The use of words can be very tricky in this context. Take the word "Muslim", what does it really mean? In Bosnia, the word "Muslim" was really used to describe a "non-Orthodox and non-Catholic Bosnian" since both Croats and Serbs often were natives of Bosnia and since Bosnian-Croats, Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Muslims are all of the exact same ethnic stock (hence the fallacy of speaking of "ethnic cleansing" in the Bosnian context). Later, the rather inept term "Bosniac" was coined, as opposed to "Bosnian" because to use "Muslim" or "Bosnian" just made no sense. Regardless, by fiat of some politicians, what used to be called "Muslim" became "Bosniac" overnight.
Likewise, in Ireland, the "troubles" were supposed to oppose Catholics and Protestants, but did the IRA or the Ulster Volunteers really care about the Papacy or Martin Luther? Did these denominations really play a relevant role in this conflict?
This is hardly a new issue. In the past, both the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire assimilated religious groups to ethnic minorities hence the Karaites in Russia were not considered as Jews while the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople was referred to by the Ottomans as "Millet-Bashi" or "ethnarc". In modern France there is a "problem" of the Muslim immigration and its effects on the suburbs of many French cities. But taking a closer look at these (mostly Algerian) immigrants one could legitimately wonder to what degree this is an "Islamic" problem. This confusion between "Islam" (as a faith, a religion), "Muslim" (used as both a sign of religious and, often, ethnic affiliation) is as frequent in modern Russia as it is in France. Keeping all these caveats in mind, let's look at the type of issues which makes many Russians see "Islam" (in quotation marks) as a threat.
a) Immigration and crime.
Ever since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union there as been a steady flow of immigrants from some former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, etc.) towards big Russian cities. In parallel to that, a large number of immigrants from the Caucasus (Chechens, Dagestani, etc.) also emigrated to central parts of Russia. The combination of these to migratory flow resulted in a vast increase of immigrants in every major Russia city. As is so often the case, while some of these immigrants came looking for a job, there were enough criminal elements amongst them to strongly tie the issue of immigration and crime to each other. Typically, these immigrants from the south were composed of a mix of four groups:
a) Law-abiding and hard working workers, often ruthlessly exploited and treated as quasi-slaves by their local employers.
b) Arrogant and very poorly educated young men who, while not necessarily criminals, act in highly provocative and offensive manners.
c) Petty thugs who combine an official job with petty criminal activities.
d) Hardened criminals who are deeply involved in drugs, prostitution, illegal casinos, etc.
Typical Chechen thugs|
Furthermore, since most of these immigrants come from historically Muslim countries and since many of them consider themselves as Muslims, many Russians experience their first or most frequent interaction with putative "Muslims" in a criminal situation. As for the fact that in the vast majority of these cases these "Muslim thugs" know absolutely nothing about Islam is not at all apparent, in particular from a Russian point of view.
The French author and philosopher Alain Soral, who is very actively engaged in efforts to reconcile and unite all French citizens against the NWO, including Christians and Muslims, speaks of "Islamo-racaille" ("Islamo-scum"): young loud thugs, wearing "rapper-gangsta" gear, with NYC baseball-hats and who speak of Allah and Kufars while driving around in sports cars - often high or drunk - looking for somebody to rob, rape or abuse. As Soral points out - these people are not exactly the type you would see coming out of a mosque and the very same is true of Russia. Still, it is undeniable that many Russians still make the association "Islam" <-> crime.
b) Wahabism - internal
The wars in Chechnia and the Islamic terrorism in Dagestan and many other part of Russia have had a huge impact upon the Russian public opinion. The two was in Chechnia, in particular, resulted a a deep aversion for the Chechen insurgents and any other Islamic terrorist group which could be described as "Wahabi". Initially, the combined propaganda tsunami of the Western corporate media and the Russian "liberal" media left people confused as to what was really going on, but soon the horrible events on the ground become impossible to suppress: the Chechen insurgents combined the very worst of the Wahabi extremism with the worst of Chechen thuggery. Thousands of people were summarily executed, women raped, Russian soldiers and even civilians were tortured to death, crucified, skinned alive, raped and beheaded. Hostages were kidnapped from all over southern Russia and a slave market was working each day in downtown Grozny. And all these horrors were committed by bearded man, brandishing green and black flags embroidered with suras of the Kuran, and to the constant screams of Allahu Akbar. And since the Chechen insurgents loved to use their cellphones to videotape their atrocities, a steady stream of blood-curling videos make it to the Russian TV and Internet sites. By 2000 the Russian public opinion was ripe to give no quarter to any Islamic terrorist or anybody supporting them.
