163082053 KnySh on Wahhabism

Alexander Knysh on Wahhabism
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  A Clear and Present Danger: Wahhabism as a Rhetorical FoilAuthor(s): Alexander KnyshSource: Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Vol. 44, Issue 1 (2004), pp. 3-26Published by: BRILL Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/08/2013 22:49 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  .  BRILL  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Die Welt des Islams. This content downloaded from on Sun, 25 Aug 2013 22:49:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER: WAHHABISM AS A RHETORICAL FOIL BY ALEXANDER KNYSH Michigan We shall not return to the state anterior to discourse-in which nothing has yet been said, and in which things are only just begin- ning to emerge out of the grey light; and we shall not pass beyond discourse in order to rediscover the forms that it has created and left behind it; we shall remain, or try to remain, at the level of discourse itself.. .A task consists of not-of no longer-treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or repre- sentations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak. Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, Pantheon Books, New York, 1972, 48-49. Prologue In the giant body of literature on the political developments along Russia's southern border over the past decade, one cannot help but be struck by the frequency with which Wahhabism and/or Wah- habi Islam is invoked by Western and Russian journalists, academ- ics, and political analysts as the principal cause of troubles and political instability in these areas.' This is especially true of the Muslim areas of the Northern Caucasus and Central Asia, although l For some typical examples see: Muriel Atkin, The Rhetoric of Islamophobia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, 1 (2000), 123-132; Marat Murtazin, Muslims and Russia: war or peace? ibid., 132-141; Svante Cornell and Regine Spector, Central Asia: More than Islamic extremists, The Washington Quarterly, 25/1 (Winter 2002), 193-206; Olga Bibikova, Fenomen 'vakhkhabizma', Aziia i Afrika segodnia, 8 (1999), 48-52; Vakhit Akaev, Sufizm i vakhkhabizm na Severnom Kavkaze, Issledovaniia po ? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2004 Also available online - Die Welt des Islams 44, 1 This content downloaded from on Sun, 25 Aug 2013 22:49:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  ALEXANDER KNYSH some autonomous Russian republics, such as Tatarstan and Bash- kortostan, are also occasionally mentioned in this context.2 Equally surprising is the unanimity with which popular Russian and West- ern journalism and academic studies depict the ongoing Muslim resurgence in the former Soviet Union as a life-and-death struggle between the Sufi and Wahhabi versions of the Islamic religion.3 These Islamic movements in the territory of the former Soviet Union are frequently portrayed by both laymen and experts as incompat- ible and mutually hostile interpretations of Islam adopted by their adherents in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the implosion of the Communist ideology and system of values. The Wahhabi-Sufi confrontation is frequently invoked in the public speeches of high ranking Russian and Central Asian politicians, such as presidents Karimov of Uzbekistan or Shaymiev of Tatarstan, who never tire of invoking Wahhabism as a mortal threat to the very existence of prikladnoi i neotloznoi etnologii, Moscow, 1999; Igor Dobaev, Islamic Radicalism in the Northern Caucasus, Central Asia and the Caucasus, 6 (2000), 76-86; Azer- baidzan vydal Rossii vakhkhabita, vzorvavshego gazoprovod Urengoi-Pomary- Uzgorod,, 23.07.2002; Aleksei Malashenko, Chto khotiat imenuemye vakhkhabitami, Islamskie orientiry Severnogo Kavkaza, Moscow, Nauka, 2001, 137-163 et passim); Alexei Savateev, 'Vakhkhabit' 'vakhkhabitu' rozn', Aziia i Afrika segodia, 2 (2002), 5-12, and 3 (2002), 24-26; Robert Bruce Ware, Enver Kisriev, Werner Patzelt and Ute Roericht, Political Islam in Daghestan, Europe-Asia Studies, 55/2 (2003), 287-302; for further references see subsequent footnotes to the present ar- ticle. For a recent (hostile) account of Wahhabi history and tenets in the West see: Hamid Algar, Wahhabism: A critical essay, Islamic Publications International, Oneonta, NY, 2002. 