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The Roots of Security Narratives on Islam in Russia: Tatar Yoke, Official Religious Institutions and the Western Influence

This work examines Russia’s security narratives on Islam. Using a social constructivist framework and employing securitization theory, this paper attempts to assess the three primary sources of these narratives. I argue that the historiography of the Golden Horde rule over the Slavic principalities in 14th century, the mandated Islamic religious institutions and the Western influence constitute the primary sources of Russia’s security narratives on Islam. By employing examples from the past and today, I demonstrate that these narratives have the potential to be utilized to politicize or securitize a portion of Muslims or Islam in Russia.

The Roots of Security Narratives on Islam in Russia Tatar
An APC of the Russian federal troops patrols the streets of Chechnya’s second biggest city of Gudermes, after Russian troops flushed out Chechen separatist fighters, November 12, 1999. AFP PHOTO / ITAR-TASS

Introduction

Muslims constitute almost ten percent of the Russian population today. The Muslim population lives in different regions of Russia, speaking different languages and representing diversified socio-political dynamics. For instance, Tatarstan, located in the middle of the Russian Federation, has just over fifty percent Turkic-Muslim population; whereas the Chechen Republic located in the southernmost flank of Russia has over ninety percent Chechen-Muslim population. In addition, Russia’s metropoles are home to millions of Muslims who have migrated from the Muslim regions of Russia and from the post-Soviet countries. Russia also shares borders with multiple Muslim majority countries and often engages in dialogue with several Muslim communities in different regions. 

Islam is not a novel phenomenon for Russia. The Russian history is deeply intertwined with the histories of Muslim communities that have lived inside and around the territories of today’s Russia. The Russians have had periods of conflict, competition, subjugation and cooperation with Muslims located inside and outside of Russia. The deep roots of Islam in Russia make the image of Islam and Muslims in Russia both complex and specific. I argue that the image of Islam in Russia impacts the way the nation deals with Muslim communities. Russia produces diversified narratives of Islam and these narratives have the potential to be used to politicize or securitize at least a portion of Muslims. This work examines three primary narratives on Islam that stem from diversified roots. 

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