The Bear and the Crescent
The Lenin Mausoleum and the St. Basil's Cathedral around the imposing Red Square in Moscow, stand as a grim memento to the 400 year period during which Russia was able to hold its own against the Muslims. As the throngs of tourists admire the huge onion shaped domes of the cathedral or file past Lenin's final resting place, few realize that these two structures immortalize the ongoing, centuries-old struggle between the Russians and the Muslims of Central Asia.
The Muslims lorded over Russia for almost three hundred years starting in the thirteenth century. And as has happened umpteen times in Muslim history, wars of succession enfeebled the Uzbek Khans considerably, enabling Ivan the Terrible in 1552 to wrest back Kazan from the Tartars by massacring the entire population. Flush with victory, Ivan decided to commemorate the Russian triumph by ordering the construction of the St. Basil's cathedral with the stipulation that the structure of the domes symbolize the turbaned Tartars severed heads.
The Russian bear, from then on, had no difficulty in subjugating one Khanate after another until Khiva, the last Khanate, became a vassal state in the 1870s. The Russians were, however, stopped in their advance at the border of Afghanistan and had to lie low for almost a century before the Communists finally took that country in the 1970s.
The victory in Afghanistan turned out to be Pyrrhic one for the Russians. Not only was the Communist balloon of Lenin pricked for good by the indomitable will of the Afghan fighters, but the Russians, after almost four centuries, tasted defeat at the hands of the Muslims once again. The soul of Lenin would have certainly turned in its marble vault at the humiliation suffered by the Red army.
The current conflict in the Caucasus appears to be simply the continuation of this epic struggle between the Bear and the Crescent. One can safely surmise that the Chechen victory in 1996 was too much for the Russian pride to swallow. It therefore, comes as no surprise to witness today the complete decimation of Grozny and the relentless pursuit of the small band of Chechen fighters and civilians by the full military machine of the world's second largest super power.
The ethnic cleansing of Chechnya is a calculated effort by the Russians to fully integrate Muslim lands without the encumbrance of a population that still clings to its Islamic beliefs and which has failed to assimilate into the Russian melting pot. The support lent by Russia to its fellow Slavs in Bosnia and Kosova lends further credence to this hypothesis. The current Chechen offensive appears to be part of a master plan to create a cohesive greater Russia, self sufficient in food and natural resources along with unhindered access to land and sea trade routes.
The Muslim populated areas in Moscow's backyard are rich in natural gas, oil and other minerals that the world covets. If left in peace, these areas, because of their proximity to old trade routes and co-religionists, have the potential to turn into islands of prosperity in the sea of an impoverished Russia. The stakes are too high for the Bear to allow fate to determine the destiny of the region.
Islam is the thorn that is stopping the Bear from gobbling up the entire region. And if history is any guide, the Russians know that banning the Qur'an or converting Mosques into schools or social centers and even prohibiting Islamic practices is not sufficient to stem the tide of Islamic revival in Central Asia. The only course left for Russia is either to annihilate its Muslim population or drive it off the coveted landmass.
Are we in for a new cycle of Islamic resurgence or another Muslim Diaspora as experienced during the Spanish inquisition? Only time will tell. In the meantime the apathy of Muslim countries to the sufferings of their brethren in Chechnya continues.