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Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

Islam and Orthodox Russia: From

Eurasianism to Islamism
Dmitry Shlapentokh
Indiana University, South Bend College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of History,
1700 Mishawaka Avenue, P.O. Box 7111, South Bend, IN 46634, USA


The growing and increasingly politically active Russian Muslims of diverse ethnic back-
grounds provide various political models for their relationship with Russians. Some still
accept Eurasianism but assume that it is Muslims not Orthodox Russians who should
be the ‘‘older brothers’’ in the alliance or, in any case, that the very notion of older and
younger brother should be put to an end. The others want complete separation from Russia
or at least the minimization of their relationship with it. Finally, others believe in the
Islamization of Russia. The models provide a glance at the possible scenarios for Russia’s
Ó 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California.

Keywords: Muslims; Russia; Eurasianism; Dzhemal; Tatarstan; Chechnya; Jihadism

The disintegration of the USSR has caused a tectonic shift in geopolitical arrange-
ments. One of these changes was the end of Slavdom, as it had been known for cen-
turies. Not just the ‘‘arrogant’’ Poles of Alexander Pushkin, but even ‘‘brotherly’’
Ukrainians would rather opt for Europe. Incorporation in the European Union is
invariably seen as parting with Russia, despite a considerable number of Russian
elite proclamations that Russia is also a part of Europe. The Slavs of Eastern and
Southern Europe might think about the case of a divided West and ponder whether
it would be better to be attached to Western Europe or to the USA. Quite a few
might be disappointed with geopolitical marriages that often hardly meet their

0967-067X/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University
of California.
28 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

expectations. But they have no second thoughts in regard to their divorce from
In this geopolitical debacle for Russia, some members of the elite have turned to
Eurasianism, the political/philosophical doctrine that emerged in the 1920s, seeing it
as one of the more viable ideological paradigms. Its influence, especially in its Euro-
peanized form, can be seen in Putin’s often use of Eurasian lexicon. Its essence is the
assumption that Russia is a unique blend of Slavic/Orthodox and Muslim, mostly
Turkic, people. Russian Muslims, not Slavs outside Russia, are Russia’s natural
allies. Eurasian doctrine seems to depart from Slavophilism, but it is similar in
many ways. Like Slavophiles, traditional Eurasianists assume that Russia, along
with Orthodoxy, should be an ‘‘older brother,’’ playing the leading role in political
arrangements. Islam, Buddhism, and traditional Judaism are accepted as honorable,
legitimate religions, but they are seen as planets moving around the central creed,
even as a kind of derivative of Orthodoxy. Their independent roles, especially cul-
tural/historical and metaphysical ones, are utterly ignored. And, of course, the no-
tion that the various ethnic groups that populate Russia belong to different
civilizations is absolutely discarded.
The assumption that Orthodox Russians are the ‘‘older brothers’’ of the Eurasian
family is increasingly challenged by Russian Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds.
This is not due to a ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ (whatever the term might mean) but due
to the rise of Asia as an economic and demographic center, the global Muslim re-
sponse to the spread of capitalism, and the peculiar arrangements in Russia. Ethnic
Russians face an increasing challenge to their leadership of the Russian state, noted
by those who observe political/intellectual trends.
In the late Yeltsin and especially Putin eras, there have been endless assertions
about unity and the mighty state. Politicians state that the decline is over and Rus-
sians have reentered the world arena as important players. Yet ethnic Russians show
strong political/social atomization and are decreasing in numbers. The Muslims of
the Russian Federation are putting forward their own political vision. Some assume
that the Eurasian model basically works, but that Muslims should equal or even lead
the Russians. Others opt for separating from the Federation, or at least minimizing
ties with the center. Still others dream of total Islamization, changing Russia com-
pletely in a neo-Bolshevik or neoconservative way.

The demographic shift

One could argue about the importance of the increasing Muslim role in contem-
porary Russia. Certainly the political assertiveness of the Muslim parties and Mus-
lims in general has received major impetus from the increase in numbers of Muslims,
caused not just by migration but also by their increasing birth rate.
It is common knowledge e anecdotal evidence supported by statistics e that the
Russian population is declining. The birth rate is lowest in Moscow, St. Petersburg,
the Tula region, and Mordovia, the ethnic Russian heartland. There are a variety of
explanations. Vardan Bagdasaryan, in an article for the Russian Civilization
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 29

Foundation, proposed that the decline is directly connected with the preservation of
traditional culture. ‘‘This pattern,’’ he says, ‘‘suggests that those peoples who tradi-
tionally followed Orthodoxy were far more affected by Soviet atheistic propaganda,
something that left them without the kind of cultural defense that other religious tra-
ditions e including Islam, Buddhism and paganism e provided their followers’’
(quoted in Goble, 2006). And this has directly affected the ethnic Russian birth rate.
Traditionally non-Orthodox ethnic groups continue to increase, pagan as well as
Muslim. Despite the widespread notion that post-Soviet hardships have brought the
small northern and Siberian minorities to the verge of extinction, they actually have
dramatically increased. According to Bagdasaryan, ‘‘pagan groups in the Far East,
Siberia and the North grew rapidly during this internecine period e with the Mani
increasing by 44.6% and the Khanty by 30%, for example e despite the extreme cli-
matic conditions in the regions where they live’’ (quoted in Goble, 2006). Of course,
the small indigenous peoples of the North will not dominate Russia, whatever their
birth rate. The Chinese, however, could do so; consequently, there is fear of creeping
Chinese migration. Some experts believe that in 20e30 years the expansion of
Asians, especially Chinese, will change the demographic profile of parts of Russia,
threatening the global predominance of European civilization (Mandrik, 2006).
Muslimization and consequent Turkization of the country e most Russian Muslims
are ethnically/linguistically Turkic e are seen as another possibility. Many of these
people are not migrants who might have problems getting resident/work permits, but
indigenous Russians who have experienced the same revival as the ethnic groups of
the north. The demographic/cultural/religious balance of the Federation is shifting
in a direction that could potentially change the very nature of Russian civilization.
Russian authorities, disturbed by the decline of ethnic Russians, have proposed
several measures to solve the problem, including financial incentives for women
to have more children. The actual implications of this program e if it indeed were
to stimulate the birth rate e were not well thought through. In the view of some ob-
servers, Muslims with their traditional values would be the most likely to benefit
(Babich, 2006). Sensing that the demographic balance could be tipped in favor of
ethnic minorities, mostly Muslims, the state has engaged in other plans.
One idea is to encourage migration from other republics of the former Soviet
Union, especially ethnic Russians. This follows the model of Nazi Germany, which
tried to bring ethnic Germans back to the Reich. But it is not likely to solve Russia’s
demographic problems, much less substantially resolve the demographic balance of
the Federation. Most ethnic Russians who felt uncomfortable in the new indepen-
dent states have already left, and the explosive population rise in Central Asia has
spread to Russia via emigration. It is unlikely that immigration authorities would
be able to differentiate between ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking non-ethnic
Russians from republics of the former USSR. Moreover, the proverbial Russian bu-
reaucratic corruption would probably mean that those with enough cash would have
no problem getting to Russia as workers or permanent residents.
The demographic effects of migration, mostly from the predominantly Turkic Cen-
tral Asian republics e Tajikistan is the only notable exception e are already visible in
Russia, and future shifts may be even more dramatic. Experts say that by 2010, if
30 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

present trends continue, 50% of Russia’s 18-year-old men will come from historically
Muslim peoples of the Federation (Russia: the impact of Islamic parties, 2003). All
this has led to the emergence of Russian Muslims as a distinct political force.

