22 October 2010

Kavkaz Crisis

Since we find Chechnya once again in the news, I thought I would post this Margolis piece from April.

While Chechnya has nothing to do with Proto-protestantism, it ties into a larger discussion regarding history, media, truthfulness, and Sacralism.

We've talked about how Sacralism causes people in any land to view their cultural construct as holy. When combined with Christianity it can lead to some pretty ugly things, quite contrary to the faith we're supposed to hold. In the 19th century Sacralism birthed a vibrant Imperialism, and in Tsarist Russia that meant a hard push into the Central Asia, and the Caucasus. The goal? Constantinople, the holy city, the Sacralist emblem of the Byzantine sphere. Unfortunately for the Chechens they are located on the north side of the Greater Caucasus. Had they been south of this range like Georgia, Trans-caucasian Armenia, and Azerbaijan, they might have been free to go in 1992. Just by studying the map, one can see why Moscow will not let them go, all the more when the Americans are just on the other side of the mountains in Tbilisi.

Interestingly in a place like Chechnya, due to their checkered history they represent one of the ethnic groups that does not find its primary identity in religion, but in their own vibrant culture. This again is one of the mistakes we often make in the west. Islam may be a cultural tie that binds, and sometimes it is the dominant cultural marker. But with people like the Turks, Chechens, Iranians, and Pashtuns....Islam is but one facet of their identity. Only when confronted with utter destruction under the Tsars, the Soviets, and the modern Russian state, have the Chechens turned to what we would call an extremist Islam, and that by no means includes the majority of the population.

At present Russia governs them through their brutal puppet Ramzan Kadyrov. He and his assassinated father were part of the first uprising in the 1990's, but made their peace with Moscow. Kadyrov promotes a vigorous Islam, but it would seem this is only to counter the recruiting ability of the rebels hiding in the forests. As Islam becomes as rallying point and recruiting tool for the rebels, Kadyrov tries to subvert their attempt by offering an equally zealous but non-violent form. This is not to see the Chechen state is peaceable. To the contrary the Grozny regime is engage in a brutal suppression of the Chechen people. Fear and violence keep them in line and anyone who heads to the forest know that if identified his entire family and circle of friends will suffer.
For centuries the Chechens had their own pagan religion, at one point they came under Georgian and Byzantine Christian (Sacralist) influence and later they were converted to Sufi Islam which tends to be both mystical and syncretistic, allowing them to retain many of their pagan practices and beliefs. Kunta Haji is their patron saint, hardly a Wahhabi. In fact Chechen's are often confronted by the Saudi guardians of Mecca during the Haj. The pagan Zikr dance of the mystics is frowned upon as heretical by the Orthodox Sunnis of Arabia. This is Chechen Islam, an Islam of shrines and groves, superstitions, and a mix of customs. In fact if you look up Chechen or Kurdish Zikr dances on YouTube it's the closest thing you can find to the Baal worship described in the Bible. They work themselves into a frenzy and start cutting themselves. It's pretty demonic. How sad that the only 'Christianity' they have encountered through their history is the equally false and idolatrous form we call Byzantine Christianity. How sad that they war against a Russian state that in their minds is specifically identified with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The horrors of the 20th century, Stalin's deportations, and those of recent days have pushed some of them to embrace Salafi Islam, what we would call radical and extremist. It's a sad tale.

Margolis as usual offers a concise but astute commentary on the situation. We've been discussing media and the manipulation of history. If anything I only want people to be aware, the history of this situation and many others is complicated, messy. There are no 'good guys' per se. I know as Christians we want to clearly identify good and evil, but in a fallen world we need to recognize…everyone is pretty evil.

The Russian media tries to insinuate the Chechen Rebel movement has ties with Al Qaeda. Western media has picked up on this and largely echoes it and ultimately we find many in the Christian community wanting to lump the entirety Islamic world under one umbrella. It won't do. It's a disservice to them and to us, for it does not help us to understand what is happening in the world. It breeds an unfounded fear, and feeds our civilizational bigotry, a child of Sacralism. We need to abandon this type of thinking, and embrace Pilgrim identity and ethics.

