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Faith and Rebels

As the head of the state of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, the thirty-something babyface leader is among the many incompetents who employ religion as a tool to impose authority. Islam has been the main driving religion in Chechnya ever since an independence movement first sprang in the late 18th century that was able to mobilize the Chechens for the first time as a people.

While the Caucasian Wars of the 1800s ravaged the regions for several decades, a new spiritual leader that preached for a more submissive form of resistance against the imperial army emerged: Kunta-Hadji has been deemed a saint in contemporary Chechnya.

In the accurate words of a disenchanted journalist, his legacy is the veneration of the invasion of tsarist forces as a means to save national identity. Submission is the tool that would simultaneously make them the victors and the vanquished. All is relative. The current political climate in Chechnya is a literal manifestation of this legacy.

After the Second Chechen War, the Russian federal government regained control of the territory. However, it exercises a certain degree of autonomy. It struggles. The Republic of Chechnya is and will be engaged in a long-term fight for stability. In such circumstances, religion can either pose as a solution or an aggravator. The way Kadyrov seems to be handling it, it would appear to be an aggravator.

To some extent, this is understandable. In a territory that prior to tsarist invasion, had been controlled primarily by tribal clans, unification and any form of stability is dangerous to attempt to accomplish quickly. There was truth to what Kunta-Hadji had preached. Discontent seems to be an inherent quality to the Chechen people; and so Islam swept the state as an end to quell it.

Unfortunately, it was not without faction: the Soviet empire made matters worse. Although Bolshevik ideology highlighted atheism in bold, the Sunnis in Chechnya were tolerated. The Sufis however, were pushed underground. Since the 1990s, with autonomy present to a greater or lesser degree, the problem was to be solved Soviet-style, from a state perspective to repress and ignore.

Interestingly enough, it’s Sufism that is the prime ideology advocated under the present government: Kadyrov junior has imposed his own interpretation of the Qu’ran. Footnote: his interpretation has never been followed up with public quoting from the text– ever.

He frequently meets with Chechen mufti Mizraev to discuss indoctrination tactics, which are then passed on to the Muslim Spiritual Board composed of 325 imams. They all agree with Kadyrov’s policies. “The traditional Chechen Islam” approach promoted by Kadyrov’s government is certainly a denigrated bastard child of the sort of influence the Russian Orthodox Church exercises in the Russian Federation.

The power the Russian Orthodox Church yields is not news. Many prominent politicians do not hide their signing to church values and ethics in their policies. The church still plays an influential role in lobbying legislature, however with relatively little success. With Putin holding Ramzan tightly under his wing, Kadyrov is a walking contradiction.

On the one hand, all who disagree with his tactics and policies are branded Wahhabis– members of an ‘extremist’ (all is relative) Salafi insurgency group that is being pushed further North into the Caucasus forests. On the other hand, he makes Christian holidays national celebrations: citywide festivities were organized with the decoration of a tree for the Christian New Year in Grozny.

Our liberal minds scream and shout, “yes! Diversity!” No. This is a state that is run ‘based’ on Muslim traditions and values, which was once openly supported by the Taliban, while denying Sharia Law and repressing any other form of Muslim subgroups. Kadyrov’s entire authority is grounded in his Oedipal need to court the Russian president. Islam in Chechen politicking is a convenient mirage: it’s Kadyrov’s way of falsely justifying his own presence on the ruling front.

– Veronica Aronova


(featured photo: Fir0002, Creative Commons, Wikimedia

photo 1: Russavia through Flickr upload bot, Creative Commons, Wikimedia

photo 2: Evstafiev, Creative Commons, Wikimedia)

About Veronica Aronova

Student of Political Science at McGill University, with minors in Spanish and Middle Eastern Studies. Veronica Aronov is of Russian origin—first generation New Yorker. A summer internship in journalism kick-started her interest in the field. Determined but at times lazy, Veronica enjoys taking walks and debating—some would say arguing loudly—about stuff like Soviet legacy, North America, and birds. For her, The Political Bouillon is a space to share her impassionate exasperation with contemporary politics, particularly in the former Eastern bloc and the United States since it turned blue.

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