The spread of ‘‘conversions’’

The power of the Islamic community is reinforced by both the slowdown of assim-
ilation and conversions to Islam. According to some insiders, the rates of conversion
of the Orthodox people ‘‘became threatening’’ (Novosti i Kommentarii, 2006). De-
spite improved conditions under Putin, Russian marginalization and the disintegra-
tion of Slavdom as a geopolitical entity have led some Russians to abnegate their
national identity, which is historically related to Orthodoxy.
Similar to other millenarian creeds, early Christian or Marxist, Islamic jihadism
discards nationality/ethnicity to define humanity. Acceptance or rejection of true Is-
lam is what really matters. Islam, sometimes in its extremist form, is increasingly
popular among ethnic Russians, and conversion is common (20 tysiach korennykh
moskvichei priniali Islam, 2004; Ahmad, 2004). Some converts see total conversion
to Islam as the only salvation and support the so-called Russian Islam, whose pro-
ponents advance the following proposition: ‘‘In the historical past, Russians made
a mistake when they adopted Orthodoxy and not, let us say, Islam; and on this basis,
they decayed as a people, falling away from God and taking to drink. Consequently,
advocates of Russian Islam say that if now Russians want to reestablish a certain
historical justice and accept Islam, then this will save Russia e Russians will stop
drinking, and the demographic situation (under the conditions of polygamy) will re-
solve itself’’ (Goble, 2006). These conversions have increased the numbers of Mus-
lims and correspond with the increasing assertiveness of the Islamic community in
the Federation.

The rise of Muslim parties

At the beginning of the post-Soviet era, the Muslim minority felt in the shadow of
a ‘‘big brother.’’ Political influence grew very slowly, and the Islamic parties could
hardly be seen as a major political force: ‘‘they rose and fell, and wound up not hav-
ing a major impact’’ (Russia: the impact of Islamic parties, 2003). But the very emer-
gence of these parties indicated political clout. Even those who had no desire to split
from Russia felt that they should have more power and, therefore, wealth in a society
where the two are directly connected.
Nur (Light), formed in 1995, was among the first officially registered Muslim
movements. Its influence was miniscule. ‘‘Out of Nur came the ‘Islamic Party of Rus-
sia’ (IPR), which was not registered, due to its religious name’’ (Politicheskoe Issle-
dovanie, 2003). The role of another Nur offshoot, the True Patriots of Russia, seems
also to be negligible. Muslims of Russia, led by the Mufti of the Volga region
(Povolzhe) Mukaddas Bibarsov, which apparently emerged independently, also
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 31

appears to have had quite limited influence (Politicheskoe Issledovanie, 2003). The
Union of Muslims of Russia seems to be more influential. Formed in 1995, it was
headed by Nadirshakh Khachilaev, from Daghistan’s Lak minority. The Union
joined the Our Home Is Russia bloc, supported Yeltsin in the 1996 elections with
some reservations, and maintained contact with Yeltsin’s national security adviser,
General Aleksandr Lebed.
The Muslim community placed its intellectual relationship with Orthodox
Russians in the broader context of global politics and the general historical process.
Several models emerged. One major paradigm implies that Russians and Muslims
e ethnic differences inside the Muslim community are downplayed e could indeed
live in one state. This scenario, an Asiatic variety of Eurasianism, has two variants.
In one, the role of the Muslim minority would be equal to that of Orthodox
Russians; in the other, Muslims would be leaders, and Russians the ‘‘younger

Muslims as equal brothers

The variety of Eurasianism with Muslims equal to Russians became the implicit
ideological framework of Rebakh (Blagodenstvie), created in 1998 by Abdul-Vakhid
Niazov or Niiazov, an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam (Politicheskoe Issledo-
vanie, 2003). In 1999 Rebakh became part of the coalition of Muslim organizations
called Medzhlis and planned to have a representative in the Duma. Its original de-
sign did not work, but Niazov’s political influence grew with Putin’s ascent to power.
In 2003 he was the among very few Muslim politicians who actually entered the
Duma. ‘‘The only civic organization of Muslims that made it into the current
Duma was Abdul-Vakhid Niazov’s ‘Rebakh’ movement’’ (Russia: the impact of Is-
lamic parties, 2003). Niazov’s drive for power was based on unity with stronger part-
ners. But it seemed not to be successful, or at least did not satisfy his ambitions.
‘‘Rebakh ran on a ‘Unity’ list but then fell into disfavor with Unity’s head, Sergei
Shoigu, and was later expelled from the faction.’’
By that time, Niazov had made up his mind to create his own Eurasian Party,
which soon became a broader political bloc into which Rebakh was incorporated.
‘‘Rebakh joined the ‘Eurasian party of Russia,’ headed by Pavel Borodin, the secre-
tary of the ‘Russians/Belarus Union,’ and head of the ‘Great Russian/Eurasian
Bloc’’’ (Russia: the impact of Islamic parties, 2003). In another translation, this al-
liance was called the ‘‘Great Russian/Eurasian Union’’ (Velikaia Rossiia-Evraziiskii
Soiuz). By 2003, the Eurasian Party had been transmogrified into the Eurasian
Party-Union of Patriots of Russia, which finally absorbed the other groups, includ-
ing Rebakh.
‘‘Today, Rebakh, still registered, is active through the ‘Eurasian Party-Union of
Russia’ bloc, with the figurehead of Pavel Borodin’’ (Russia: the impact of Islamic
parties, 2003). ‘‘Muslims make up less than half of this anti-Western party,’’ but
the leader has developed pro-Muslim programs that could be called an Asiatic mod-
ification of Eurasianism. This version has much in common with the neo-Eurasianism
32 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

