I do not dispute all the points in The Saker’s recent piece Russia’s “Civilizational Choice.” The malevolent influence of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism on traditional Islam throughout the world is a real phenomenon that is indeed much better known in Russia than in the West. That is because Western elites view it as a useful geopolitical tool whose goals largely align with their own and thus tend to pressure their mainstream media to portray Islamic fundamentalists in non-Western countries from Syria to Egypt to Chechnya as “democrats” and/or “freedom fighters.” So far as conspiracy theories go, this is one of the most credible ones.
Nor, of course, do I at all mean to imply that Russian and “Muslim” interests (Muslim being a very wide group) are always opposed. The Russian Empire reached accomodations with the elites of annexed Muslim territories, leaving them in place, unchanged, in return for them pledging fealty to the Tsar. In the Middle East today, generally speaking, Shi’ite Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and secular forces are in an alliance of convenience against the Sunni Islamist wave. So long as Kadyrov remains Putin’s faithful vassal, the Chechens probably make a net positive contribution to the Russian state, contributing troops to Russian foreign adventures in return for big subsidies from the federal center (a perennial bugbear for Russian nationalists). But would any of this hold in the currently remote but not impossible prospect that the “checkerboard geopolitics” that currently favor a Russian-Shi’ite alliance vanish (as Putin himself said, Assad before his current troubles visited Paris more frequently than he did Moscow), or if the Russian state weakens to such an extent that whoever rules Chechnya becomes free to go rogue? History and common sense suggest “no,” which invalidates the whole idea that there is some kind of civilizational “special relationship” between Russia and Islam.
There is a relationship there, alright. Ultimately, all countries, religions, and ideological factions have some sort of relationship to each other. Russia and Judaism also have a relationship, though I don’t suspect someone who uses the term “AngloZionist” half a dozen times in each of his articles is going to wax poetically on it anytime soon. To take an even more extreme example, there are a few women in the West who seriously argue that wearing the niqab is an expression of feminism; if you say so, dear, but I doubt many Muslims would agree with you.
In short, just the mere existence of some loosely defined civilizational “relationship” or “affinity” does not necessarily mean that it is deep, positive, or sustainable.
To illustrate why its worth taking the time to “fisk” that article in some detail:
This event, however, has a significance which much exceeds just the local lack of space. The truth is that most Muslims who prayed in the Moscow city center wanted more than just a bigger building – they wanted an official acknowledgement of their existence and of their importance for Russia.
Historically, Russia has been the product of three main factors: Russians take most of their ethnic stock from the ancient Slavic people who lived in what is today called the Ukraine, their religion and worldview from the Orthodox Christianity inherited from the Eastern Roman Empire (mistakenly called “Byzantium” in the West), and their statehood from the Tatar occupation which unified various small principalities into one unified state.
This brings to mind a witticism I heard once:
Russian liberals, “Russophobes,” and svidomy Ukrainian nationalists: The Muscovite Russian state is an outgrowth of Tatar despotism… and it’s awful!
Russian “Eurasianists” and “Russophiles”: The Muscovite Russian state is an outgrowth of Tatar despotism… and it’s great!
Unfortunately, the actual theory on which both positions are based has nothing to do with reality. Russian literary tradition traces its origins exclusively to Rus, or the “Russian Land” (otherwise known as “Kievan Rus,” a literary term that appeared much later and has been ideologically hijacked by Ukrainian nationalists). The centralizing impulse, which reached an apogee in Muscovy, had antecedents as early as the 12th century, when “democratic” veches were replaced by strong princely rule across the Russian principalities. The Golden Horde’s system of kurultays, involving the “elections” of new khans – typically with many different candidates, with no guarantee that all of them would accept the decision – differed cardinally from the centralizing processes ongoing across contemporaneous Rus’, and which happened to be occuring most intensively in the principality, Vladimir-Suzdal’, that would later became Muscovy.
Still, less than 20 years after two wars in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo) and two wars inside Russia (both in Chechnia) very few had predicted that Muslim Chechens would fight in defense of Orthodox Christians in the Donbass, while Putin would inaugurate the biggest mosque in Europe just a mile away from the Kremlin. The reality, of course, is that these wars did not pitch Russia against Islam, but Russia against a very specific form of Saudi-backed Wahabi Islam which, itself, was organized and controlled by the AngloZionist Empire.
Islamic radicalism remains a big problem in the Balkans, most recently in Macedonia. And Chechnya is mostly kept loyal through cash infusions (not that I’m a “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” type: I acknowledge its the least worst of all possible policy options).
Note that even while Chechens did fight in Donbass (they have since withdrawn), there are at least just as many of them fighting for the Ukrainian junta – so much so that even the New York Time has acknowledged their presence in a full feature article. And this is to say nothing of the hundreds of Chechens fighting for the Islamic State, where they have acquired an impressive reputation for cruelty and fanaticism even by ISIS standards.
In contrast, relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims have by and large been peaceful. The notable exception to this was the Ottoman Empire which has always viciously persecuted Orthodox Christianity, but that kind of behavior was always an Ottoman characteristic, not a Muslim one.
So far as “exceptions” go that is a pretty damn big one. Like, a cardinal one.
