Chechnya and Kosovo: Alliances with Islam and the collapse of Russian Influence

Michael Pollak mpollak at
Mon Jan 3 21:57:27 PST 2000

On Mon, 3 Jan 2000, Nathan Newman wrote:

> Despite the calls in Putin's new Presidency for a return to Russian
> leadership and power against the West, the reality of the Chechnyan war is
> that it is asserting Russian nationalism at the expense of Russian influence
> and power in the world.

This is not at all clear to me Nathan. Other powers are letting them have their way in something they think matters. If that's not power and influence, what is? If Russia manages to reverse the inroads of GUUAM and NATO's Partnership for Peace in the Caucasus; and if it manages to change the pipeline-laying plans in its favor, it will have served both its material interests and military interests.

Which is not denying that it's evil and awful.

> The reality of the last year is that in both Kosovo and Chechnya,
> Russia has been seen as siding with anti-Islamic forces. Against a
> history where the Soviet Union had made great inroads in the Islamic
> world - especially in the Middle East with alliances with Iraq, Syria,
> Egypt and others over the years - the last year has seen Russia
> obliterating much of that historical good will in the name of a
> retrograde nationalism that undermines, rather than serves the
> country's interests.

I think you are making two errors here. One, you are conflating two parts of the world. Russia has always been anti-Islamic on its borders. Remember Afghanistan? There is no font of good will to for the Russians to obliterate in this part of the world.

As for the Middle East, they've lost their appeal there because they are out of money and unwilling to give away weapons. They have little influence and they have little to lose. And what little they do have -- in Iraq and in Syria -- is at the moment in the hands of leaders that aren't much swayed by sentimentality over the suffering of their co-religionists.

The second and deeper problem with your argument, IMHO, is that you seem to be tacitly accepting your opponents' view of Islam as a monolith. Being seen as an enemy of Afghanistan doesn't make Russia an enemy of Iran. On the contrary, it puts them on the same side. Iran and Afghanistan hate each other with personal venom precisely because Islam is not a monolith.

I couldn't agree more with you on what I take to be your fundamental point about the demonization and simplification of Islam. It was the anti-semitism of the nineties and now it is of the noughties. And perhaps that makes you feel entitled to pull the bough in the opposite direction. But by turning Paul Weyrich on his head, and saying that Islam as a world culture has been more tolerant than Chrisianity (which is undoubtedly true) you are reinforcing his more fundamental point, and the one you say you are most against, namely that Christianity and Islam are best conceived of as seamless world-historical blocs in conflict. Which, if I understand you correctly, is the last thing you believe.

It seems to me that a crucial part of understanding what's going on in Chechnya or Kashmir or Pakistan or Afghanistan turns on the importing and fostering of new varieties of Islam that are more intolerant than the native sorts. And that these have originated in the Islamic countries that are the US's strongest allies, or in liberation movements we supported because they were anti-Russian. To shift the argument from such distinctions to large generalizations, even true ones, seems to me to undercut your argument. To argue that support for Islam is a good in itself seems just as wrong as saying that opposing "Islam" is a good in itself. And when you argue that the most important aspect of interventions in particular countries is how it will play to the Islamic grandstand, conceived of as a whole, your argument seems to contradict itself.

Michael __________________________________________________________________________ Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at

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