developed by Dugin, whose short-lived Eurasian Party emerged at the same time as
Niazov’s Evrazia. Both assume that Russia/Eurasia is a unique blend of Slavic/Or-
thodox and Muslim, mostly Turkic, people, and see the USA as the major enemy.
Major personalities have been affiliated, directly or indirectly, through personal
ties with both movements. Leonid Ivashov, former Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, is predisposed to Dugin’s Eurasian-
ism, but at the same time he is part of the leading body of the Niazov movement (It
seems Ivashov has found a new political home.)
With these many similarities, one could be tempted to see the differences as caused
just by personal animosity between Dugin and Niazov. While at the beginning of the
development of both movements personal animosity played an important role, later
disagreements concerned theory and different visions of the role of Muslims in the
Russian Federation.
The alliance between Orthodox and Russian Muslims was the most important as-
pect of Eurasian doctrine, and it is not surprising that Dugin put much emphasis on
this. He was also allied with Talgat Tadzhuddin, Chief Mufti of the Central Spiritual
Directorate of Muslims (Tsentral’oe dukhovnoe upravlenie musul’man). Dugin entered
this alliance to emphasize the importance of Muslims in his design for a mighty Eur-
asian Russia. But he believed e at least it was his pronouncement in most cases e
that barring a catastrophic decline of Orthodox Russians (he believes the decline
is reversible), ethnic Russians should take the lead, and the Orthodox religion should
be the framework. Niazov’s approach was altogether different, and this certainly
contributed to his split with Dugin.
Along with personal ambitions, there was apparently a more serious reason for
Niazov’s conflict with mainstream parties. Niazov believed that ethnic Russians
should share power with Muslims on a much broader scale. This may be one justi-
fication for those who believed Niazov should not be included in the political main-
stream. Indeed, Niazov was expelled from Unity, ‘‘allegedly because Niazov
supported the most visible Turkish Muslim leaders in Russia’’ (Russia: the impact
of Islamic parties, 2003).
Niazov believed, contrary to Dugin, that Muslims should be the equals of benev-
olent Orthodox Russians. One could assume that he and his allies would rather re-
gard Russians as ‘‘younger brothers’’ in the ethnopolitical arrangements of the
Russian Federation. Despite playing with Eurasianism, Rebakh regarded Muslims
as its major electoral base. Niazov also allied with Ravil Gainutdin, head of the
Council of Muftis of Russia, who also believes that Muslims should play a more im-
portant role in the Federation than they do now.
This version of Eurasianism has implications for Russian foreign policy. Some as-
pects are quite similar to Dugin’s Eurasianism; others are idiosyncratic. Like Du-
gin’s, Niazov’s Eurasianism implies close ties with Central Asia, with Turkic
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan at the top of the list. Niazov made his attachment to
these states quite clear. Pointing out that the ideology of his movement should be
grounded in classical Eurasianism, he also appealed to prominent intellectuals
from Central Asia. Dugin regarded Central Asian intellectuals as kindred spirits,
but he did not include them in the leading body of the party. Niazov did include
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 33

such intellectuals, among them the writers Chingiz Aitmatov from Kyrgyzstan, and
Olzhas Suleimenov from Kazakhstan. He was especially glad to see people from Ka-
zakhstan in leading roles because Eurasianism ‘‘in general is a state ideology’’ in Ka-
zakhstan (Velichie Rossii, 2004).
This appreciation of Kazakhstan as a country with Eurasianist ideology is similar
to Dugin’s, but there is a significant difference as well. For Dugin, Kazakhstan and
Russia would gravitate to each other because of cultural/geostrategic compatibility
between Slavic Russians e the core people of Russia/Eurasia e and Kazakhe
Turkic, historically Muslim people. For Niazov, Russia gravitates to Kazakhstan
because it has increasingly become Turkic and Muslim in composition.
This belief about the growing Muslim influence among the Russian population
also defined Niazov’s view on policy toward the ‘‘distant abroad,’’ the countries out-
side the borders of the former USSR. Niazov’s geopolitical plans are in many ways
similar to those of Dugin, but the differences are unmistakable. As pundits put it, the
Borodin party is ‘‘TurkisheSlaviceMuslimeOrthodox Rossiyani in union with
China, India, and the Arab world to oppose Western Europe and America, whereas
Dugin’s Eurasia stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Straits of Dover and opposes
the Atlantic ‘non-Eurasia’ of Great Britain and the U.S.’’
Niazov clearly regards China and India as important players that could be em-
ployed against the USA. But he does not consider India a major ally and China
even less so. Niazov e along with not just Dugin but quite a few Russian Muslim
leaders e regards China with suspicion. In their view, China, while playing a pos-
itive role in counterbalancing the USA, could emerge as a superpower in the fu-
ture. It could be as or even more dangerous than the USA for Russia and the
Muslim community in general. India and especially China should not be regarded
as major allies of Russia, where Muslims will play a much more active role than
According to Niazov, Muslims make up a considerable percentage of the Russian
population, and he believes Russia should move closer to Muslim countries and en-
ter the Organization of Islamic States (Prezidentskie vybory v Chechne, 2003). These
geopolitical aspirations are fully supported by representatives of the radical anti-
American states and movements, and it is not surprising that a meeting of the Eur-
asian Party’s political council was attended by the Iraqi and Palestinian diplomatic
missions in Russia. This hobnobbing with foreign Islamic radicals does not mean
that Niazov and his allies are ready for radical political statements or, especially, ac-
tion. Here it is clear that Niazov and Dugin have a lot in common in political out-
look, and neither, while strongly anti-American, is prone to call for direct violent
confrontation with the USA.
One might assume that Niazov was even more cautious than Dugin in regard to
direct confrontation with the USA. The explanation is, of course, in Niazov’s posi-
tion. While Dugin has tried to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to authority, he has
not been able to become directly incorporated into the power structure. Niazov, on
the other hand, was able to get a Duma seat and became a full-fledged politician, and
consequently became especially attentive to signals from the top. But here he
received no encouragement.
34 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

It is true that Putin and his entourage strongly dislike the USA, but Putin has no
intention of directly confronting the USA. And this is well understood by Niazov
and people close to him, who even reproached people close to Dugin for non-admis-
sible provocative statements. This is the case with Ravel Gainutdin, who was in the
news in April for responding to Talgat Tadzhuddin’s call for jihad against the USA
by saying such calls were ‘‘‘impermissible and dangerous’ and, while Muslims should
help Iraq, they should not use unlawful means’’. Indeed, it is hard to find even one
case when Niazov and those who were politically affiliated with him had problems
with American officials because of their support of any serious anti-American ac-
tions and, even more so, in calling for direct violence against the USA. It is true
that Pavel Borodin was arrested during his visit to the USA and spent some time
in an American prison. Still, he was accused not of being involved in terrorism or
similar actions but of purely criminal activities e money laundering, and so on.
It is obvious that both Dugin and Niazov regard the USA as the major enemy of
Russia and Eurasia in general. They agree that Russia/Eurasia could carve itself an
appropriate place in geopolitical arrangements, and they vehemently reject the uni-
polarity of the USA. Yet they usually do not advocate direct Russian involvement
on the side of the Islamic forces in the struggle against the USA. The case is different
with Geidar Dzhemal, whose philosophy illustrates what I would call the radical ver-
sion of Asiatic Eurasianism.

