Month: January 2010

Playing God

In their eagerness to assume that their excoriation of Tony Blair over the issue of the Iraq war is universally shared, sections of the British left are trying to cast the ex-prime minister as an international  “pariah”, who will have to spend the rest of his days in ignominy. In protest, Normblog writes:  

So dogmatically certain are some of the denizens of those ‘quarters’ of there having been only one truth about the Iraq war, that they blithely assume that everyone must feel the same about Blair as they do. But worst of all is what is least likely to be noticed. I know nothing about his metaphysical outlook, but Norman here offers a secular version of the belief that there is divine justice: Blair may not get what’s coming to him, but don’t worry, all those of you who also loathe him; I, Matthew Norman, am in a position to assure you that Blair is suffering all the torments.

The Trial

In Yezhednevny zhurnal, Alexander Podrabinek writes that a Moscow court has found him personally responsible for the collapse of the Soviet empire, and also for the fact that the Soviet Union has not existed for 18 years:

I have been tried many times in my life, and the decisions were very often not in my favour, but there has never been such a surprising one as this.

See also: As One Anti-Soviet to Others…

Anti antisemitism

Wednesday is Holocaust Memorial Day. Michael Gove (in the Telegraph) writes that in many ways we are still in its shadow:

Originally it was the Jewish people’s religious identity which came under attack, and the Church led a programme of forced conversion. Then, as society replaced religion with science as a source of authority, anti-Semitism mutated so that the Jewish people came under attack on racial grounds. Now it is Jewish identity expressed through the right of Israel to self-determination which is the focus of anti-Semitism. Israel, like any state, makes mistakes. Sometimes grievous ones. But many of Israel’s enemies now risk repeating one of the greatest errors of history by infusing anti-Semitism with a new and toxic vibrancy. We see it in some of those who have attached themselves to recent anti-war campaigns, with Britons marching through the streets of London declaring “We are all Hezbollah now” even though Hezbollah is a fascist organisation whose leader is a Holocaust-denier who believes the Jews are “grandsons of apes and pigs”. And we also see the apparent mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in comments such as those of a former ambassador who recently objected to the composition of the Iraq inquiry team because two of its members were Jewish.

And in the JC, Douglas Carswell explains why the British left hates Israel:

The contemporary left appears to meander behind the 18th-century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The founding father of cultural relativism, Rousseau contended that the primitive and pre-industrial were more noble than advanced Western society. Israel’s very existence demonstrates that the western way of life is more rewarding than other, primitive forms, and is a repudiation of cultural relativism. Along with common law, property rights, women’s equality, liberalism and democracy in the space of a single generation, a new state turned desert into fertile land. Within two generations, high-tech business parks have sprung up in downtown Tel Aviv to rival anything in California. And what, meantime, of Israel’s neighbours? Precisely.

Khloponin to head new North Caucasus Federal District

As some observers predicted it would, the Kremlin has established a new North Caucasus Federal District, which is to be headed by the governor of Krasnoyarsk, Alexander Khloponin. As Valery Dzutsev explains in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, the  newly formed district will consist of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and the Russian-speaking Stavropol region.

Muslim Russia

It turns out that “Ikramuddin Khan” is the pseudonym of Vadim Sidorov, a Muslim convert also known as Kharum ar-Rushi, head of the National Organization of Russian Muslims.

Many commentators in the West tend to forget that Russia has a steadily growing number of ethnic Russian converts to Islam. Specialist observers have documented the trend, however: in 2007, Paul Goble quoted a figure as large as 20,000, and by now the numbers are likely to be even higher. Daniel Pipes has a useful and interesting survey of the subject on his website, where he quotes President Dmitry Medvedev as saying:

“Russia is a multi-national and multi-confessional country. Russian Muslims have enough respect and influence. Muslim foundations are making an important contribution to promoting peace in society, providing spiritual and moral education for many people, as well as fighting extremism and xenophobia. There are 182 ethnic groups living in Russia, and 57 of them claim Islam as their main religion. This figure speaks for itself.”

It does indeed.

Dangers of debate

As one of a series of ongoing projects, the Prague Watchdog website, which formerly directed its attention almost exclusively to the subject of human rights abuses in Chechnya, has now under its new chief editor Andrei Babitsky turned its attention to the subject of Islam. Although the new project, titled “Islam Today”, has begun with a contribution from a Russian Muslim cleric, it is not focused solely on the North Caucasus but according to its editor, Mr. Ikramuddin Khan (so far of unknown nationality – but see the next post), will open an international debate on contemporary Islam across the globe.

