Sunday, December 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Islamism Spreading like ‘an Epidemic’ among Ethnic Russians, Orthodox Hierarch Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 22 – Radical Islam is spreading like “a real epidemic among ethnic Russians “not only in Russia generally but in Siberia,” according to Metropolitan Tikhon of Novosibirsk. He blamed this trend on Soviet policies and it reflected a situation in which today “Russian children are ashamed to call themselves Russian or Orthodox.”

            Tikhon made those remarks on Friday at a conference devoted to drug abuse and other problems of young people in his region and warned that as a result of these trends, “the national self-consciousness of the people” is being destroyed and “the gene fund of the country” lost ( and

                Many young Russians who avoid the problems of drug abuse or crime nonetheless feel a spiritual vacuum which they are trying to fill by various means, including turning to Islam, the metropolitan said.  “Siberia suffered during the years of godlessness.” Indeed, he continued, “the degeneration of Russians as the main achievement of Soviet power.”

            The metropolitan continued: “young people cut off from a living source, which is Russian culture and Orthodoxy, need spiritual support.” And when they cannot find it in their own society, they become easy prey for those like the Islamists who can provide something which looks very much like that and consequently is attractive to young Russians.

                The Novy Region 2 news agency characterized Metropolitan Tikhon’s remarks as “a unique event,” an acknowledgement by the highest ranking Russian churchman of a problem that hitherto only government officials or more junior or independent clergymen like Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev have been willing to talk about.

            But as significant as Tikhon’s acknowledgement may be, the news agency’s explanation of what is going on may be even more so.  It say that “Islamo-fascism” made its first appearance in Russia about a decade ago and that Salafism “was propagandized as a ‘liberation’ theory which could play the role that Marxism, Protestantism, and other ‘renewal’ systems had.”

            For many Russians, Islamism thus appeared as a kind of “’last refuge’” for those who were troubled by existing conditions and sought to engage in political and social protests, Novy Region 2 said.

            Moreover, the news agency continued, “former national bolsheviks or even national socialists frequently have become Islamo-fascists because the internal logical of extremist movements presupposes only two variants of development: Either members of youth groups integrate into pro-government structures” like Nashi “or they become terrorists.”

            Those who choose the latter frequently become involved with Islamist groups when they are looking for expertise, Novy Region 2 says, and then they are “’infected’” with the ideology of the latter in course of “’exchanging experience.’”

            The exact number of ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam is not known. Some estimates say there may be as many as 100,000 “ethnic Russian Muslims” either for the reasons the Metropolitan and the news agency suggest or as a result of intermarriage between  ethnic Russians and Muslims. 

            But however numerous this group is and despite the fact that most of its members are not radicals, its existence disturbs Russian officials who fear they may not be able to attract ethnic Russians who have become Islamists as easy as following “ethnic Muslims” and Russians more generally because it calls attention to the fundamental weakness of their own identity as a nation.

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