2 E.g., Aidar Khabutdinov, Wahhabism in Modern Tatarstan, Russia and the Moslem World, Moscow, 10 (100), 2000, 24-26; for a recent discovery of the so- called Wahhabi cells in Moscow see FSB zaiavliaiut, chto v Moskve pri mechetiakh sushchestvuiut shkoly vakhkhabizma,, 6.09.2002 and Musul'man- skie lidery otritsaiut sushchestvovanie shkol vakhkhabizma v Moskve, ibid. 3 Akaev, Sufizm i vakhkhabizm ; Uwe Halbach, Islam in the Northern Cau- casus, Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 115 (July-September 2001), 93-110, see, in particular, 102-104; Dmitri Makarov, Ofitsial'nyi neofitsial'nyi slam v Dagestane, Moscow, Tsentr strategicheskikh issledovanii, 2000, passim; Nadezda Emelianova (Emel'ianova), Islam in the Northern Caucasus: The obvious and the concealed, Central Asia and the Caucasus, 6/12, 2001, 38-47; Gadzi Magomedov, Chto strashnee vakhkhabizma, Nezavisimaia gazeta, Aug. 7, 2001; Valerii Tishkov, Obschestvo v vooruzennom konflikte: etnografiia chechenskoi voiny, Moscow, Nauka, 2001, 327-350; Ware et al., Political Islam, passim. 4 This content downloaded from on Sun, 25 Aug 2013 22:49:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  WAHHABISM S A RHETORICAL OIL their countries.4 Although many Western and Russian observers agree that the activism of these mutually opposed movements is a response to the dire economic and social conditions of the post- Soviet era and the ideological void left by the collapse of official Marxism-Leninism, they nevertheless tend to focus their analysis on the religious premises characteristic of each group.5 Let us review these premises, or rather, the ways in which they are construed and articulated by both Russian and Western experts on Islam in the former Soviet Union, paying special attention to the rhetorical strat- egies and conventions that inform these discourses. Sufism and Wahhabism uxtaposed The advocates of Sufism , according to many Russian and West- ern commentators, promote a revival of traditional religiosity, 6 that is, one that organically integrates elements of pre-Islamic cultures, beliefs and social institutions of the area with the Islamic religion professed by its population. Known collectively as 'addt, or custom- ary law, these socio-cultural elements are seen as harking back to the pre-Islamic local tribal and clan structures as well as ancient belief systems such as, for instance, the cult of local shrines, departed saints, tribal/family ancestors, and sacred sites or objects.7 These 4 Atkin, The Rhetoric, 126; Alisher Ilkhamov, Uzbek Islamism: Imported ideology or grassroots movement, Middle East Report, 221 (winter 2001), 40-46; Gregory Feifer, Uzbekistan's Eternal Realities: A report from Tashkent, World Policy Journal, 19/1 (spring 2002), 81-89; for a dissenting view see Ghonchen Tazmi, The Islamic Revival in Central Asia: A potent force or a misconception, Central Asian Survey 20/1 (2001), 63-83. 5 A typical example is Cornell and Spector, Central Asia, 195. 6 See, e.g, Nadezda Emelianova (Emel'ianova), Sufism and Politics in the North- ern Caucasus, Nationalities Papers, 29/4 (2001), 661-688 and idem, Islam in the Northern Caucasus. For me, the notion traditional is highly problematic insofar as it presupposes the existence of an unchanged and unchangeable tradition which may occasionally fall into abeyance only to re-emerge again in its pristine form under favorable socio-economic and ideological conditions. In this way, tradition serves as a blanket explanatory category that is deployed uncritically to account for a wide variety of disparate social and political phenomena. 7 Sanobar Sharmatova, Tak nazyvaemye vakhkhabity, Dmitri Furman (ed.), Chechnia i Rossiia: obshchestva gosudarstva, Moscow, Fond Andreia Sakharova, 1999, 399-425; I. Savin, Religioznyi ekstremizm v Kazakhstane, Rossiia i musul'man- 5 This content downloaded from on Sun, 25 Aug 2013 22:49:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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