As PW’s English-language editor I’ve expressed some doubts about this plan. It seems to me that if Prague Watchdog loses its Russia-North Caucasus focus it is likely to find itself to some extent adrift, especially on a highly inflammable subject like the nature of Islam. The comments section in the Russian-language version of PW’s site has already on occasion been taken over by vocal and militant Islamists of the Kavkaz Center and Kavkazan Haamash (Caucasus Emirate) variety, and I wouldn’t like to see this tendency spread to PW’s English-language comments. There are already enough discussion forums on the Web that deal with Muslim politics, Jihad, Islam, Islamic terrorism and related subjects. Some of those forums are dominated by extremist Muslim opinion, while others, like Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, present an alternative and opposing view from a Western, non-Muslim perspective. They all, in my experience, tend to attract posters who seem anxious to engage in debates that are often bitter and recriminatory, and sometimes downright scurrilous.

My own view is that PW would do better to concentrate on what it has done so well in the past, namely the analysis and reporting of current events in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, in which religion is only one feature of a constantly changing ethnic, political and ideological landscape. While some of the material PW now publishes fits this description, there has been a marked increase in the number of polemical and op-ed articles which are subjective in the extreme. The addition of a debate about Islam could worsen that trend quite a bit, in my view. So for the time being the “Islam forum”, with its accompanying newsletter-bulletin,  will not be appearing in an English-language version. Though if some of the prospective articles turn out to be of general interest, I will translate them for PW and post links to them here.

NATO will defend the Baltic States

The Economist writes in an editorial that thanks to Poland, the NATO alliance will defend the Baltics:

When the war in Georgia highlighted NATO’s wobbliness on Russia, Poland accelerated its push for a bilateral security relationship with America, including the stationing of Patriot anti-missile rockets on Polish soil in return for hosting a missile-defence base… the Baltic states will get their plans, probably approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland, but with an added regional dimension. That leaves room for Sweden and Finland (not members of the alliance but increasingly close to it) to take a role in the planning too. A big bilateral American exercise already planned for the Baltic this summer is likely to widen to include other countries.

Hat tip: Marius

From today’s correspondence

Dear David,

Thank you for your response. I would only add that Zakaev (whom I admire a lot) himself stated that “Chechen Islamism” is Lubyanka plot to destroy the Chechen resistance and to split the Chechen society. Of course the resistance had to turn to some Islamic identity but to call them “Islamofascists” is, on my opinion, a big exaggeration and misunderstanding that even undeliberately plays to benefit the Russian-Kadyrov regime. I wouldn’t support such kind of propaganda. Also, Andrei Babitsky himself had been in Afghanistan to investigate “Chechen ghost” stories and did not find a tiny evidence that support such claims.




Dear Nadezhda,

Well, I for my part would only add that if the [North Caucasus] Islamic resistance wants to avoid the Islamofascist label, its members need to stop writing and behaving like Islamofascists. Many of the statements that are published on their websites are outrageous, and could be classified as hate crime.

On the other hand, I’m sure that very many of the stories about Chechens in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere are untrue, and are engineered for Moscow’s propaganda purposes. My suggestion – and I believe it’s a moderate and reasonable one – is simply that these stories need to be looked into and analysed, and the results made publicly available.



Chechen ghosts

The uneasy relation between the various interest groups among those, both in the North Caucasus and outside it, who have tried to see a way through the problematic political and social landscape of this troubled part of the world, came to the fore again recently on Norbert Strade’s long-lived Chechnya Short List. Norbert has once again posted one of his periodic  “Chechen ghosts” items, this time a clipping from the Independent newspaper – an article by a British journalist who quoted a Western bomb disposal expert as saying that a new type of IED being used by the Taleban in Afghanistan was based on expertise “coming from foreign fighters from places such as Chechnya”.

According to the received wisdom in a certain section of the Chechnya human rights community, Chechens cannot be found in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. Even though Chechnya’s Islamic fundamentalists – who act separately from the increasingly out-of-favour nationalists – are as opposed to the U.S., Israel and the West as their Taleban counterparts, by a section of the human rights campaigners  they are thought to be exclusively focused on eliminating Russian control of the region. This approach seemingly ignores the fact that on websites such as Kavkaz Center and Kavkazan Haamash,  Chechen, Dagestani and Ingush Islamists routinely issue anti-Western statements. It would surely not be surprising if one or two Chechens ended up on the Afghan front lines, though the numbers can be disputed. There is also the complicating factor that such participation can be used by the Russian government in its ongoing campaign against Chechnya, which seeks to tar all Chechens with the brush of Islamic extremism.

To point out that it might be kinder and more realistic to treat Chechens as fallible human beings who might fall into political extremism either deliberately or as a result of being duped,   rather than as paragons of national-revolutionary virtue who can do no wrong, is not a popular line to take in Norbert Strade’s forum. I have already been attacked by the recently-reappeared Mikael Storsjö (who has done much in word and deed to support the Islamic fighters and their ideologists in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus), and other responses have been equally hostile. In the end one is forced to conclude that what really drives the opinions of these avowed pro-Chechens is an antipathy to Western political and military influence per se – as well as to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. For if sites like Kavkaz Center are really just projects of the unreformed Russian/Soviet KGB, then why give them any support?