Dzhemal: Asiatic Eurasianism

Geidar Dzhemal was born in Moscow in 1947. In 1965 he was enrolled in the In-
stitute of Oriental Languages (Institut Vostochnykh Iazykov), but he soon was ex-
pelled, supposedly for political reasons. This did not stop him from broadening
his intellectual/cultural horizons. He actively engaged in self-education and became
encyclopedically educated, at least from a linguistic point of view. He is fluent in
Turkish, English, French, and Tadzhik, and can read Arabic, Italian, and German.
The Soviet authorities who had expelled Dzhemal from the university apparently did
not do so without grounds. It is clear that early in his life he became involved in dis-
sident or, at least, semi-dissident activities. In the late 1960s he became part of Mis-
teriia Iuzhinskogo, an unofficial gathering of youth on Iuzhinsky Lane ( pereulok) in
Moscow at the apartment of Iurii Mamleev, the well-known dissident author and
philosopher. One could assume that at that point of his life Dzhemal saw himself
though not as a Russian by blood, but at least as the one who had been strongly
influenced by the Russian culture. Soon, however, he rediscovered his Muslim roots,
and since 1979 he has been in contact with Muslims in Tadzhikistan, presumably
with grassroots Islamic activists. Since the beginning of Gorbachev’s ‘‘Perestroika,’’
he has been actively engaged in various political activities, sometimes with opposite
programs. On the one hand, he became involved in the emerging Russian national-
istic opposition to the regime, such as Pamiat. Soon, however, he left the movement
and became more and more involved in the life of Soviet and, later, post-Soviet Mus-
lims. For example, since the late 1980s, he has actively participated in Islamic
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 35

political activities in the USSR and is among the leaders of the Independent Infor-
mational Center.
In 1990, the Islamic Revival Party (Islamskaia Partiia Vozrozhdeniia) was formed,
with Akhmed-Kadi Akhtaev as leader. Dzhemal was actively involved in the work of
the party. The party had some kind of Asiatic variation of Eurasianist philosophy,
emphasizing the leading role of Muslims in geopolitical and ethnic/religious arrange-
ments. Indeed, the party leaders were also said to advocate preserving the USSR in
order to withstand the West in a union with Turks, Caucasians, and Islamicized
Slavs (Russia: the impact of Islamic parties, 2003). The emphasis on the leading
role of Muslims in the ethnic/political arrangements of the past had alarmed the rul-
ing circles, and ‘‘some of its leaders were accused of Wahhabism. The party split in
1994 and, without a wide base of support, retreated from the political scene.’’ The
early vacillation between two opposite political/ideological trends, emphasizing the
predominant role of Muslims versus cooperation between Muslims and Russians,
continued when Dzhemal became the leader of the Islamic Committee of Russia (Is-
lamskii Komitet Rossii). One could assume that this ambivalence was due to the fact
that not all Russian nationalistic parties e at least those regarded as such by outside
observers e were anti-Muslim. This latent Eurasianism possibly induced Dzhemal to
cooperate with them. For example, he collaborated with Rodina, with its strong Rus-
sian nationalistic agenda, possibly because it included the Party of Russian Regions
(Partiia Rossiiskikh Regionov).
Shamil Sultanov was among the leaders of the Party of Russian Regions. He
had strong radical Islamic beliefs, which, presumably, induced Dzhemal to believe
that these Russian nationalists would provide Muslims e and, of course, him per-
sonally e the power and influence that they deserved. Dzhemal, at least in the be-
ginning of the Yeltsin era, believed that Orthodox Russians and Russian Muslims
of various ethnic backgrounds could live in happy symbiosis. This was also man-
ifested in Dzhemal’s brief befriending of Dugin at the beginning of Dugin’s intel-
lectual and quasi-political career. Still, as time progressed, his views and political
affiliations started to drift away from a Russian/Orthodox alliance. It is true that
he never abandoned the idea completely and regarded himself as a Russian Muslim
brought to and spiritually/intellectually developed in the context of Russian/
Eurasian space. Still, the trend was unmistakable toward not so much Russians
but other Muslims regardless whether they were placed inside or outside of Rus-
sian/Eurasian space. In 1991, he visited Germany where he got in touch with the
representatives of the local Turkish community. His own Azerbaijani origin had
undoubtedly helped to facilitate these contacts. In 1991 he made Hajj e pilgrimage
to the sacred places of Islam e and in 1997 he engaged in the creation of a bank in
which representatives of certain Middle Eastern countries were involved (Kislov,
1998, p. 1).
Dzhemal continues to be a leader in the Islamic Committee of Russia. He also
publishes a lot, mostly on the Internet. Among his publications are ‘‘Russians and
the Territory of Resistance’’ (2004), ‘‘The End of Russia and American Might
over the World’’ (2003), ‘‘The Anti-elitist (Antielitarnoe) Future of Russia’’ (2002),
and Osvobozhdenie Islama (2004).
36 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

Dzhemal’s views, with his praise of radical Islam engaged in mortal conflict with
the USA as the only way of salvation, are quite controversial and often appear con-
tradictory and their connection is not evident. Still, several major focuses can be eas-
ily seen. The USA has emerged as a major threat for the global community.
Maintenance of global hegemony and global order is based on injustice e both social
and moral. The USA, thus, is engaged in mortal struggle with Europe and the Is-
lamic world. In the conflict with Islam, the struggle has acquired almost Manichaean
dimensions: the struggle of the cosmic goodness embodied by Islam and the Satanic
forces of evil embodied by the USA.
Russia’s position in this struggle is controversial. At the beginning of his intellec-
tual career, Dzhemal saw Russia at a crossroad. The roots of Russian civilization
were in the wholesome tradition of spiritualized collectivity, in a deep quest for jus-
tice and compassion. At the beginning of Yeltsin’s rule, Dzhemal was convinced that
this wholesome Russian civilization had received a mortal blow from forces inspired
by the USA. Still, it was not completely destroyed and could regain strength in the
future; of course, this would happen only if it would hold the outstretched hands of
the Islamic community, both Russian and international.
Still, while Dzhemal was developing this rather positive (from his point of view)
future for Russia, he had doubts, which have increased with time. Two basic options
have emerged. The first, which was already apparent during the Yeltsin era, implied
that Russia became irrelevant; even Muslims, both inside and outside Russia, be-
came irrelevant tools in the hands of two major global competitors e the USA
and Europe. Europe is viewed slightly better than the USA, but it could not receive
a full blessing from Muslims. In the other scenario, Islam preserves its vitality as the
embodiment of universal goodness and engages in fighting the forces of global injus-
tice manifested by the West, mostly the USA. Russia preserves global role, or at least
plays a visible role in the global struggle. Still, in this scenario, Russia is finally de-
stroyed as a wholesome civilization and would be on the side of the enemies of Islam.
Islamic forces should be united and strike not just the USA but Russia, the stooge of
America and the West. Dzhemal has developed his ideas to the point where they are
indistinguishable from jihadism.
In the last few years, Dzhemal’s first vision of Russian civilization implied that
Russia had been a benign collectivistic and spiritual civilization in the past, and,
in such a capacity, had embraced both ethnic Russians and Muslims of various eth-
nic groups. But this civilization had disappeared. The new Russia became a pathetic
parody of the West, with which Muslims cannot deal. In the second scenario Russia
had never been benign but had been an oppressive monster throughout its history.
For this reason, the present conflict between the Russians and Muslims brings noth-
ing new to the relationship between them.

