Friday, September 22, 2017

Islamization a Response to Urbanization in North Caucasus, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Urbanization in Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria has promoted Islamization because those undergoing this process have come to view Islam as a substitute for the rural communities they have lost and a defense against globalization, according to Denis Sokolov of the RAMSCON Research Center.

            This process has different meanings for difference generations and for men and women, for their emigration from the region and for the success of ISIS in the region , he details in his new research on “Fear and Honor of the Family as Fear and Honor of Men” (

            The status of men and women change dramatically with the shift from rural communities to cities, he says, with women gaining independence and status, often becoming the breadwinners and intellectual leaders of families, and men losing status, often without work and depending on their wives for income, Sokolov reports.

            Newly urbanized men often turn to Islam in order to try to restore their dominance, he continues, something that is often supported by older women (but not often by younger ones) who come to view Islam as a substitute for the community norms that have been undermined by modernization and globalization.

            “In the urban space,” he says, “Islam has become an instrument for the restoration and strengthening of the power of men.” But at the same time, “in Islamic families one sees the emancipation of women” as well, with shifting gender roles toward greater equality and partnership even if both accept Islam.

            A case in point is polygamy. In Soviet times, the shortage of men after the war made polygamy in the North Caucasus a logical necessity, Sokolov argues. Then it came to be justified by Islam. The older generation viewed second wives as “lovers” but the younger one wants to involve them in complete families.
            The first generation to grow up in urban areas is especially inclined to turn to Islam for social regulation, he continues. “On the one hand, they do not want to live according to the rules of rural communities. But on the other, the global world frightens them and they are not prepared to live according to its rules. Islam [thus] becomes the regulator.”

            Sokolov makes a variety of other points, three of which are especially intriguing. First, he says, the lack of opportunity for upward mobility by new arrivals from rural areas makes them a receptive audience for ISIS propagandists even if these North Caucasians are not radicalized more generally.

            Second, those in the North Caucasus who were radicalized in the early 2000s often had nowhere to go, a situation that led to a turning inward until they were able to travel to Iraq or Syria but that did not end the influence of radicalizing factors on younger generations in the North Caucasian cities.

            And third, “the several tens of thousands” of North Caucasians now in Turkey, a flow that “has intensified since 2013” are not in the main on their way to fighting for the Islamic State. Instead, Sokolov suggests, they have fled their homeland because they do not feel secure on the territory of the Russian Federation.

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