I have a new story on the website of Al Jazeera America, on the changing role of Islam in Russia today:
An enthusiastic embrace of Russian, much less Soviet, power may seem unlikely coming from a Muslim cleric. Historically, Muslims have been at best tolerated, and often persecuted, in Russia, where either Orthodox Christianity or socialist atheism has been the state ideology. And today, President Vladimir Putin’s political dominance and Russia’s newly assertive foreign policy have been in large part driven by Russian nationalism as Putin has tried to defend the rights of Russia-identifying people in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
But there is another, countervailing trend that also has been gaining momentum: the government’s embrace of its multinational identity, in particular its Muslim heritage. And many of the country’s Muslim leaders, in turn, have taken the opportunity to position themselves as allies of the regime by defending traditional values against the decadence of the West.
“Just like after the fall of Byzantium, [when] Moscow saw itself as the Third Rome, defending orthodoxy, under Stalin we were the defenders of the proletariat, [and] today Russia is the defender of traditional values on the world stage,” says Batrov.
Read the whole thing here.
And earlier this summer, I had another story at AJA, on a culture war with geopolitical overtones in Kyrgyzstan.
“This is really Russia's influence,” said Amir, an LGBT rights activist in Bishkek who asked to be identified only by his first name, echoing the opinion of most liberals here. “I'm sure they're connected.”
Neither law has passed. Both are still very slowly winding their way through the legislative process. And both could be subject to a veto by President Almazbek Atambayev, who so far has refused to say how he'll act if the laws make it through parliament. But questions remain: Has all this been orchestrated by Russia behind the scenes? Or has Russia merely been a reactionary inspiration?
Two and a half decades after gaining independence, many post-Soviet states are grappling with issues of identity as they navigate their way through an intimidating complex of strong currents: the disappointing fruits of democratic and capitalist reforms, a resurgent Russia, the emergence of an Internet-borne global culture and the reemergence of pre-Soviet forms of religion and traditional values. All of these have come together with particular strength in the battle over Kyrgyzstan's values.
Read that one here.