2013/04/23

Astonishing Chechnya

Guest post by Deena Stryker.

RT is airing an incredible documentary on the Republic of Chechnya, known to the outside world for having been practically destroyed by repeated separatist wars with Russia.

According to Wikipedia, the Caucasus mini-state  is returning to sharia law and all its accoutrements, with some resistance to Russian rule still remaining in the mountains.

The RT documentary  presents a very different picture which does not necessarily contradict this information. It describes a Muslim society deter-mined to appear ‘modern’.  With the help of Qatar, which is the most visible of the Gulf monarchies (think Al-Jazeera), the capital Grozny, has been rebuilt to resemble Doha, with illuminated skyscrapers, shopping malls, fancy restaurants, glitzy spectacles and fireworks – Putin’s version of war benefitting construction investments. But the skaking rinks are sexually segregated.

A new fashion industry is dedicated to luxury wear for the head-scarfed woman and eager to attract wealthy clients from other Muslim countries with strict female dress codes. The models parading gracefully down the catwalk will soon marry, after which they will be expected to remain at home, according to Islamic custom.  Unmarried women cannot travel abroad.

If this all sounds terrible, note that the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the Caucasus is Sufism, which is accompanied by much rhythmic singing and dancing.

However some families are still sending their sons to madrassas where they are taught the Koran, wrestling and boxing (sports in which it is prohibited to attach the adversary’s head under Islamic law), and Dubai made an exception by sending some of the Prophets personal items to the Russian Islamic republic that boasts the world’s largest mosque.

Putting these pieces together, what emerges is a picture entirely in keeping with what I described in a previous blog as Putin’s cultural policy.  (“March 18th: …the Russian leader appears to also hanker after an era when ‘fun’ was ‘clean’ and families were intact.  The Pussy Riot trial is less a defense of religion than the belief that all freedoms have limits, in contradiction to Washing-ton’s unqualified commitment to the First Amendment.”)

Putin’s cultural policy as practiced in the Russian Republic of Chechnya seems intended to assure Muslim populations that a) their religion is entirely respectful; b) while practicing it they can be part of the modern world; and c) that ‘clean’ modernity is better than vulgar modernity.

In centuries past, Chechen Sufi leaders were already dreaming of a vast califate. With the Kremlin’s help, their modern descendants are busy creating a ‘modern’ Islamic society. Putin is shrewdly betting that if the larger mainly Islamic states on its periphery (the ‘Stans’) bring ‘modernity’ to their masses, they will be less of a threat than if they maintain them in a feudal time warp. It will be interesting to see whether the young women of Chechnya and other Islamic societies will long be willing to sacrifice their independence for the sake of Western glitz.  In any case if Putin’s policies can displace dour Wahab-bism from Saudi Arabia, that will be a good thing.

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