To make things worse, the Chechen insurgency had the support of the vast majority of the Muslim world which, just as in Bosnia or Kosovo, automatically sided with the "Muslim" party no matter what (I call this the "My Umma - right or wrong" position). That knee-jerk support for the Muslim side, even if it is largely composed of Wahabi terrorists and criminals, put a big stain on the image of Islam in Russia and gave a lot of weight to the "conflict of civilizations" paradigm which the West and its supporters in Russia wanted to impose upon the Russian public opinion.
If under Eltsin the Russian state proved completely incapable of taking any kind of measures to deal with this situation, under Putin things changed extremely rapidly as shown by the 2nd Chechen war which basically crushed the insurgency. Subsequently, the combined efforts of a completely re-vamped Russian security establishment and the coming to power of Akhmad and, later, Ramazan Kadyrov completely changed the situation. Grozny was rebuilt in a record time, and Chechnia became of the of safest republics of the entire Caucasus (at the expense of Dagestan where the situation got worse). The cost in human lives and suffering was absolutely horrendous, both for Russians (almost all those who survived left Chechnia) and for Chechens who died in huge numbers. The main scar left by this war though is that Russia has become a society with zero tolerance for any form of Wahabism and the Russian people have fully endorsed what I call the "Putin doctrine" of dealing with Wahabis: "change your ways or expect to be annihilated". This, by the way, applies to both individuals and ethnic groups: against a Wahabi enemy the Russian people will support the harshest possible military methods of warfare, something which a lot of Muslim communities are acutely aware of (more about that later).
Spetsnaz GRU forces with Arab prisoner|
Contrary to the predictions of most "experts", the Kremlin did successfully deal with the situation in Chechnia, but one inevitable side effect of this success was that a lot of the Wahabi extremists were flushed out of Chechnia into neighboring Dagestan and even the rest of Russia. And that second problem is far from solved. While the USA and the UK have now toned down their pro-Chechen rhetoric, the Saudis are still pushing Wahabi-Islam into Russia, although in a more discrete manner.
First, they train preachers in Saudi Arabia and send them back to Russia. Then these preachers form small communities, often inside mosques, were the faithful are recruited for social and religious activities. During that phase, the candidates for the next step are carefully investigated, vetted and selected for the next phase: the establishment of weapons caches, safehouses, training grounds, and the like. Eventually, the new recruits are used to attack police stations, banks, murder traditional (anti-Wahabi) clergymen, and opposing Mafia gangs. Russian security services have observed that sequence in Dagestan, Kazan or Stavropol (regions with large Muslim minorities), but also in Saint Petersburg, a city with a very small and very traditionalist Muslim population. So far, the security services have managed to say one step ahead, but this is far from over and that kind of penetration efforts can last a very long time.
One of the crucial aspects of this dynamic is the reaction of the local, traditional, Muslim spiritual leaders. First, as I have mentioned above, no Russian Muslims want to have a "2nd Chechen war" happen in their own town or region, because they have no doubts whatsoever about the outcome of such a situation. Second, traditional Muslim spiritual leaders are themselves the first victims of the Wahabi infiltrators who often begin their "active" phase of operations by murdering the local imams. Third, Muslims in Russia are often very rapidly disillusioned with the Saudi version of Islam which declares as "un-Islamic" many customs and traditions which are at the core of the cultural identity of many Muslim groups in Russia. Fourth, for all the thugs from the Caucasus behaving in obnoxious and vulgar manners in Central Russia, the fact is that the Muslim communities these young people come from are often very conservative and peaceful and that the older generation deeply disapproves of the kind of behavior which, in their opinion, brings shame upon their people. Fifth one should not under-estimate the legacy of the Soviet period which promoted both secularism and modernism and which has left a strong mark on the local elites. These elites are both outraged and horrified when they are told by Wahabi preachers that they have to completely abandon their way of life and begin living according to medieval precepts. Finally, there is an inherent tension between any form of nationalism and the Saudi style Wahabism being imported to Russia. This tension is one of the key elements which turned the Kadyrov clan against the various Wahabi warlords in Chechnia which were viewed by the more nationalist Chechen leaders as arrogant foreigners who were enemies of the Chechen ancestral traditions. For all these reasons, there is a lot of push-back on the part of the local Muslim communities and Muslim leaders against the type of Wahabi style Islam the Saudis have been trying to export to Russia.
