Staunton, April 12 – Just as many young Soviet citizens turned to the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1970s and 1980s because of its presumed independence from the corrupt Soviet state, so too many young Russians now are turning to radical Islam because of its apparent lack of ties with the corrupt Russian one, according to Yevgeny Satanovsky.
In an interview published in this week’s “Pravoslavnoye obrazovaniye,” the Moscow orientalist says that young people are attracted to religions which are “not simply not part of the state system but very often are persecuted by the state, lack relations with the state or are entirely anti-state” in their orientation (pravobraz.ru/pochemu-molodezh-uxodit-v-radikalnyj-islam/).
Islamist radicals make use of this impulse and work to ensure that the bureaucratic and corrupt elite of both the state and religious organizations cooperating closely with it “push young people directly into its hands.” Neither “official” Islam nor the Russian Orthodox Church is able to prevent this.
On the one hand, Satanovsky says, “the Islamic establishment connected with the state is bad” and made worse by its ties with the government authorities. And on the other, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate celebrates its role as a state church and is infected with corruption.
Radical Islam or Salafism offers a “harsh” religion, one that could be described as “Islamic Protestantism” which involved “the illusion of ‘a return to the origins’” of the faith. That is a source of enormous power, and it is one that neither official religion nor the government in Russia seems to know how to respond to.
Those who are part of this speak Russian even after they study in Islamic medrassahs and universities abroad, and they have a simple and disciplined message, one that they are able to communicate to others beyond the confines of other Muslims. Their simple message does not mean as some think that these adepts are not educated or sophisticated: many in fact are.
Many who are attracted to the Islamist vision go to the Middle East and fight for ISIS where they see the gap between what the ideologues of the movement say and what its activists do on the ground, Satanovsky says. But by that time, they are too deeply involved and too compromised in the eyes of others to break with the Salafis.
That is how things happen “during times of revolution,” the Moscow scholar says. “On the one hand, young people help bring on the revolution; but on the other, people who come to power as a result of revolutions [often] are sybarites.” And the system they impose is “worse than the one they overthrew.” That happened in Russia after 1917.
A more vibrant and independent Russian Orthodoxy could play a role against such trends, but Orthodoxy as it exists today cannot, Satanovsky says. “In the 1970s and 1980s, young people protesting against Soviet officialdom came to the Orthodox Church. Then Soviet power ended and for a short time in the 1990s, there arose an Orthodox renaissance.”
But very quickly the Russian Orthodox Church became bureaucratized, corrupt and linked to the state, he continues; and “the popularity of the Orthodox Church in [Russia] came to an end.”
Despite Russia’s problems in this regard, he says, the situation in Europe is “significantly worse because there society is much more tolerant and therefore much less defended against radicalism.” Russian society is “much more aggressive, distrustful, and thus better defended” against the lures of the radicals.
Moreover, the millions of Muslims in Europe are more radical. “Our Muslims are much more peaceful; therefore, we have an immunity [against radicalism] which Europe does not.”
But there are some worrisome tendencies in Russia, Satanovsky says. Some radical Muslims are forming cooperative relations with state institutions and that is giving them opportunities they should not have. Moreover, the FSB lacks the resources to deal with this situation. It can only arrest terrorists or seek to prevent terrorist actions.
And most worrisome of all: in some regions, the radicals now form a large proportion of the religious population. “I do not know what measures could be effective if in Daghestan already have of the communities are Salafi.” In such a situation, what would “information security” look like and how might it be promoted?
This has happened because of the corruption in religious organizations and the state, because of the lack of justice people can see around them, and because people have come to believe that the society favors “’stealing from those who stole’” rather than more just approaches.
In that situation, Satanovsky concludes, the only way to slow recruitment is to offer personal examples to young people who have gone into the radicals, examples that suggest it is best not to lie or steal but rather to work for the benefit of others. That will restrain them like nothing else – and much better than all the talk of “spiritual constraints.”