Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Swan Bride/Part 4 - A Political Epilogue

Links to other chapters

Part 1 - A Brief History of Dagestan
Part 2 -  Lezginka
Part 3 The Dance of the Swan Bride

Part 3
A Political Epilogue

When I went to Dagestan I was hoping to find out about the warm Islamic people I had met at Sochi.  I set myself the task of meeting them through their dance.  This Epilogue is really the answer I got

When first I saw Lezginka I was immediately struck by two things;

1. Lezginka makes a very beautiful distinction between the feminine and masculine
2. Lezginka is an example of colourful and exuberant Islamic culture

Street-Lezginka; Modern young people in the Caucases enjoy Lezginka.  For the boys it is a form of testosterone break-dancing and for the girls it is beautiful swan dancing.    I imagine many British Muslims, including the ones who have embraces fundamentalism, might relate to this opportunity to be cool, (a bit like reggae and rap have integrated the West Indian culture into modern British culture).

Before I left for Dagestan I wrote to the Islamic Council of Great Britain suggesting that they sponsor the Dagestan State Dance Company to tour Britain.  I told them that Islam needs to engage western culture with a more positive image. Perhaps ICGB should set up classes for Lezginka GB, and establish this Muslim dance as an alternative to Break Dancing, Salsa and Tango.

The Question of Women's Rights
When I was at university in the early 1970s Germain Greer had just published her book "the Female Eunuch".  I did not read the book but I did actively support the Woman's Liberation movement and Gay Rights movements.  I agreed with their aspiration then and I agree with them now.

Present day Dagestan is a very different society to the one I was brought up in.  During our stay in the Caucuses I only saw one woman driver, although Diana tells me there are many.  Diana herself is  thinking about learning to drive a car.  There is no question that Diana and her friends have less freedom than women had in British society in the 1970s.  To our eyes it is a little shocking that they are not more angry about what, from our point of view, looks like gender unfairness and repression.

In the 1970s there were still some people who advocated chastity before marriage.  In Dagestan it is the common aspiration of the young women.  They do not think it is a repressive idea.  To them The Dance of the Swan Bride is not controversial.  I am not a woman, but I imagine that many women who read my account of The Dance of the Swan Bride will be offended and annoyed that the girls do not rebel. I wonder if they are right to be annoyed?  I think to answer this question we have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we know something that Diana and her friends have misunderstood. I ask this question of myself, and I ask this question in a very broad context of troubled Muslim-Christian and East-West relations.

Islam in the Caucasus
Everyone is frightened by what is going on in Syria.  The Dagestanis are upset by stories that some of their young people have gone to fight alongside ISIS.  One girl wailed to me "they are killing people, killing people, can we talk about another subject now".  The people I spoke to are hurt by the attitude of the West to Dagestan, Islamic culture and Russia's intervention help people in Eastern Ukraine; our superior attitude really hurts them.  They told me stories of  refugees who are arriving in Dagestan after fleeing for their lives from the western backed Kiev government.  In one example the BBC website have wrongly written that Dagestan is "the most dangerous country in Europe".

Stalin virtually eradicated all religion, including Islam, from the Caucasus.  By the time the Soviet empire collapsed most people retained Islamic values but few of them wore hi jabs or prayed. Russia gave independence to the Georgians in the South Caucasus, but Chechnya and Dagestan were retained as part of the Russia.   Chechnya revolted against the Russians and they hoped Dagestan would join their side, but this never happened.  They should have known that Dagestan has long taken Aman Shamil's advice that war against Russia is always unwinnable (see my brief history of Dagestan).  

The Chechens chose war, war came, the Russians battled it out, the Chechens lost.  This is what Grozny looked like after the war

After the war Putin rebuilt the country, allowed them to build many mosques and allowed them a strong Islamic leader they could identify with.

Putin's action seem to have given Chechen people much of what they wanted; Islamisation and stability. On the day we landed in Grozny 100,000 people turned out to celebrate Putin's 62 birthday.  I met no Chechens, but I asked Dagestanis "Surely after losing such a bloody war the Chechens hate Putin? ".  Their reply surprised me  "No, Yeltson started the war, they like Putin because he supported them, ".   Chechnya is stable now, but they are worried about the many young people going through Georgia to support ISIS in Syria.

ISIS have said they are intending to restart the war in Chechnya.  This is the response they got from the pro-Russian  president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, (who seems to be popular).

“Taking all responsibility, I declare that those who have voiced a threat against Russia or who have mentioned the name of our President Vladimir Putin will be destroyed right where they made their statement. We will not wait for them to get behind the steering wheel of a plane. They will go where their fellow terrorists are rotting… I want to remind everyone who is planning something against our country, that Russia has worthy sons, ready to fulfill any order, wring the neck of any enemy in his own lair, wherever he may be. And we find ourselves with happiness ridding the world of these scum.<…>I emphasize that they finish their days under the hot sun in Syria and Iraq, and in the first instant of death meet their eternal flames of Hell. Allahu Akbar!

I do not pretend to understand what is happening in Chechnya. I have the impression that the Dagestani's and Chechens do not understand their own countries either.  Maria Dubovikova, a savvy Russian commentator, tells us Russia are fearful of a third world war starting from troubles in the Caucuses and comments that  "The world is on the brink of a third world war but no one has mentioned it and no one wants toThe day the international community realizes this, it could already be too late."   At present it seems that the Chechens have accepted Russian rule which allows them a lot of autonomy and freedom to build mosques.  Islam is gently flowing back into the Caucasus.  Some people like Amina are pleased, others like Diana are proud of their Islamic values but agnostic about the dogma.  

Dagestan has 20 different languages, and even more different ethnic groups, for a thousand years they have learnt how to live with each other by compromise.  They are aware that conflicts can start and get out of control.  They appreciate strong leadership and a certain level of repression in return for security.  

The West has tried to support democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya.  It has not brought stability.

Diana and Amina love their country, they love Islamic values and they are satisfied to be living under the umbrella of Putin's Russia.  They both say "Dagestan cannot exist without Russia"  Things are changing in many ways, the population is rediscovering Islam at the same time more women are learning to drive which will be a good thing because the roads in Dagestan will become calmer and safer.  I expect Diana's daughters will be more demanding than Diana's generation, but this is very much their choice.  I think we should not judge their values from the outside, our values have hardly brought happiness and freedom to the Islamic world.

Russia Bashing
The way the media reports Russian affairs is very unsympathetic to the views of the ordinary Russians I have met.  Many Russians see Putin as a necessary evil, not a demagogue.  They see the Russian support for Russian nationals in Ukraine as a proportionate defensive response to hostility from Kiev (we heard stories that refugees have been steaming from Ukraine into the Caucasus, they say they are fleeing for their lives).  Personally I think the constant portrayal of Russia as an evil empire led by an evil man is not at all helpful to finding ways to accommodate the deep divisions between Christian and Muslim,  East and West.  We should respect their moral values judgements a little more and be more circumspect about thinking our societies where democracy and Woman's Liberation thrive are more moral than theirs.  No one has a monopoly on morality.

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