Russia as a dying civilization

Elaborating on the current global situation, Dzhemal gave quite negative charac-
teristics to present-day Russia. In this interpretation, Russian civilization was
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 37

historically based on spiritual collectivism and all-embracing internationalism. It was

also imbued with global messianism, the drive to create a harmonious society all over
the world. The Soviet system was not the negation of the Russian historical tradition
but a continuation of it. Thus the collapse of the Soviet regime was the collapse of
Russian civilization, breaking its spiritual core. In the process of destruction of
the USSR, the Russians lost their global mentality and acquired a parochial one
(Dzhemal, 200X). The spiritualized messianism to build the society of universal
brotherhood was replaced by crass materialism and narrow-mindedness. In
Dzhemal’s view, this degeneration of the Soviet system e of Russian civilization
as it had been known for centuries e was started by Gorbachev and almost finished
by the time of Putin (Dzhemal, 2004a,b). The fall of 1993 was a turning point: the
basic elements had collapsed and the destruction of the Soviet system became
irreversible (Dzhemal, 200X, p. 1).
Most Soviet and, consequently, Russian civilization has decomposed, but the pro-
cess is not complete. According to Dzhemal, the USSR has not died completely and
still exists in a ‘‘posthumous way’’ (zagrobnoe sushchestvovanie). In this rather
gloomy vision, Dzhemal assumes that the negative holdover from the Soviet era,
the Soviet bureaucracy, proved to be the most resilient among all aspects of the So-
viet system. The present bureaucracy is not just the product of the Soviet era, but has
accumulated all negative features of the Soviet society. Its major activity could be
reduced to plundering the resources of the USSR, and this led to the permanent de-
cline of Russia, which still continues under Putin.
According to Dzhemal, it was under Putin that Central Asia was given to the
USA and Russians abandoned all military bases outside their territory. It is under
Putin that we see wars in the Caucasus and the transformation of East Europeans
into enemies. Putin’s reign, Dzhemal concludes, is not the reverse of the Yeltsin
era but a continuation and even an acceleration of the process of Russia’s destruc-
tion. The final sign of this is manifested by the continuous decline of the Russian nu-
clear force, a force that by 2007 would be merely symbolic. At this point, the
Americans, Dzhemal implies, had two options in dealing with the degenerated coun-
try, a country that had forsaken its own traditions.
First, for several reasons, the Americans might continue to regard Russia as an
enemy. They might believe that Russia, despite all the changes in the last years, could
return to its roots and reemerge as a threat, especially if Russians join the Muslim
community. Another factor would be geopolitical inertia and sense of insecurity.
Russia has been the enemy for so long that Americans simply cannot imagine any
other geopolitical situation. The essential weakness of the Russian nuclear forces
would reach its nadir somewhere at the beginning of the 21st century and make Rus-
sia extremely vulnerable to an American attack. And this would provide the USA the
opportunity to strike against Russia.
There is another idea that could creep into the minds of the American elite, Dzhe-
mal implied. They could finally realize that Russia that had been known from the
dawn of its history to the end of the Soviet era was no more. Irreversible changes
had taken place in the fabric of Russian civilization; the very building blocks, the ge-
netic code of Russian civilization, had been removed. From an outside view, Russia
38 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

could be seen as surviving and even prospering. But this is not the case; foreign genes
and building blocks e all brought from the West e have been implanted and merged
with the corrupt, crass, materialistic bureaucracy, a holdover from the Soviet era.
The result is that an absolutely different country has emerged. While having the ex-
ternal appearance of old Russia, post-Soviet Russia is an entirely different society,
a nation closer to America than to Russia of the past. The very fact that the present
Russian elite is on the side of the Zionist aggressors instead of the Muslim victims of
aggression indicates that Russia is a part of the American camp regardless of all the
elite’s anti-American rhetoric. Americans, Dzhemal believes, could well realize this
and include weak Russia in the camp of its aides and stooges.
Russia, in this interpretation, is finished; what remains of the grand and sublime
civilization is a dead carcass, of which Soviet bureaucracy, adjusting to the new or-
der, is biting off the last pieces of the Russian flesh. This bureaucracy and emerging
‘‘new Russians’’ have created a country completely different from what it had been
for centuries, one that is ready to work in conjunction with the USA to destroy the
Muslim people, to suppress the drive for justice. Even in this bleak vision of Russia,
Dzhemal sees a sort of silver lining. It is true that Russia is no more: what is now
called Russia is a corrupt weakling, a stooge of the predatory USA. But it was a great
civilization in the past, a major force of universal goodness that confronted the God-
less, nationalistic, predatory West with Americans as the embodiment of the very
worst. This great Russian civilization could still live, in memory if not reality, as
the cultural artifact to inspire future generations in the same way that the images
of the French and Russian revolutions have inspired generations of fighters.

Eternal Russia as eternal evil

There is yet another image of Russia that Dzhemal has elaborated in his recent
works. Here there is no notion about the degeneration of Russian civilization. Russia
was always a brutal country that suppressed its ethnic minorities and was in no way
different from the worst of the Western states. The calamities/abuses of the Soviet
and post-Soviet periods were not an aberration or degeneration of Russia’s spiritual
core but the continuation of its historical path.
Dzhemal presented this vision of Russian history in recent interviews. He stated
that the roots of oppressive rule could be found at the very beginning of Russian his-
tory. The conquest of the Urals and Siberia in the 16th century had nothing to do
with the romantic images of Russian and, later, Soviet historiography. The original
documents provide quite a different picture. The natives suffered genocidal slaughter.
Those who were spared were deprived of local self-government, and their women
were taken away to be given as wives to Cossacks. One might add that Dzhemal’s
rather negative views of the Russian/Muslim relationship are shared by other current
Muslim historians. Akhmad Davletshin, for example, wrote that until the mid-17th
century Russian authorities had been more or less tolerant of Muslims under their
rule. But the policy changed, and Russian Muslims were subjected to relentless pres-
sure by Russian authorities, who were engaged in coercive Christianization.
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 39

