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April 19, 2013 1:13 PM This Is Important: Not All Muslims in the Post-Soviet Region are Radical Islamists or Chechen Nationalists

By Joshua Tucker

Muslims in Russia are often alleged (most recently by President Putin) to be potential Islamists, ready to support the radical Chechen separatist project of establishing an Islamic state in the Caucasus. This article challenges this claim, which assumes that Muslims in Russia form a coherent group based on religious identity, and as such, share a set of common political preferences that oppose the central state. The article demonstrates instead that: (1) Russian Muslims practice various forms of Islam; (2) religious belief and practice is not always correlated with anti-Moscow political mobilization; (3) ethnicity, rather than always reinforcing Muslim identity, interacts with Islam in complex ways throughout Russia’s ethnic republics, and (4) Muslims in Russia have largely opposed radical Islamic movements during the past 15 years and most likely will continue to do so. These points are supported by an analysis of Islam, identity and politics in Dagestan and Chechnya, the two republics in Russia that have witnessed the largest amount of Islamic mobilization.

This is the abstract of a 2005 Nationalism and Ethnic Politics article by political scientist Elise Giuliano. As rumors and information circulates about the identity of the Boston marathon bombers - described by CNN as “ brothers from the Russian Caucasus” who previously lived in Chechnya and as other sources confirm their “Chechen origin” - Giuliano’s research seems particularly important today. As she confirms in her research, the residents of the Russian Caucasus are a diverse bunch; we should take our time before assuming we know anything about the motivation of these two particular individuals for the heinous acts of the previous days.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University.