Nor have relations with Shi’ites always been quiescent. Russian diplomats to Persia were butchered by a mob in 1829, the victims including the brilliant Russian writer Alexander Griboyedov. Soviet diplomats to Lebanon were the victims of Hezbollah assassinations in the 1980s.
Sure, in gross terms Muslims have killed much fewer Russians than did Western Christian Europeans, but this was merely a function of distance and technological competency.
In fact, the two religions share a lot of common views, especially on daily social issues. It is not a coincidence that the same city which now will host the biggest mosque in Europe also banned “gay pride” parades for the next 100 years.
Russians are basically 1970s-era Americans on LGBT issues. They don’t want gay marriage, homo parades, or any other cultural Marxist crap from the West. But otherwise they just don’t care all that much.
In most Muslim countries, pluralities or outright majorities support the death penalty for homosexuals, as well as for apostasy and adultery.
I would not describe that as “a lot of common views.”
In Chechnia most Muslims are Sunni, Iranians and Hezbollah are Shia while the regime in Syria is Alawi. As for the country closest to Russia – Kazakhstan – most of its people are Sunni Muslims. Russia is even exploring, albeit with difficulty, the possibilities of forging closer contacts with Turkey, even though the Ottomans used be the second worst enemy of Orthodox Christianity (after the Papacy, of course).
This is inane. The theological and doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are minor, an order of magnitude less even than those between Catholicism and Protestantism. The differences between Christianity and Islam are fundamental and unbridgeable.
Kazakhstan’s friendliness towards Russia has zilch to with Islam and is, in any case, overstated. Commerce-focused neutrality predominates there, and Russian nationalism is repressed.
While in the West most political leaders chose to deny that the West’s current conflict is one pitting the “West” against “Islam”, the western propaganda machine (Hollywood, TV, print media, etc.) is clearly demonizing Islam and Muslims in general.
Of course when Islamists are bombing your cities every other year and more British Muslims fight for the Islamic State than the British Army it’s hard to maintain a 100% positive outlook. Though that doesn’t prevent them from trying.
Nonetheless, the West has (all else equal) been far more friendly to Islamism than to secular Arab nationalism or even Arab Communists.
French racists chose to blame it all on “Islam” completely overlooking that Christian Romanians and Gypsies also could not integrate the French society either.
Dem wacists. Christian RomaNIANS integrate in France just fine. Gypsies don’t integrate anywhere because of their low IQs and propensity towards petty criminality.
In fact, the rules of modesty are almost the same ones in Islam and Orthodox Christianity, as is the preference for men to have beards. What you will never see amongst Orthodox Christians are the Niqabs or Burkas, not even for monastics. But that is not a practice amongst Russian Muslims either.
Yes, traditional Russian society (i.e. in decline for 100 years, and now close to non-existent) isn’t all that cardinally different from traditional Muslim society.
The key problem is one of divergence under modernity. The Saker can fume against Saudi and AngloZionist sponsored Wahhabis all he wants. I even agree with most of it. But Wahhabi infiltration and its success is an actually existing reality and elegant proclamations of Russian-Muslim brotherhood are not going to make it go away.
We know from the Balkans that even Slavic groups who convert to Islam effectively become lost to the wider Slavic Christian civilization. They start claiming themselves to be their own archaic ethnic groups, or to be Turks who had merely become linguistically Slavicized. In the absence of a strong, self-confident state to manage them, their loyalties naturally drift towards Istanbul or Riyadh.
The inauguration of the new Cathedral Mosque in Moscow is a symbol of a much larger and deeper phenomenon – the slow but steady rapprochement between the Orthodox and the Islamic world, it is the expression of a Russian civilizational choice which has finally given up any illusion about being part of the “West” and which is turning south (Middle-East), east (Siberia and China) and north (Siberia and the Arctic) and, in doing so, returning to the true historical roots of what I call the “Russian civilizational realm” – those parts of the Eurasian continent which were affected and influenced by the Russian culture and people.
I think this really strikes to the root of what drives such commentaries: The fear of being alone.
Disguised in the language of geopolitics, at least amongst more sophisticated commentators, very bizarre ideas about who should be “friends” and who should be “enemies” are advanced across the political spectrum. Dugin wants to ally with Iran, Germany, and Japan – the latter two somehow enticed in by giving them back Kaliningrad and the Kurils – against the US and its Atlantic allies, and to break up China (how? why?). The Russian nationalist Egor Prosvirnin, for all his dislike of Duginists, wants to reconcile with Europe because that is where Russia truly belongs (even if that’s the case, and it’s not because “Europe” is just a geographical expression, – how?), break off support to Armenia so as to gain Azerbaijan’s favor (why would they return it?), and – yes – break up China as well (some very vague and bizarre allusions to Manchurian separatists). I suspect The Saker is following similar lines, proposing absolute alliances and civilizational commonalities and contrasting them against eternal, not very well defined enemies like “AngloZionists” and “The Papacy” on the basis of muh feelz over realz.
That will not get him anywhere.
To the extent that Russia has any sort of big, semi-friendly, and actually useful “partner” on the international arena, it is China. It is not outright hostile like most of the West, nor is it parasitic on its money and energies like those friendlier-for-now sorts of Muslims. But even China is very far from being an ally, let along being some kind of pillar of Russian civilization.
The only really solid pillars of Russian civilization are Orthodoxy and nationality, and its only reliable allies are its Army and Navy.