Davletshin does not deny that there were Muslim uprisings against Moscow’s rule,
but insists that most Muslims were loyal subjects and the government’s coercive
Christianization was not provoked (Davletshin, 2006).
Dzhemal apparently agreed, at least in this interpretation of history, that the Rus-
sian government was engaged in full-fledged repression against Russian Muslims by
the end of the 17th century and that the repression increased as time progressed.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Russian wars in the Caucasus were hardly dif-
ferent from the genocidal slaughter of the Indians by white Americans. Millions peri-
shed. The Muslims who survived these calamities were always treated by Russian
authorities as second-class citizens.
This brutal treatment of Muslims of various ethnic origins was not an isolated
phenomenon. In fact, the Russian government and ethnic Russians in general deeply
hated and despised the numerous minorities of the empire. They understood that
they could not maintain their power over minorities if these minorities were not har-
assed by the mob and became united. And government calculations explained a lot in
the history of ethnic minorities in late imperial Russia. By the beginning of the 20th
century, the tsarist regime engaged in provoking ethnic conflicts. The most infamous
result of these activities e the Jewish pogroms e was well-known. But this was
hardly the only one: the ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus and the Western part of
the empire were also the products of the machination of the czarist administration.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, the imperial policy of ‘‘divide-and-rule’’ was soon
reinstated by Stalin, who created autonomous regions and republics in such a way as
to increase ethnic hatred. Stalin also engaged in mass deportation of the people with-
out exception. Gorbachev followed the same pattern, and Dzhemal has accused him
of directly fomenting the inter-ethnic conflicts that erupted during his rule. The Yelt-
sin and Putin eras continued this brutal repression against minorities, mostly Mus-
lims. These regimes are responsible for the brutal Chechen War and countless
repression against the Muslims, whom the regimes accused of terrorist activities
(Dzhemal, 2006a, p. 7). Cooperation between the regime and Muslims on this basis
is impossible. Dzhemal mocked Dugin’s expression ‘‘dawn in military boots,’’ which
for him outlined Dugin’s vision of Putin’s Russia: a militaristic Russian nationalistic
state in which Muslims played the role of docile ‘‘younger brothers’’ in the grand
‘‘Eurasian’’ empire.
Dugin, Dzhemal has implied, proclaimed that his ‘‘Eurasian’’ project is absolutely
different from that of the Americans; Dzhemal discards this notion with disgust.
Dugin’s Eurasianism is not a plan for a healthy symbiosis of Russians and Muslims
of the empire, or minorities in general, but the continuation of an oppressive state
tradition. This state would be disgusting, not only because Dugin would actually
suppress Russian Muslims, actually all minorities, under the guise of benign pater-
nalism, but also because it would legitimize the gaping social differences and crass
materialism. This state, Dzhemal believes, would be in no way different from the
states of the modern West, especially the USA (Dzhemal, 2006a, p. 8).
The Russian historical tradition should not inspire any hope for Muslims. The
only exception is the Bolshevik Revolution and the early Soviet period, when the
state forsook nationalism and stressed spreading of the idea of social justice through
40 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

a call for worldwide revolution. Trotsky was the leader of this drive. This policy ap-
pealed to the global Muslim community and explains the popularity of Trotsky’s
commissars’ propaganda campaign. Dzhemal does not discard the possibility that
Russians could return to this early period of Soviet history after ‘‘suffering, convul-
sions, and disintegration’’ (Dzhemal, 2006a, p. 8). Russia could reassemble itself in
a new capability, break with its ugly imperial tradition, and engage in an alliance
with the global Muslim community. But this metamorphosis, the radical change of
Russians’ cultural/genetic make up, would implicitly not take place in the near fu-
ture. Dzhemal actually sees little chance for Russia to abandon its long tradition
of oppression of minorities and general injustice. In fact, he stated, Russia is moving
in the opposite direction, and Muslims in Russia are losing their last hope that Mos-
cow could be their protector and fair judge. During the uprising in Nal’chik, the peo-
ple assumed that Moscow would support the rebels, for they fought against clear
social injustice. But Moscow regarded them as troublemakers and used violence
(Dzhemal, 2006b, p. 1). Nothing in the present indicates that Russians would change
course in relation to Muslims. This departure from viewing Russia as a potential ally
of Muslims has led Dzhemal to the conclusion e he might not even acknowledge it
himself e that Muslims should rely on themselves and tap their own resources, aban-
doning Russians as a spent force.

The global Muslim community is the only force fighting for global justice

Elaborating on the global potential of the Muslim community, Dzhemal stated

that Muslims are superior to Western Christian civilization. What emerged in the
West after Christ’s death had nothing to do with Christ’s message; the European
church actually institutionalized social injustice. The strength of Islam is in its inclu-
siveness of all people, regardless of their race or civilization. Moreover, Dzhemal
stated, at least in the quoted article, that one need not be even formally a Muslim,
that is, follow the Qur’an, for the meaning of Islam is ‘‘the principle of a transcenden-
tal sense of justice, which could provide meaning and justification of all terminal ac-
tions, such as the life of a particular individual’’ (Dzhemal, 2006a, p. 6).
Islam’s appeal to the ideal of global justice is a most powerful force in itself. But
besides this, the Islamic community has a huge economic/intellectual potential and
actually does not need any partners, including Russians. Moreover, the Qur’an
and Muslim tradition, in general, contain universal, ultimate wisdom; Dzhemal ex-
pressed the belief that in 10 years all scientific puzzles would be solved in the context
of the Qur’an (Dzhemal, 2006c, p. 5). The Muslim community also has the will to
fight for the right course, and this has already transformed some Islamic states
into global centers. Iran is a good example of it.
In the 1990s and at the beginning of the new century, Dzhemal had a rather bleak
vision of Iran, seeing it as, at best, a tool manipulated by the real global player,
Europe. The situation changed with the election of Ahmadinejad. When Dzhemal
was invited to a conference dedicated to the 17th anniversary of the death of Aya-
tollah Khomeini, he became an ardent supporter and real adherent of Iran. He
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 41

sees it as a country that would unify Sunnis and Shias in the struggle against the en-
emies of Islam, the symbols of global injustice in general. Ahmadinejad, Dzhemal
implied, rejected the Jewish Holocaust because it is a way to ignore the ‘‘real holo-
caust against Chechens, Iraqis, Afghans, and Africans’’ (Dzhemal, 2006d, p. 2). The
denial of the Jewish Holocaust, which Dzhemal also regards as fiction, is a way to
shake up the servile attitude toward Israel and Zionism, which are just tools in
the hands of the Americans. Ahmadinejad’s proclamation is actually an action of de-
fiance against Americans. Dzhemal stated that the Europeans were actually de-
lighted that there is at least one country that dares to stand against the USA and
its Zionist stooges, though externally Europeans pretend to be indignant (Dzhemal,
2006d, p. 2).
The source of Iran’s power is not so much its technology as its boldness, its fearless-
ness. Iranians and their charismatic leader are true believers in Allah and thus are not
afraid of war and death. This makes it possible for Iran to face the USA. Iran is emerg-
ing as a real superpower: ‘‘this state, which is 10 times smaller than Russia and 20 times
less populous than China, proves that it has a right to be one of the centers of global
policy because it has no fear of death.’’ This sense of righteousness is absolutely for-
eign to Russians, whose hedonistic and corrupt spirit makes them foreign to any sense
of sacrifice. Russians are afraid of death and suffering and, despite their anti-American
statements, are ready to accept dictates from Washington. Spiritual rottenness, thus, is
translated into geopolitical weakness. For this reason, it is not Iran that needs Russia
but Russia that needs Iran if it wants to survive as an independent state and not a hire-
ling of the Americans engaged in the massacre of Muslims in Chechnya.
Dzhemal has reinforced his positive image of Iran by placing on his Internet site
articles supportive of Iran, which he sees as a rising power of global importance.1
The authors of these articles point out that Russians should not be afraid of an Ira-
nian nuclear bomb because a nuclear Iran would be a great counterbalance to the
USA and no threat to Russia (Gorevoi, 2006, p. 3). They even implied that Russia
might help Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction.2
Other contributors have proclaimed that Iran is already in possession of nuclear
weapons and that this is why the USA and Israel have not tried to strike Iran
(Konovalov, 2006, p. 21). But even without the atomic bomb, Iran has enough re-
sources to stand against America, and a war with Iran would be a disaster for the
USA. One author whose article Dzhemal placed on his site quoted in this connec-
tion, ‘‘the former Polish count’’ e apparently Zbigniew Brzezinski e who predicts
that the American war with Iran would last 30 years (V mire, 2006, 30). In this

