Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kazan Tatars Must Overcome ‘Curse of Jadidism,’ Bustanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 15 – Many scholars in Russia, the Middle Volga and the West view the jadidist or “modernist” movement among Muslims in 19th century Russia as the great hope for the development of that community that was broken off by the Bolsheviks and to which the Muslims of the region should return.

            But this image of jadidism has become “a curse” for the nations of the Middle Volga, Alfrid Bustanov, a professor at St. Petersburg’s European University, because its black and white assumptions that the jadids were totally different from their traditionalist opponents and were responsible for all movement forward there (

            The reality is very different, he argues. But so far, a more nuanced picture of the jadids has not passed from the academic community to the broader one. Bustanov suggests that among the best reviews of new studies has been provided by Indiana University professor Devin DeWeese in his “It was a Dark and Stagnant Night (‘til the Jadids Brought the Light),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 59:1-2 (2016), pp. 37-92.

            One of the reasons that society at large has not yet accepted the more nuanced view, Bustanov says, is that “it is difficult to find a more politicized and all-embracing misconception that the story about jadidism as a triumphal struggle of enlightenment figures for progress against backwardness, for a secular world against religious obscurantism” and so on.

            The jadids themselves and many historian since then have insisted that somehow miraculously arose “new people” in a backward and “dark ‘traditional’ society” and they rushed to accept and spread “advanced Wester though in Russian or Ottoman translations” and to promote “the inevitable modernization and Europeanization of society.”

            The jadids presented themselves and their opponents almost as caricatures. They were “clean-shaven, in European dress, hat and classed, were concerned about being useful to the people, and spoke Russian well.” The kadamists, in contrast, are typically presented as in medieval dress “with the remains of plov in their beards.”

            A few scholars challenged that imagery but until recently not many, and as a result, “jadidism [remained] a story about inevitable progress” and thus attracted students who viewed it as “opposed to everything ‘backward.’”  But now, as DeWeese, shows, this simplified and incorrect image is in the course of being overthrown.

            For far too long, Bustanov says, “the jadids were interesting because they were like us. Everyone who read about them saw in them something close and understandable. In other words, interest in (imagined) Islamist reformism was and is explained not by the unique qualities of local culture … but by its similarity and closeness to European values.”

            The debates of other Muslims about the voiced or unvoiced zikr seem “an improbable exoticism” to most today; but the jadids’ interest in theater, their role in the Russian State Duma, their willingness to take pictures of women, and their essays in Russian – all this is “close, understandable and accessible.” 

            But that very accessibility is a problem, Bustanov says, because it means that there is “a shocking imbalance” in understanding societies of a century or so ago: “We do not know almost anything about Muslims in [tsarist] Russia except the struggle for reform” and thus about the jadids rather than about the Muslim community as a whole.

            Indeed, he says, it has turned out that in the minds of most there was nothing worth attention before the jadids because those Muslims lived entirely in “a kingdom of darkness” where people recited texts they did not understand and engaged in archaic practices which now are fortunately gone.

            That view has led to a related one that “the jadids brought with them something completely new and totally distinguished from those around them and their predecessors. Such a focus on innovation in the search for progress completely isoaltes those whom we call jadids from any context in either space or time.”

            “Even their opponents,” Bustanov suggests, “the traditionalists become interesting to us only when they enter into disputes with the jadids. In all other cases, the traditionalists are weighted down with the darkness” of the past, and the only two dates people in the Middle Volga talk about are 1552 – the Russian sack of Kazan – and 1789 – the establishment of the Orenburg Mohammadan Assembly.

            And all this leads to an even greater mistake, the St. Petersburg scholar says. It means that “conversations about jadidism are always a discussion of the present and the future rather than the past, of hope for a special path of modernization which was interrupted by the Bolsheviks.”

            “Certain people even associate themselves with the jadids and present them as a black and white world of progress versus stagnation.”  The divide between the jadids and kadamists was not as sharp as they imagine, something they could glean from new books like Liliya Gabdrafikova’s 2015 study, Tatar Bourgeois Society: Life Style in an Era of Change (the Second Half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries (Kazan, in Russian).

            “But the chief obstacle on the path to a reconsideration of the jaded heritage,” Bustanov says, “is the limited nature of our knowledge,” the lack of easily accessible digitalized texts of cultural figures across the ideological spectrum.  Jadid texts increasingly are available that way; those of others need to be. Otherwise “the curse of jadidism” will continue.

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