasis on education and the revival of intellectualism in Russian Islam,” on the need for a national theological school of Islam and, most importantly, on “socialization of the Islamic community.” 

PROBLEMS PERSIST

Whether Putin’s speech in Ufa will become a prelude to rethinking the state’s attitude to Islam is impossible to say for sure. The implementation of his recommendations will take a long time and consistent effort both by the clergy and the state. Also, Putin avoided mentioning the growing isolation of the most troubled Muslim region – the North Caucasus – and its social and cultural drift away from the “Russian continent.” People in the Caucasus, most of whom do not support separatist sentiment, hope to solve local social, cultural and political problems on the basis of local traditions – adat rules – and, since recently, Sharia, and advocate the legalization of Islamic law. The return to tradition, or archaism, is a reaction to the systemic crisis continuing in the region for several years. Federal laws are not enforced, corruption is rampant, and the region is arbitrarily ruled by local authorities. Everyone appeals to tradition – members of the clergy loyal to the authorities, public figures, politicians, and members of the Islamic opposition.

The Kremlin simplifies the situation by focusing on its political aspects. It combats extremism and separatism but evades the question of how people in a secular state can live by religious laws. The Kremlin ignores the problem of the North Caucasus’s “civilizational,” non-separatist drift away from Russia. It ignores the fact that the trend in the development of Russia’s civic identity does not always coincide with, and sometimes is even opposed to that of religious identity. Putin never mentioned this issue in his speech.

“The essence of this [two hundred years long] resistance [in the Caucasus] has always been that Caucasian Muslims cannot accept the attitudes, laws and socio-political norms introduced by the Russian state here,” Ruslan Kurbanov, an expert in Caucasian issues, wrote. He warns that “it is a naive and mistaken belief that the peoples of the Caucasus, who have been in the political and legal space of Russia for over a century and a half, have completely assimilated the imperatives of its statehood.” However, another expert, Vladimir Degoyev, argues that Caucasians “did not like many things, but in a way that some would dislike the interior of other peoples’ home or family relations.” Whoever is right, the Russian authorities must consider both views.

The complication of processes taking place in the Russian Muslim community and events in the Muslim world require that the Russian authorities rethink their attitude towards Islam, including political Islam, giving up stereotypes, and developing new approaches. This is particularly important as, according to many experts, the country will soon be hit by an economic crisis, which will aggravate political problems and worsen the already tense inter-ethnic relations.

Islam is one of the forms of expressing social protest in Muslim regions. This occurs not only in the North Caucasus but also in other regions with a large Muslim population. Religious phobias will have a negative impact on inter-ethnic conflicts. The Kremlin has little time left to update its policy towards Islam and ongoing developments in the Russian Muslim community.

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