It is indicative that Iran News e the Internet site that publishes news on Iran in various languages, in-
cluding Russian e published, with implicit approval, Ahmadinejad’s speech proclaiming that Iran will be
a superpower in the near future (Makhmud Ahmadinejad, 2006).
Help in building an Iranian nuclear bomb likely goes back to Yeltsin, despite the regime’s assertion
that it regarded the USA, the West in general, as its foremost ally. By 1995 Prof. Anton M. Surikov, quite
close to Yeltsin’s internal circle, had designed a plan for Russia, weakened by the disintegration of the
USSR, to counterbalance the USA, hardly regarded as Russia’s friend. The threat of selling nuclear
and missile technologies could be a ‘‘trading card’’ with the United States (Timmerman, 2005, p. 202).
42 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

arrangement, Iran becomes the center of the global Muslim fight for social justice;
the Shia movement emerges as something like the international communist move-
ment of the past which fought oppressive regimes/nations all over the globe, includ-
ing Russians in Chechnya (Tulenkov, 2003, p. 5). In his praise of Shiites e and
implicitly Iran e the pundit has maintained that the Shiites, contrary to the Sunnis,
would not be transformed into submissive servants of either the Russians or the
Americans (Tulenkov, 2006).3

From the Asiatic version of Eurasianism to Islamization

In all these paradigms of the Russian/Muslim relationship, the old Eurasian

scheme is the basic matrix, the framework for interaction. This framework implies
that the Mongol Empire was the bedrock of Russian civilization. And this civiliza-
tion, among many other aspects, implied a quasi-political/cultural/ethnic unity e an
intermingling of Orthodox Russians, Slavs, in general, and Muslim people of various
ethnic backgrounds or, at least, a common cultural/political heritage e for Russians
and the Muslim people of Russia. This common cultural framework implies basically
two major political paradigms, the modus of political behavior.
The first option e entertained by Niazov and Dzhemal e implies that Russians
are unable to play the leading role in Eurasian space, and that this role should be
played by Muslims; or at least Muslims should be equal to Russians. The second op-
tion implies the disintegration of Eurasian space and consequent absorption of it by
its neighboring countries. But even in this fragmented condition, the pieces retain
their basic Eurasian genetic code, so to speak. The heritage of Genghis Kahn and
the Byzantine Empire is still present in genetic codes of the fragmented pieces of
the Federation. This cultural genetic matrix would be carried over and incorporated
into European civilization, in the broad meaning of the word, that is, civilizations
that would embrace all of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals. This is at least
the view of the proponents of Euro-Islam in Tatarstan.
At the same time, there is a new approach to Eurasian space and the relations be-
tween Orthodox Russians and Muslims. It completely discards the Eurasian para-
digm of the mutual symbiosis of Orthodox and Muslim cultures or at least
acknowledgment of the common historical/cultural roots of Russians and even
some Muslims of the Russian Federation. This model suggests an absolutely differ-
ent historical background for the future emerging state. This state would be based
not on Mongol or Roman/Byzantine traditions but only on pure Islam, of which Ot-
toman Turkey is the true embodiment. Islam, in this model, would exist not as one of
the religions/cultures in the Eurasian mosaic but as the overwhelming creed that
would absorb all religions. The melting pot of Islamism would absorb all ethnic peo-
ples, and Islamicized Russians/Eurasia would become part of the global Khalifat.

The view of Shiites and Iran as real Muslims challenges Russian Muslims who want to be loyal Mus-
lims in a Russian state (al’ Rusi, 2006); on the ShiaeSunni global conflict, see Haykel (2006).
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 43

In this arrangement, not only would Russia/Eurasia lose any cultural/political

specificity, much less centrality in the global arrangements, but also the very notion
of a separate civilization or even a separate state would disappear. There would be
no separate entities but a universal community of Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds
and races who would live in absolute harmony. Such an approach can be seen among
various groups of Islamic radicals who have started to proliferate in post-Soviet
space. This Islamic extremism became especially popular among the Chechen
fighters in the almost 15-year-old war with the central government.
Despite all Moscow’s efforts, the war seemed to have no end. The horrific implica-
tions of the conflict became especially clear during the Beslan tragedy (2004), when
Chechen terrorists took schoolchildren as hostages and hundreds of children died.
The Beslan events demonstrated the brutal determination of Chechen fighters. Timur
Sogdran, a contributor to the Chechen rebel Internet site Kavkaz, mocked Russian
propagandists who asserted that the Chechen detachment that took Beslan School
was full of foreign fighters (Sogdran, 2004). Beslan and other similar events, he im-
plied, were done by the native people of the Caucasus, Chechens first of all, and dem-
onstrated that they would stop at nothing in fighting for their independence. There
have been no major terrorist attacks of the Beslan type since 2004. But sporadic attacks
against Russian troops and Ramzan Kadyrov, the viceroy in Chechnya, continue.

Discarding the Mongol legacy

While engaging in fierce resistance and acts of indiscriminate terror against civil-
ians, the Chechen fighters also created a philosophical/historical justification for
their struggles. The key elements of most of above discussed models of the Rus-
sian/Muslim relationship imply the wholesomeness of the Mongol tradition, or at
least some aspect of it. Consequently, those who discard the entire fabric of Eurasian
civilization should discard any positive element of Mongol tradition. Paradoxically,
they sound exactly like Westerners who regard Russians as descendents of Mongols.
In the view of these European observers, this explains the origin of what they see as
the essential traits of the Russian national character e brutality, corruption, and
slavish submissiveness to the stronger.
One could find this image of Russians, and Mongols as Russian forebears, in one
of the articles authored by Iusuf Ibragim, a contributor to Kavkaz. Elaborating on
the creation of the current regime, Ibragim asserted the Eurasianist idea that Mon-
gols created the Russian political culture that has survived to the present. But he saw
no positives in the Mongol tradition, which was similar to that of the USSR and,
even more so, present-day Russia. In all these cases, the leader is concerned only
with collecting tribute from local governors; otherwise, they can do whatever they
want. Average Russians saw no difference between the Mongols and local Russian
princes: the heroic struggle of the entire population against the Tatar/Mongol role
is actually a myth. The Kulikovo Field Battle was no more than a skirmish, like a re-
bellious local governor deciding not to pay tribute to Moscow and the President.
How minor this battle was from a strategic point of view can be seen, according
44 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

