The Muslim population of Russia has gone up 40% since 1989. Meanwhile the Russian population of Russia has gone down. There are now 25 million Muslims in Russia. And the Central and East European Affairs editor of The Economist has suggested in print that by 2015, 40% of the Russian army may be Muslim.
What do the Russians intend to do about this? Anything? Nothing?
And what do the Americans intend to do in their conversations with the Russians? Will they not mention this? Will they not try to emphasize that common ground should be found against a common threat — that of the worldwide Jihad? Will they not explain to the Russians that whatever the Russian government does to deal with a potential Muslim threat will get no quarrel from us? And it should get no quarrel from us, because we are, or should be, much more fearful of a Russian military under Muslim control — by 2040, 2050? — than of one under the control of the Russians themselves. After all, the Russians are rational actors, though they are far too given to conspiracy theories about the West and especially about America (which has hardly been paying the kind of attention to “encircling Russia” that many Russians apparently are convinced it has).
A poster at Jihad Watch recently asserted that “Russia and the majority of Middle Eastern powers are natural allies.” And certainly many people believe this to be the case. But in fact, Russia and the majority of Middle Eastern powers are not natural allies, even if shortsighted Russian leaders may think they are. Any country that relies on oil for its main source of wealth has a stake in the disruption of oil supplies elsewhere. Russia should not wish Iran or Saudi Arabia well. This is principally because they are its economic competitors, supplying the same goods it supplies: oil and natural gas in the case of Iran, oil in the case of Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, the Russians should be worried far more than they seem to be about demographic changes, and about the possibility of Muslims taking over parts of the military in a decade or two or three. They appear as heedless of this problem as the American government has appeared heedless of the texts and tenets of Islam. The American government remains convinced that the “best way” to deal with the situation is to pour money and men and materiel into Iraq or, for some (choose your poison), into Afghanistan, when the desired results will never come. They will never come, but this will be to the everlasting surprise of the American government, because the nature of Islam, and the threat of Islam, has not been understood.
Many Russians are consumed with conspiracy theories about America. And these conspiracy theories gain credibility from the maladroit American presentation of those policies, and American officials” seeming inability to explain them in a way that Russians would find palatable. They do not even seem capable of explaining, or perhaps of understanding themselves, that Russia and America share the same potential threats and need to collaborate, rather than cling to or reassert hostile attitudes. Russians, meanwhile, seem to assume that Muslims in Russia will continue to be “Muslims-for-identification-purposes-only” Muslims just like those their parents grew up with. They somehow think that “our” (nashi) Muslims are “different.” The same complacent thought is often uttered these days by Americans: the Muslims in America are “quite different” — better educated, more prosperous — we are constantly told, and therefore “not a threat,” as are the Muslims in Western Europe. Whistling in the dark.
The Russians are not factoring in the renewed appeal of Islam for some Muslims in Russia, especially in the Caucasus but also in Moscow itself, and the effect of Saudi-financed mosques and propaganda all over the place. The effects of the long-ago anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union, and the crushing of the revolt by Central Asian Muslims who were opposed to this policy in the 1930s, are held by some Russians even today to represent a permanent end to the internal Muslim threat. They are wrong. And they are betting a lot, far too much, on that notion.