When discussing the Islamization of the West, France is usually cited as being the worst-off of the Western democracies. It has an estimated Muslim population of 10%, perhaps as high as 15%, and the demographics of the situation — a very low birthrate among the native French, and a baby boom among the Muslim immigrants — do not bode well for the future of France.
If we expand the definition of “the West” a bit, it becomes necessary to add India and Russia to the list of Most Islamized Western Nations. India has the largest, oldest, and most intractable “Islam problem” of any Western democracy. The Muslim minority in India is over 150 million (13+% of the population) and is growing relative to the Hindu population. India lives under the constant threat of terror attack. Its citizens experience deadly bombings and other forms of violent jihad with mind-numbing regularity.
Russia is a special case. Its Muslim population is estimated at 10% to 12%, and its demographic situation is worse than that of France, so that Russian Islam is expected to grow rapidly. If present trends continue, Muslims will comprise a majority of the Russian military within a couple of decades.
However, as analysts often point out, Islam in Russia is different from virtually anywhere else. The most fanatical Osama-loving terrorists and their sympathizers are confined mainly to Chechnya, Dagestan, and other small republics in the southern Caucasus. To the extent that these ethnicities have migrated to Moscow and other parts of Russia proper, the problem of Islamic terror has spread, but its practitioners are still mainly from those Caucasian ethnic groups.
A large part of the Muslim population in Russia is Tatar. The Tatars are a Mongolian ethnicity, and have been in Russia for almost eight hundred years, since the they first conquered the Eastern Slavs. When Ivan the Great threw off the Tatar yoke two and a half centuries later, the Tatar Muslims became subordinate to the Orthodox Christians of Holy Russia, and have retained that status ever since, except for a brief atheist interregnum between 1917 and 1991.
Western analysts have generally regarded the Tatar brand of Islam as mild and innocuous, especially compared with the virulent versions found in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Somalia. Since the Tatars are estimated to number between seven and eight million, or around half of Russia’s Muslim population, this cuts the percentage of “problem” Muslims in half, making the scope of the issue roughly the same as it is in the Netherlands.
Except in the case of the Caucasus, the Legacy Media have consistently downplayed the danger of radical Islam in Russia. An article from April 2007 in The Economist is a case in point. It calls the increase of Russian Islam “a benign growth”, and describes it in glowing terms such as only the MSM can provide. The subhead tells us:
Russia’s fastest-growing religious group is its Muslims. But they are not much like their counterparts in other countries
…Russia has more Muslims than any other European state (bar Turkey); and the Muslim share of the population is rising fast. The 2002 census found that Russia’s Muslims numbered 14.5m, 10% of its total of 145m. In 2005 the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, put the number of Muslims at 20m. Ravil Gaynutdin, head of Russia’s Council of Muftis, talks of 23m, including Azeri and Central Asian migrants.
Already you notice the standard Islamic tactic of inflating for propaganda purposes the number of Muslims within a given country. Because “Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion” (everybody knows this, and the media keep repeating it, but how do we know it’s true? Statistics can always be traced back to the OIC or CAIR or MPAC or similar organizations), the number of Muslims has to be revised continually upwards.
Moreover, the Muslim population of Russia is rising even as the country’s overall population falls. Many Muslim communities long predate Russian rule. Shamil Alyautdinov, the imam of the newest and most dynamic of Moscow’s four mosques, insists that the very word “minority” should not apply to a faith “which emerged on Russia’s territory far earlier than Christianity did”.
Aside from the Caucasus, there are now two concentrations of Muslims in Russia. One is in Moscow, swollen by labour migration, where they may number 2m. The other is in the faith’s old bastions: Bashkortostan and, above all, Tatarstan (see map), where a revival of the faith has been overseen successfully by a wily regional president, Mintimer Shaimiev. In several parts of the Caucasus, old-style compacts between local rulers and “tame” clerics have alienated young people; but in Tatarstan they still seem to work quite well.
But in general Islam’s resurgence in Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, has been peaceful. For the first time since Ivan the Terrible conquered the place in 1552, the city’s Kremlin houses a mosque, its minarets vying with nearby Orthodox Christian onion domes. Ramil Yunusov, its Saudi-trained imam, gets on fine with the local Orthodox clergy. Just 25 years ago, says Gusman Iskhakov, the mufti who heads the Muslim Spiritual Board of Tatarstan, the region had some 20 mosques. Now there are around 1,300.
This is the MSM’s story, and they’re sticking to it: Everything is fine; Islam in Russia is cool and hip and friendly and modern, just as Yuri Andropov was. OK, so there’s a bit of radicalism here and there, but nothing the FSB can’t handle.
And, yes, the number of mosques in Tatarstan has increased from 20 to 1,300 in just a quarter of a century. That’s a 6400% increase — more than 18% per year — but we’re not supposed to worry about it. After all, since the Orthodox Christians have been building all those churches for centuries, it’s only fair — right? Now it’s Islam’s turn.
Rafael Khakimov, an adviser to Mr Shaimiev, uses the term “Euro-Islam” to describe the faith that has evolved in what was for long the world’s northernmost Muslim outpost. Wherever he turns, Mr Shaimiev likes to present a benign image. Accompanying Mr Putin round the Middle East, the Tatar leader shows Russia’s pious Muslim face, a tactic that underpins the Kremlin’s Middle East diplomacy. In February the Saudis gave Mr Shaimiev an award for services to the faith. But when they are talking to west Europeans, the Tatar authorities like to present themselves as more open-minded than most other regions of Russia.
