Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russians Become Muslims for Political Not Religious Reasons, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – The number of ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam is not large, but the existence of such converts is profoundly disturbing to many Russians both because such people are often more inclined to engage in extremist acts and because they highlight the increasing weakness of Russian national identity.

            While there are no reliable statistics available, the total number of ethnic Russian Muslims is almost certainly less than 100,000, and the largest share of those consists of ethnic Russian women who have married Muslim men. But there are enough Russians who have converted for ever more of their co-ethnics to ask why.

            Such questions have become even more frequent and more urgent following the police raid last week on the offices of NORM -- the National Organization of Ethnic Russian Muslims -- the seizure of Russian-language Muslim materials there , and the arrest of several leaders of that organization.

            Yesterday, Aleksandr Sevastyanov, a Russian nationalist commentator, provided his explanation for why some young ethnic Russian men are converting and why their decision represents a threat to the nation on the basis of his personal experience as the teacher of NORM President Harun ar-Rusi (Vadim Sidorov) (

            Sidorov was a talented student, Sevastyanov says, adding that he very much regrets but fully understands the motives which led hi “to such an anti-natural but at the same time logical choice.”  According to the commentator, there are four overarching reasons as well as the specific biography of Sidorov/Harun a-Rusi.

            First, the commentator says, these motives did not include the doctrines of Islam but rather “the anti-natural position” in the Russian Federation today “when the Orthodox majority of Russians for the first time in their history … have suffered defeat in their clash with the Muslim minorities in Russia.”

            Russia has lost the Chechen wars, Russians have fled from the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union, and Russians have seen a massive influx of ethnic Muslims into what have traditionally been ethnic Russian areas. 

                Second, he continues, Russians can see that what is happening to them is happening elsewhere, particularly in Europe where historically Christian peoples are giving way under the pressure of “the expansion of Islamists.”

            Third, there is an obvious “crisis of Christianity as a social system,” one that in Russia takes the form of the Russian Orthodox Church’s alliance with “the anti-Russian authorities” and its unwillingness to “defend the rights and interests of  the Russian people” – an approach very different than that of Islamic leaders who show solidarity and concern about Muslims everywhere.

            And fourth, Sevastyanov argues, “the moral and physical degeneration” of Christian peoples, Russians among them, is prompting many to search for some ideological system that can either lead to the recovery of these peoples or wipe them “from the face of the Earth” and replace them with something stronger and more effective. Some find this in Islam.

            In addition to these general causes, the commentator says, Vadim-Harun was driven to convert by his own biography: The child of an ethnic Russian father and Armenian mother, he grew up in Baku from which the family fled in 1990. Having experienced Islamic anger, he then became “a super-Orthodox Russian nationalist.”

            While in school he organized a Union of Russian Youth, but because he wasn’t able to find a “rapid and effective resolution of Russian problems,” Vadim-Harun turned to Islam which appeared to him to promise the possibility of real change, all the more so because it is clearly on the rise and not seriously opposed by others.

             If only a few people were doing this, Sevastyanov suggests, it would be a matter of personal mistakes, but “the conversion of ethnic Russians into Islam has become statistically significant.”  Many Russian nationalists have made this shift believing that Muslim Russians can become “the shock troops of a Russian transformation and a Russian triumph.”

            But that is the worst form of self-deception, he says. Islam “does not have historical roots in the Russian people,” and consequently, a Russia who become a Muslim “sooner or later has to make a choice about who he is with and who he is against. With his brothers by blood – or with his brothers by faith?”

            The probability that he will choose the latter is now “too high” and that the convert will  become a warrior for hijad, take up arms against his fellow Russians, and view them as enemies.

            One can understand a Russian who makes a choice between Russian Orthodoxy and Russian paganism, Sevastyanov concludes. Both “the one and the other are historically justified and conditions and do not threaten the Russian people with a civil war.” But a Russian who converts to Islam is making the first “step toward the precipice of national betrayal.”

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