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The subject of this volume is the relationship of Russian society to Islam today — that is, what the Russian authorities want from Muslims and Islam, which they regard as both a subject capable of independent action and an object to be manipulated for domestic and foreign policy ends.
Russia’s rulers are “domesticating” Islam, trying to render it compatible with state policy. They seek to secure the political loyalty of Muslims. The state is establishing control over religious and religious-political activity. Finally, the state wants to remove and be done with opposition which carries out its programs under Islamic slogans. This pertains to Islamists who have come to be termed Wahabbis in Russia, but not to them alone.
But Islamic radicals are not going to disappear from politics or religion. Oppositionist Islam does not yield to guidance from outside; its adherents act according to their own logic, sensing the sympathy of a significant part of Islamic society behind them. They are very skillful at manipulating the idea of social justice and at criticizing corruption and collaboration among the official Muslim clergy.
The loyalty of Muslims to state authority is not limitless, as many perceive a hypocritical attitude toward Islam on the part of secular politicians. Muslims are upset by the political activity of the Russian Orthodox church, whose ambitious reach is expanding in all directions.
Xenophobia is on the rise in Russian society, and part of this is seen in antipathy toward Islam. While it would be inaccurate to say that the situation has now reached critical mass, the dynamic of the growth of Islamophobia is such that it has already deeply penetrated the consciousness of a significant sector of the population. This is stimulated by both domestic conflicts within Russia, in which a tinge of inter-confessional tension is at work, and by the international situation.
For the ruling class, terrorism is becoming a convenient instrument for conducting domestic politics in a way which suits its interests. The war against terrorism becomes a pretext for strengthening the authoritarian elements of the system, putting pressure on the opposition and limiting the freedom of mass media.
The Muslim world remains one of the important vectors of Russian foreign policy. Two approaches may be discerned here: treating the
Islamic world as a homogenous civil-cultural community, and interacting with separate states on the basis of practical mutual interests. Russia’s policy towards the Muslim world has been ambiguous; it might be called contradictory and ideologized, but it has also been distinguished by a certain pragmatism.
Russia values its relationship with the Muslim world because it provides an opportunity to demonstrate independence in foreign affairs. Moscow has its own opinion on Iran, Syria, Palestine and Uzbekistan. The Kremlin feels that having its own particular views in this area enhances Russia’s authority in both the West and in the Muslim South.
Russia is not taking part in America’s proposed “great modernization project” aimed at the democratization of Muslim society and the creation of a “new image of Islam.” Moscow considers such an undertaking pointless and even dangerous, as it leads to conflicts. Russian politicians support Europe and America, naturally, in efforts to purge Islam of radical excesses. But if the West is calling for the creation of a “new Islam,” Russia would rather see the old, traditional one, as the latter’s values, once reestablished, will serve as a barrier against the oppositionist tendencies within the Islamic movement.
While inveighing against religious radicalism at home and supporting its partners in the territory of the former Soviet Union, Moscow nevertheless cooperates, when dealing with the larger outside world, with forces whose practices and ideology are openly Islamist and even extreme.