This is what everybody has been hoping for — “Euro-Islam”. It’s what Tariq Ramadan has been peddling in the swanky European salons of the academe and the media for the last decade or so. The cultural elite have resigned themselves to Islamization, so the benign version of Islam is supposed to make the process easier to accept. Just take your Percocet and slather on the Vaseline — and then lie back, close your eyes, and think of Euro-Islam.
Many people in Arab countries, says Mr Shaimiev, have never lived on equal terms with other cultures, and their teaching doesn’t suit the needs of the Tatars, who have. His government has opened its own religious schools and universities, to propagate its preferred form of Islam.
So the madrassas of Tatar Islam — Euro-Islam — are different from those of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This, too is supposed to reassure us. We’re meant to believe that their students are being taught Sharia Lite.
Among the politically active Muslims of Moscow who lobbied for Imam Stepanenko, the mood is different. For one thing, there is a row between two contestants for official favour: the cautious Mr Gaynutdin, and Talgat Tadjuddin, a feisty chief mufti who in 2003 proclaimed a jihad against America.
Notice that a Muslim who declares a jihad is described as “feisty” — evoking the image of a lovably cantankerous old rogue, who maybe makes a spot of trouble now and then, but is quite all right, really. I mean, he only declared a jihad against America, after all, and not — whew! — Europe.
If we fast-forward nearly four years to the end of 2010, we hear a slightly different tune coming out of Russia. Among the ululating voices are those of Ravil Gaynutdin and Talgat Tadjuddin. The “cautious” and “feisty” imams are still front and center, although the variant transliterations of their names makes them a bit harder to identify.
Here’s what Asia News has to say:
Russian Islamic Leaders Against the Kremlin
The chief mufti attacks the State guilty of hindering the unification of the Muslims of the Federation and condemn those religious leaders who are working as puppets to quell the community’s presence in the country.
Moscow (AsiaNews) — The leaders of the Russian Muslim community have launched a strong attack against the authorities in the country. The head of the Council of muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, accuses the state of wanting to obstruct the unification of Muslims and attempting to “suppress Islam” in the Federation. He has also described as “puppets” and “squalid people,” those mufti who work in government institutions.
This is a somewhat more confrontational — dare we say “extremist”? — message. Three and a half years later, and Mr. Gainutdin is now on the attack. Does this mean he has graduated to the status of “feisty”, like his esteemed colleague?
Not entirely. It seems that the two muftis have been singing from the same hymnal all along, and were just playing good cop/bad cop with the gullible media droids. That feisty-versus-reasonable shtick was just for the rubes:
The project of unification of the Russian followers of Muhammad dates back to 2009. Then, Gainutdin said in an interview with Radio Liberty, “the mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin had proposed to merge the three central organizations of the Muslims of Russia.” “After studying the idea — continued the religious leader — I together with the leader of the Caucasus Muslims, Berdiyev, met him. We created a working group to structure this unification. But the government did not approve of our decision. They claimed Talgat Tadzhuddin’s idea was not in line with government policy”.
The new goal is a single, unified Islam throughout the Russian Federation. Chechens, Tatars, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and all the others, in it together for the good of the Ummah.
Mr. Gainutdin is clear: any clerics who resist his call for Islamic unity are “puppets” of the Islamophobes:
Gainutdin’s charges against the State are also motivated by the recent creation of the fourth muftiyat (Islamic Council), the “Russian Association of Islamic agreement” designed precisely to prevent any process of unification. “The new ‘pocket muftis’, who oppose the growth of Islam are mere puppets” says Gainutdin. “These puppets, like those who work in government, for example, the Islamophobic Grishin (the director of the Presidential Administration in charge of relations with Islamic organizations, ed), will not hesitate to suppress Islam in Russia … which is already taking place,” he added.
This charge of disloyalty aimed at the “pocket muftis” is a serious one. Under sharia law, it is very close to a declaration of takfir against them, which is a form of apostasy, and carries the death sentence. This is serious business.
The last paragraph provides a hint as to what might be causing all this newfound “feistiness”:
Commenting on the recent clashes between Nationalist hooligans and mostly Muslim immigrants from the Caucasus, Gainutdin emphasized the existence of tensions in the capital home to more than two million Muslims. He also pointed out the need to build new mosques in Moscow, where the faithful are forced to pray, for lack of space, “in the streets, on tram lines, and even in the courtyards of churches.” “This humiliation, this discriminatory policy against civil rights continues, before the eyes of Muslims around the world.”
Mr. Gainutdin is reminding the oligarchs who rule Russia that he has two million troops under his command in Russia’s capital city. This is a warning to Vladimir Putin to shorten the chain on his nationalist “hooligans”, or face the consequences. Judging by the roundup of young nationalists over the past week or so — the last I heard, a couple of thousand of them were in preventive detention — Mr. Putin has gotten the message.
It seems that Islam in Russia is not the mild and relatively harmless institution that we all thought it was. Russian Muslims are flexing their muscles and pushing for unity.
For some reason, they seem to think that tomorrow belongs to them.
Hat tip: C. Cantoni.