Virtually all the experts on the Caucasus region deny ties between the North Caucasus Islamists and groups like Al Qaeda. The language of jihad may sound similar, but it stops there. The groups led by men like the deceased Shamil Basayev are driven by a historic, ethnic, and regional struggle. Al Qaeda, though it is hard to know what it really is, is Pan-Islamic, and internationalist. Our media tries to portray them as operating as some kind of corporate entity with flow charts and divisional officers etc… I've always found this to be pretty silly. It's a loose grouping at best, offering inspiration at most. Whatever ties the group hiding in Waziristan had with the 9/11 hijackers has been obscured by government manipulation. We just don't know and I'm not sure the government knows for sure either.

The American government, the media, and especially the right wing media wish to cast them as some kind of global octopus, with tentacles reaching everywhere. In reality it would seem it's more like a de-centralized school or an internet chat-room that allows people to vent and express ideas. The actions seem to be guided more by independent cells striking at western targets. As with all these things, it's complicated. Americans are only now realizing The Taliban that NATO is fighting in Afghanistan is not a single entity, but at least three different groups with different goals. And I want to emphasize, at least three. I think the majority of the fighters are nothing more than ethnic Pashtuns fighting an occupier who are more interested in the Pashtun Code than in the musings of Bin Laden.

The Chechen groups are strictly at war with Russia. Yes, some individuals have gone to places like Afghanistan, but not as representatives of the North Caucasus Islamic movement.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the article and give more food for thought as we consider how the media reports the events of the world. Rather than react as Americans, we need to think as Christians and understand the nature and complexity of these problems, and the realities of a fallen world. We need to not be fooled in thinking one side is pure and innocent and motivated by pure aspirations. Earlier this summer I debated a bit with another Christian on some issues related to this. The posts can be found here.

As always, feel free to disagree. By no means do I expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but if I've challenged you to think a little beyond the type of thinking Christian Nationalism and Sacralism generates...then I'm content.

Here's the link to the Margolis piece, as well as the text below. I've included in this post many links to Wikipedia and only wish to add that Wikipedia is a great resource, but one that must be checked. It is by no means sufficient as the only source. It's a starting point. If anyone is interested, I can certainly point you to other resources on this as well as any of the historical items I deal with here.

Time to Set the Chechen Free

by Eric Margolis

There is an old saying about the fierce Chechen tribes who inhabit southern Russia’s Caucasus mountains: "Chechen cannot ever be defeated. They can only be killed."

Chechen are Russia’s nemesis. Even the notoriously brutal Russian mafia fears the ferocious Chechen, and for good reason.

Last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proudly proclaimed that resistance to Russian rule in the North Caucasus had been eliminated. The region was pacified.

Confounding Putin’s claim, Chechen suicide bombers hit Moscow’s subway last week, killing 39 and injuring over 70. Chechen suicide bombers in Dagestan killed twelve, mostly policemen. There were further attacks in neighboring Dagestan. The North Caucasus was again at a boil.

The attacks seriously rattled Russians and left the Kremlin deeply embarrassed and enraged.

Two "black widows" – wives or daughters of Chechen independence fighters killed or raped by the Russians (Russians call them "Islamic terrorists" and "bandits") – took their revenge last week, as so often in recent years.

The latest Chechen leader, Doku Umarov – all his predecessors were liquidated by Russia – claimed from his hideout in the Caucasus mountains that the subway attacks were reprisal for the recent killing of Chechen civilians by Russian security forces.

He warned Moscow, "we will make you feel what we feel."

In recent years, Chechen "black widows" have brought down two civilian airliners. Other Chechen hijacked an entire Moscow theater, and derailed the "Alexander Nevsky" Express that runs from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Chechen are a tiny but fierce North Caucasian mountain people of Indo-European origin. They, and other Muslim Caucasian tribes, such as Dagestanis and Cherkass (Circasians), have battled Russian imperial rule for the past 300 years.

