Thursday, January 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russian Army Must Block Muftis from Promoting Islam among Soldiers, Military Academy Professor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – In the face of a rising percentage of Muslims in the Russian armed forces and of calls for a special handbook for them to be prepared by Muslim leaders, a professor at the Russian military academy must ensure that the training of soldiers will “be based only on a scientific worldview,” rather than a religiously-inspired one.

            Given “growing inter-ethnic tensions” connected with the recent demonstrators, Sergey Ivaneyev, who teaches at the All-Forces Academy of the Russian armed services, says in “Voenno-Promyslenny kuriyer,”, “the link between religious and ethnic self-identification” is intensifying throughout Russian society (

            While much of this and especially the opposition between “the Slavic Russian population and Muslims” is both “artificial and provocative,” he continues, no one should ignore this problem or fail to work to prevent its growth, especially in key institutions like the Russian armed forces.

            “All of us must recognize, Ivaneyev writes, “that in Russia, mass religiosity of citizens is a potential source of conflict since each religious system as a result of antagonist social conditions has by its nature a negative and at times openly hostile attitude toward other religions.”

            Such relations, he continues, can take on “hypertrophic forms” and affect entire communities, something that is “especially evident when leaders of a negative direction” use the presence of their co-religionists or co-ethnics in military units of various sizes to promote their own interests or to defend their groups against commanders and others

            Indeed, such “inter-ethnic conflicts can acquire particularly sharp and fanatic forms” and lead to calls for “a religious war” and for “the complete destruction of its opponent and of members of all other faiths.” And that danger, Ivaneyev continues, is visible in calls for the production of “a special handbook for Muslim draftees” that some muftis want to prepare.

            Seven years ago, the Russian military, working with Sheikh Ravil Gaynutdin, prepared a 102-page booklet entitled “Methodological Recommendations to Infantry Officers on Work with Muslim Soldiers.”  But despite the shortcomings of that pamphlet, Ivaneyev says, allowing Russian muftis to prepare and disseminate a larger one could exacerbate the situation.

            Even the 2005 publication suffered because it was written “not on the basis of scientific religious studies but from the position of a contemporary ‘ideological’ theology and objectively was directed at the strengthening of the position of Islam in society and in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and also at the defense of this religion” from analysis and criticism.

            Any new work, prepared not by scholars but by Muslim religious leaders, he says, would be even more provocative, for as the Carnegie Moscow Center scholar A.V. Malashenko has put it, “we observe a lack of correspondence between the Islamic and Russian civil vectors of identity.”

            Russia’s force structures, the military scholar says, “have dealt well with the tasks of destroying and neutralizing the expansion of Islamism.” But there is a shortcoming in their work more generally: “we do not always know about those social-worldview sources which feed contemporary forms of Islamic extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism.”

            And that means there is a real risk that the spread of the Islamic faith, especially if it takes place on its own terms, could lead to “anti-social activity” and forms of “Muslim extremism,” which starts with efforts to hold Islam “as the highest model of spiritual culture which [supposedly] corresponds to the interests of the individual and world society as a whole.”

            A directive of the Procurator General, Interior Ministry and FSB on December 16, 2008, Ivaneyev says, specified that “extremism under the cover of Islam has spread into a number of phenomena which are essentially influencing the criminogenic situation in Russia” and that “90 percent” of those involved in terrorism “have direct ties to Islamist organizations.”

            Today, given “the clericalization of the army and fleet,” he continues, “the underlying principles of the very conception of the training of soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are being violated,” and consequently, commanders must work to promote “a scientific world view” and its related “moral norms.”

            In this situation, “the importance of the problem of forming the moral-legal consciousness of Russia’s Muslim soldiers is growing in particular.”

            Those who are to be “convinced defenders” of Russia, he argues, “must be trained only from the position of a secular worldview” and be ready to act “not according to religious motivations” before God and eternity “but from the conviction of the need to fulfill his civic obligations regardless of his personal religious convictions.”

            Such an approach, Ivaneyev says, is necessary “because Russian society is multi-national and poly-confessional.” Allowing Muslim religious leaders to instruct Muslim soldiers on their own could undermine these various goals, and consequently, the military must insist that Muslim troops learn not from them but from “the study of the foundations of scientific Islamic studies.”

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