to Ibragim, from the fact that just after the battle, Tokhtamysh, the new Tatar ruler,
successfully ‘‘restored the vertical of power’’ and took Moscow (Here Ibragim
alluded to Putin’s policy and the terminology he used asserting his control over
the government.) It was not Russian princes but the great Tamerlane who defeated
the Tatars and made it possible for Russian rulers to proceed in the unhampered mis-
treatment of the population in Mongol/Tatar fashion. Thus, the author concluded
ironically, Russians should build monuments to Batu e the Mongol ruler who while
conquering created the system that made possible their present mistreatment e and
to Tamerlane, who made it possible for Russian rulers to loot the local population
without sharing booty with the Tatars (Ibragim, 2004).
Other contributors to Kavkaz followed suit. Lebedev (2004) pointed out that the
Mongols could be regarded as the founders of the oppressive Russian state. This was
not surprising, he implied, if one would remember that Mongols hardly embodied
Eurasian collectivistic and spiritual virtues, but were a brutal and oppressive force.
Russians, indeed, are the legitimate heirs of Mongol rule, but they had nothing to
do with European civilization, as Russians have claimed for centuries. Comments
from an anonymous reader mocked Russian pretensions of having anything to do
with Europe and the traditions of Roman/Greek civilization from which modern Eu-
rope emerged. Russians like to compare themselves with Romans and coined the
idea of the ‘‘Third Rome.’’ This is ridiculous, for the Russians were a product of
a 100 years of Tatar/Mongol slavery and could hardly create anything comparable
with great Rome (O tret’em Rime, 2005).
Mongolian tradition, with its emphasis on brutal despotism, corruption, and abu-
ses of all sorts, had nothing to do with religious tolerance. Islam is not free in Russia,
and leading officials such as Tadzhuddin and Gainutdin and similar official represen-
tatives of the Muslim elite are nothing but Putin’s slaves. Putin emerges as the mod-
ern embodiment of the Mongol rulers who lorded over Russia in the past. Chechens
and other Islamic people who live in Russia or similar regimes that emerged in post-
Soviet space should rise in holy revolt against the oppressors.
Chechen ideologists propose two options. One option, similar to that of the pro-
ponents of Euro-Islam in its more radical form, implies complete separation from
Russia and creation of an independent state. According to Boris Stomakhin, a Rus-
sian radical who contributed to Kavkaz and was arrested and imprisoned by Russian
authorities, Chechens could be compared with Jews in Israel who desperately defend
their independence. The Russians’ hatred of Chechens is similar to their hatred of
Jews. This is evident by widespread anti-Semitism in present-day Russia (Stomakhin,
2005). Like the Jews, Chechens could appeal to the USA, in Stomakhin’s view a pro-
gressive force that fought against oppressive Russia, which continues to be an em-
pire. The USA and Chechens could forge a strong alliance; and Chechens in this
capacity could maintain constant pressure on Russians. According to some Russian
observers, this alliance has already been forged: some leading Chechen separatists
work for American intelligence (Rudneva, 2004).
The second option is radically different from all other scenarios discussed in this
paper. It does not only imply the various types of states but also entirely discards the
notion of the state, at least as usually understood. The state in this scenario resembles
D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46 45

a futuristic utopia, close to the designs of Thomas Moore or Thomas Campanella. The
collectivistic tradition of pre-modern Gemeinschaft arrangements has been reinvented
as the pathway to a quasi-socialist regime in a religious context. In their historical imag-
ination, the early Ottoman state has emerged as a sort of ideal state.

The early Ottoman state as the ideal society and springboard for global Caliphate

The features attractive to this group are very different from those in most varia-
tions of the Eurasian model. The Eurasian model stresses that the Mongols/Tatars
created a mighty state and a highly developed civilization, where numerous ethnic/
religious groups could coexist in peace. The radicals who appealed to early Islam
for the basis of Ottoman experience were quite different in their vision of the negative
and positive aspects of society. According to one Kavkaz contributor, Islam inspired
the Turks with tolerance and social justice. The very notion of social justice is the
essence of Islam and makes it different from other religions.4 When the Turks be-
came Muslims, they immediately acquired this noble drive for social justice.
This was the reason why the common folk, regardless of social background or eth-
nicity, regarded the Turks as liberators (Erbiev, 2004). The incorporation of the var-
ious peoples in the Ottoman Empire had nothing to do with conquest; in fact,
Ottoman military prowess is totally ignored here. The early Ottoman state was
just a springboard for transforming the world in a universal Caliphate. And jihad
is seen as a tool to achieve this goal.


The collapse of the USSR signaled the end not just of the Russian imperial state,
but of Slavdom as a civilization. The assertiveness of Russian Muslims is one reper-
cussion. Some ask for rearrangement of the pecking order, demanding the lion’s
share of power and consequently property. Others say they have nothing to do
with ethnic Orthodox Russians. Some have started to see ethnic Russians as the en-
emies of Russian Muslims, in fact, of the entire Muslim community. Ethnic Russians
have responded in different ways. For some, the assertiveness of Russian Muslims
and the global Muslim community is an incentive to convert to Islam; for the major-
ity it has led to racism and the slogan ‘‘Russia for Russians.’’
These increasing tensions do not mean an inevitable clash in the future. Every-
thing e or at least a great deal e will depend on the strength of the Russian state;

Many Muslim Russian elite seems to see Islam as more disposed to the poor than other religions.
A contributor to the major Russian Muslim Internet site Muslim Ru mocked the statement that the
Orthodox Church promulgated humbleness, that not earthly blessings but spirituality is important. In
fact, in both pre-Revolutionary and modern Russia, preaching spirituality and acceptance of one’s lot
provided justification for regimes where immense wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few super-rich
who ignored the misery of the majority. So the Orthodox holdover the Russian population is rather ten-
uous. The story is quite different with Islam. Not only does Islamic teaching demand concern for the poor.
46 D. Shlapentokh / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 27e46

in Russia, as in other non-Western and pre-modern societies, this is the agent of

change. A strong Russian state could arrest ethnic/religious clashes, preventing their
development to a serious threat. But the situation could change if the state becomes
weaker, and a strong state does not exclude problems. The rising influence of the
Muslim community and the demographic shift e if it proceeds for a long time e
would radically change a considerable part of Russia. Russia itself would disappear,
at least in the cultural and ethnic form in which it has been known for almost a 1000
years. The views of the above-discussed Russian Muslims might thus be of great im-
portance, for they might indicate the germination of a new civilization that would
replace Russia in the future.


Ahmad, Damir, 2004. Russians Increasingly Embracing Islam, Islam Online, October 4.
Babich, Aisha Galina, 2006. ‘Rozhali i budem rozhat,’ Musul’manka o poslanii Prezidenta. Islam Ru, December 5.
Davletshin, Akhmad, 2006. Loial’nost’ ili vneshnepoliticheskie interesy. Islam News, May 11.
Dzhemal, Geidar, 200X. Budushchee Rossii i mira v kratkikh tezisakh. Part I, p. 2.
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