Staunton, January 29 – A recent article in a Norwegian newspaper that extrapolates from the fact that a man arrested there on suspicion of terrorism got his passport in Russia’s Bashkortostan to the notion that Middle Volga republic is becoming a hotbed of Islamist radicalism displays all of the defects typical of such articles in the Western media.
Indeed, the article in question is not important except as an example of a serious problem found in many: All too often articles on this topic rely on facts that are not evidence of what they claim, draw false analogies between Muslims in one part of Russia with those in another, and treat Muslim republics as exotic places that allow for judgments without close study.
Ramazan Alpaut of Radio Liberty’s IdelReal portal uses this article to make all of these points, points that are so common that the claims made on the basis of them are accepted by many without question. He does this in the best journalistic tradition by turning to experts who have actually studied Bashkortostan for their reactions (idelreal.org/a/29728693.html).
Azat Berdin, head of a research project at the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Scholarly Research on Muslim communities in Bashkortostan and the KBR, says that he doesn’t see any connection between “the strange attack of one individual” and the thesis that Bashkortostan is now a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
The one doesn’t lead to the other, and the article even fails to specify what the nationality of the man accused of terrorism is, he continues. Moreover, the individual in question has changed his story, something terrorists who act in order to make a point generally don’t do. All this casts doubt on the notion that this is a committed radical terrorist.
Still worse, he says, the newspaper article treats Bashkortostan according to “the stereotype” that it is “an exotic ‘Muslim’ republic in Russia will a history of militance,” an assumption that is far from the case but that the authors have to make in order to justify the story they offer.
That there are problems in the Muslim sector in Bashkortostan is beyond question, Berdin says. It could not be otherwise in a multi-ethnic and poly-confessional region. But they are not those the article suggests and “in the main” are being addressed more or less successfully. To suggest otherwise is to mislead.. A second specialist on Bashkortostan, Aysylu Yunusova, agrees. In an article she published several years ago which Alpaut consulted she says that some of the radicalism that people report there comes from Central Asian immigrants but that this group has not been successful in spreading their ideas to the Bashkirs.
And Akhmet Yaryukapov, a senior scholar at MGMO who is widely known for his research on Islam in Russia, says bluntly: “in Bashkortostan now, everything is more or less in good order, and there are no trends toward radicalization. If one speaks in general about Russia, there is great potential for that. But one must consider regional differences.”
Alpaut was able to speak with the Norwegian expert the article quoted. She acknowledged that she had not done her own research on this issue but relied on the data of Russian scholars and that she relied “above all” on work having to do not with Bashkortostan but with the North Caucasus – exactly the problem Yarlykarpov and others point to.
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