c) Wahabism - external
Wahabism is not only an internal threat for Russia, it is also a major external threat. According to Russian analysts, the Obama Administration has brought with itself a fundamentally new set of imperialist policies which are now being implemented. During the Bush era, the USA exercised direct control, mostly by means of military interventions, over the Middle-East and Africa. This "direct" approach is the way the Jewish Lobby and the Neocons believed that the USA should maintain its global empire. Obama represents a very different type of constituency (old "Anglo" money) which is vehemently opposed to the Neocons and which will agree to pay lip service to the Israel-firsters but, in reality, places US strategic interests far ahead of any Zionist priorities. In practical terms, this means that the Obama administration will withdraw as many US troops as possible and relinquish the direct control over contested regions, and that it will secure its domination over a country or region by means of chaos. This is a policy of indirect imperial control.
After all, why invade and occupy a country, thereby loosing US blood and money, when one can use proxies to create a situation of absolute chaos inside that country? In the best of cases, chaos leads to a Libyan-style "regime change" and in the worst case, a civil war like the one taking place in Syria. But in either case, undesirable heads of state like Gaddifi or Assad have been "de-fanged" and their countries removed from any possible anti-US alliance. As for the "good guys" of the day (say Abdullah in Jordan or Hamad in Bahrein), they are protected from the surrounding chaos at rather very limited costs.
According to Russian analysts, the Wahabi and "al-Qaeda" types are the foot soldiers of this new US imperial policy. The US simply "injects" them in any society it wants to subvert and then it sits on the sidelines without much else to do than to send in special forces to assist here and there, depending on the needs of the moment. In this situation, the CIA agent is the puppeteer and the Wahabi crazy the puppet, whether it is aware of that or not.
The big fear of Russian analysts is that this US strategy will be used to remove Assad and then that it will be used against Iran. True, Syria has a large Sunni population, whereas Iran is predominantly Shia, whom the Wahabis hate with a special seething loathing. Still, Iran does have small Kurdish, Turkmen and Balochi (Sunni) minorities which, combined with pro-Western "Gucci revolutionaries" of the upper classes can pose a real risk to the regime. And, if not, there is always the option of triggering a war between Iran and some Sunni country. Most Russians analysts believe that Iran is strong enough to resist such attempts at destabilizing it, but they remain very attentive to the situation because they agree that if Iran was to be engulfed into some form of US-sponsored chaos this would directly affect the southern regions of Russia.
Some analysts also see this US "indirect" or "control through chaos" strategy as a "win-win" for the USA even if their Wahabi proxies are defeated. They ask a simple question: what will happen if Assad convincingly wins the war in Syria? Where will the Wahabis go next? Back to Mali, which they temporarily left to avoid engaging the French? Or into Algeria, to start a civil war there? Or maybe into Kosovo or even southern France? And what if these Wahabis decided to "test the waters" in Kazakhstan?
This type of concerns brings some Russian security specialists to actually see a positive aspect to the war in Syria. Simply put - Assad is killing a lot of al-Qaeda types and every Wahabi crazy killed in Syria is one less candidate for a transfer to another holy war in another part of the world.
We now can clearly distinguish the rationale behind the Russian policy not to threaten to shut down NATO supply lines over Russia, regardless of the amount of obnoxious and hostile pronouncements and actions from the US side: the Russians want the Americans to remain in Afghanistan as long as possible to give time to Russia and its allies like Tajikistan to prepare for a Taliban regime back in power in Kabul. In the meantime, Russia is strengthening its powerful 201 Russian Military Base (ex- 201 Motor-Rifle Division) in Tadjikistan and providing technical assistance to the Tajik Border Guards.
