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RUSSIA: The Caucasus

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer writes: "I don't think that the existence of dhimmitude excludes relatively peaceful co-existence of Christians in some parts of the Muslim world. The phenomenon was surely as complex as the existence of Jews and Muslims in the Christian world in the Middle Ages. I would bet that there, as in Christian Europe, the more cosmopolitan the city and sophisticated the ruler, the better off were the members of religious minorities. Christian and Jews fared quite well in Istanbul during many periods of Ottoman rule. I wouldn't be surprised if Christians did all right in Muslim Spain, during certain periods at least.

A fascinating case of the co-existence through the ages of different religions is the Caucasus, the region of the world's most intense ethnic and linguistic diversity. The Caucasus was ruled at various times by Persia, the Ottomans, and the Russians. The Caucasus has been famous through the centuries for ferocious independence (the Chechen war is a faint echo of this) and imperial rule by these various powers was never very strong. Even today you find ancient Christian communities (the Georgians and Armenians are among the most ancient in the world) side by side with ancient Jewish communities, and with Muslims. Until a couple of centuries ago, the Ingush even practiced Shamanism -- they were recent converts to Islam.

The Caucasians are fierce, warlike people -- famous for their willingness to die for honor, their duels, their courage in battle, and for their kinzhali -- long, elaborately decorated daggers. They practice the blood feud, up to the present day. They are the most hospitable people I have ever encountered. They claim to have invented wine, and toasting is developed there as a high art form (here Islam has no effect on alcohol consumption, and some of the finest brandy in the world is made in Dagestan). There are bitter enmities among certain tribes. But I have heard over and over again from Caucasians of different religions (particularly Caucasian Jews, who are always unpleasantly surprised when they leave the Caucasus, that such a thing as anti-Semitism exists) that religious prejudice is practically non-existent, and has hardly ever existed over the centuries. If this is true, it is worth studying.

It is worth noting in regard to our earlier conversations about the war in Chechnya that it has nothing whatever in common with the wars in the Balkans. There is no religious dimension whatsoever, except to the extent that the Al Quaeda operatives there try to make it look like that. The Chechens are not very religious, and religious fanaticism is extremely rare among them. Most of them could not care less about being independent, even less after the horrible misrule during the years of virtual independence in the 1990's. The few Chechens who do want independence are either bandits motivated by either the prospect of personal gain, or by the memory of Russian cruelty to the Chechen people under Stalin, when among other things they were deported en masse to Kazakhstan, in a kind of trail of tears, out of typically Stalinist paranoid suspicion of German sympathy. "Russian cruelty" during this period was really of course Soviet cruelty. The Russian people had no voice in Stalin's policies and Stalin himself was no Russian.

Note: Regarding dhimmitude, see
"Dhimmitude derives from the surrender of the Christian clergy and political leaders to the Muslim jihad armies, and their submission to Islamic domination of both their lands and peoples. In exchange, they received a pledge of protection ('dhimma') from the Muslim sovereign - and the cessation of the jihad war. This "protection" was conditioned on a ransom payment (jizya) that was extorted from the vanquished Christian and Jewish populations (dhimmis). Sometimes, Christian submission to Islam was rooted in personal ambition. Dhimmitude often induced self-hatred, and hatred against Jews and Christians who resisted the jihad and Muslim domination. Christian dhimmitude has been a world force for Islamization throughout history.

RH: When I was in Georgia during the Soviet period, we drove up to the Caucasus by the old military road, and absolute peace reigned. I wonder what the people of that now troubled region think about the Soviet period.

Ronald Hilton - 2/28/03