In 1877, Imperial Russia killed 40% of the Chechen population of about 220,000. Four hundred thousand Cherkass were expelled.

Stalin, from neighboring Georgia, hated Chechen. He divided Chechnya, creating the republic of Ingushetia. Then, in July 1937, his secret police, NKVD, shot 14,000 Chechen.

In 1944, Stalin ordered the entire Chechen people rounded up and shipped in cattle cars to his Siberian concentration camps or dumped to perish into icy fields. Other Muslims followed: Ingush, Tatars, Karachai, Balkars.

Neither bullets nor gas chambers were needed in Stalin’s death camps. A third of the prisoners died each year from cold, starvation or disease in the concentration camps. In all, some 2.5 million Soviet Muslims were murdered by Stalin, "the Breaker of Nations," among them half of the Chechen people.

In my new book, American Raj, I entitle the section on the Chechen, "Genocide in the Caucasus."

Gulag survivors filtered back to Chechnya. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Chechen demanded independence like the Soviet republics.

Instead, Boris Yeltsin’s government invaded Chechnya, killing some 100,000 Chechen civilians through massive carpet bombing and shelling. Chechen leader Dzhokar Dudayev was assassinated, reportedly thanks to telephone homing equipment supplied to Moscow by the US National Security Agency. President Bill Clinton actually lauded Boris Yeltsin as "Russia’s Abraham Lincoln."

Incredibly, Chechen fighters managed to defeat Russia’s army and won de facto independence.

But in 1999, apartment buildings in Russia were bombed, killing some 200 people, and creating a national panic.

Chechen "terrorists" were immediately blamed. But there was disturbing evidence that government agents staged the bombing to justify invading Chechnya.

Moscow media reported that a group of Federal Security Service (FSB – the successor to the KGB’s internal security service) agents were caught red-handed planting explosives in an apartment building. They claimed the explosives were merely bags of "sugar," part of a "test."

An ex-FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, joined other critics in accusing the government of a false flag operation in staging the attacks to justify a new war against the Chechen. In 2006, Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London.

Litvinenko also accused the Kremlin of being behind the murder of the crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She told me before her death that she was marked for assassination by the government because of her stinging exposés of Russia’s human rights violations in Chechnya.

FSB chief Vladimir Putin was catapulted into power by the anti-Chechen hysteria caused by the mysterious bombings. Two years later, the eerily similar 9/11 attacks would similarly turn George Bush from a non-entity into a hero, and provide a pretext for the US to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Powerful Russian forces invaded and crushed the life out of Chechen resistance. All moderate Chechen leaders were assassinated, the last in Qatar in 2004, leaving mostly militant Islamists. A Moscow-installed Chechen puppet regime imposed a rein of terror upon the population, using torture, murder, mass reprisals, hostages and rape.

The world ignored these violations but paid rapt attention to another crime, the death of over 300 Russian child hostages in the still murky school massacre at Beslan.

The outside world totally ignored the death of another 100,000 Chechen after Moscow successfully branded them, "Islamic terrorists." A quarter of the Chechen people, Muslims and Russians, died from 1991 until 2010, not counting Stalin’s mass murder. But Chechen keep fighting on.

Moscow worries insurrection is spreading across its soft Caucasus underbelly. President Dimitri Medvedev made laudable efforts to humanize Russia’s rule there. But after the subway atrocity, Putin and Medvedev vow to "destroy" remaining resistance in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Moscow should end this historical tragedy by granting Chechnya independence. Doing so is of course risky: it could spark demands by other Caucasian Muslims for independence, and enflame some of Russia’s 20 million-strong Muslim minority – though most still appear content to live in the Russian Federation.

An independent Chechnya could also open another door to growing US penetration of the Caucasus and campaign to encircle Russia. The US and Russia came frighteningly close to a head-on clash over Georgia. The Cold War has not ended.

An independent Chechnya would be unstable and violent. But that is better than the savagery and atrocities that this terrible conflict continues to generate.

Modern Russia needs to set the Chechen free.

April 6, 2010

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