As part of the recent reforms of the Russian Armed Fores the entire Russian military has been reorganized into four Strategic Commands, each capable of independently waging a regional defensive war independently by directly controlling practically all the military forces and resources in its area. It is interesting to note that while the Southern Strategic Command is the smallest one in size, it is by far the most combat ready. If there is anything which the 08.08.08 war with Georgia has convincingly shown, it is the lightening speed at which the 58th Army and the Black Sea Fleet were ready to go to war (and that even though it took the Kremlin quite some time to finally react). It is quite clear that following the Russian successes in Chechnia and Georgia Moscow is most definitely not letting its guard down and that it will remain ready to engage in a wide spectrum of military operations ranging from local clashes to a full-scale regional war.
d) Islam through the prism of the "clash of civilizations"
This aspect of the "Islamic threat" is fundamentally different from all the other ones as it is predicated on a thesis which is never really tested, but only proclaimed: that there is a "clash of civilizations" taking place between, roughly, "Christian Europe" on one side and the "Eastern" or "Arab" Islam on the other. Nevermind the fact that Europe has lost almost all signs of Christianity many years ago, nevermind that Islam is neither primarily "Eastern" nor primarily "Arab", nevermind that Islam includes very different civilizations (from Morocco to Indonesia) and nevermind that no Muslim or Islamic "civilization" has attacked any Western interests since a very long time. By the way- proponents of this theory will include a theocratic and racist country such as Israel in the "Western", if not "Christian European", camp while ignoring the key role Muslim Turkey plays in NATO. Simply put - this view is 100% ideology, no facts are needed. And yet, there are quite a few groups in Russia which are happy to promote this worldview:
a) The Communists. In the bad old Soviet mentality, Islam is, as any other religion, an ideological enemy. If Ziuganov & Co. do not speak of "opium of the people" it is because they are afraid to antagonize their Orthodox Christian members, in particular since nowadays being "Orthodox" gives you "patriotic" credentials. But being Muslim gives you exactly *zero* credentials with the Communists. If anything, they would be inclined to see Islam and Muslims as agents for foreign interests.
b) Zionists: contrary to the popular belief, there are still plenty of Zionists in Russia, including in the media, and they never miss the opportunity to fan the flames of Islamophobia. One of their favorite tricks is to always and deliberately conflate all forms of Islam, with the deeds of any "Muslim" whether actually religious or not and draw the conclusion that "Islam is our common moral enemy". For these people, Russia and Israel are natural allies against the common Islamic foe, and even Iran is not to be trusted. Needless to say, the Israelis go out of their way to court these circles and promote an image of "you had the Chechens, we have the Palestinians".
c) Russian neo-Nazi racists: this is really a small group, but an extremely vocal one. These are the famous Russian skinheads who feel that they are defending the "White Race" when they beat up a Tadjk in the subway. Some of them claim to be Orthodox, though a majority like to seek their roots into some distant "pagan Russia" populated by blue eyed White warriors. These groups exist mostly on the Internet, but they sometimes gather in remote places to "train" for the "conflict to come".
Recently a group of real Russian patriots got together and began quietly investigating these groups. It turns out that the most vocal and racist of them all usually had IP numbers in the USA, Canda and Israel. Russian security services strongly suspect that these groups are quietly supported by US and other Western intelligences services to create ethnic tensions in Russia. Unsurprisingly, since Putin came to power most leaders of these groups have landed in jail, or are hiding abroad.
d) Roman Catholics and Orthodox Ecumenists: both of these groups share a common belief: whatever "minor" differences they "might" have had in the past, Orthodox Russia belongs with the "Christian West", if only because both are "threatened" by a "common enemy". These people carefully avoid ever mentioning the undeniable fact that Russia has always chosen Asia over Europe or Islam over the Papacy, if only because of all the wars of conquest which were waged by the West against Russia. This group has no traction in the masses of people, but it has some following in the pro-US circles in the big cities.
Individually, these groups are not very powerful, with the notable exception of the Zionist one. And they do not officially work together. But if there are no signs of a conspiracy, there is an objective collusion between these groups when it comes to demonize Islam in all its forms, even the most moderate ones. This, in turn, means that there is a minority of the Russian population which will always view Islam as a threat, no matter what.
The good news is that these groups are counter-balanced by far more influential forces which see Islam as a potential (if not yet actual) natural ally of Russia. This will be the topic of the next installment.