The global confrontation brought about by the rise of radical Islam had its culminating moments on 9/11, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the sudden appearance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the obsessed dictator of Iran and in the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
This worldwide upheaval has produced hundreds of new books focused on differing aspects of the challenge. In the broader history of present-day Muslim extremism, the wars between Russia and the Chechens, a long-obscure people originating in the Caucasus, represent a significant but minor element.
Yossef Bodansky, who has contributed some of the most influential, if flawed volumes to the Western discussion of radical Islam, has now taken on the Chechen problem. The result is neither authoritative, nor reliable, nor does much credit to him or his publisher.
There are many defects in Bodansky's account of "the Chechen Jihad." First, the author has leapt into the risky waters of prediction, declaring that the Chechens, who are barely known in the West, represent "the next wave of terror." Yet Bodansky nowhere answers the simplest question about the Chechens: why should they be considered a universal threat, rather than, simply, enemies of Russian nationalism?
Their battle against Russian power was, for many years, moderate in its aims, and the majority of them remain peaceful in their aspirations. Their efforts were corrupted by the incursion of Saudi-backed Wahhabis into the Caucasian mountains, but the Chechen nation still has many supporters in the United States, chiefly members of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC). These include national security expert Zbigniew Brzezinski, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, and diplomat Max Kampelman.
These and other individuals have concentrated on gross human rights violations by the Russian authorities in Chechnya, as well as the role of the Caucasian conflict in the aggrandizement of current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bodansky is openly dismissive of such issues. He has chosen instead to highlight what he calls "Chechenization," defined as the radicalization and Arabization of traditionally moderate Muslim societies.
Bodansky identifies regions where "Chechenization" is present, including "Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and Indonesia, as well as several Muslim communities in both Central Asia and the Balkans." Yet he fails to observe that in Iraq, Islamist extremism has yet to win a clear victory, while any victory claims among the PA are obviously premature. As for Indonesia, ex-Soviet Central Asia (excluding Afghanistan) and the Balkans, none of them has produced a significant jihadist upsurge.
The author's method, however, consists of treating any incident or even implication of radicalism, regardless how limited, as a major assault. Further, he is unapologetic in his pro-Russian orientation. He defines "Chechenization" as "mobilizing a country, or a region, against the West," but who says fighting Russia is the same as attacking the West? Of course Putin and his cohort drape themselves in the banner of defense of the West against the jihadist hordes, but one can hardly equate Russia, with all its accumulated abuses of ethnic and religious rights, with Western democracy.
The author uses history to justify his theories, rather than presenting a factual account of the Caucasian tragedy. He treats, in passing, the most devastating event in modern Chechen history - the deportation of the entire Chechen people to Kazakhstan at the order of Joseph Stalin - as something brought about by Nazi intrigues. But numerous Russian politicians, historians and journalists long ago refuted the argument that Stalin's terrible act - which legitimized the reappearance of Chechen nationalism as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s - had anything to do with fighting the Germans. Stalin deported the Chechens because he hated them as a Muslim people resentful of Russian domination. Russian rulers have repeatedly sought to use the Caucasian wars as a pretext to manipulate and suppress their own people.
"Chechen Jihad" is filled with apparent facts, rumors, allegations, reported interviews and conversations, none of which are footnoted or otherwise sourced, piled on to a point where even an expert reader is confused. In the real world, Chechens have never been involved in attacks outside the former Soviet Union and, allegedly, Afghanistan, and in Chechnya itself the bloody contest between Russian agents and Wahhabi interlopers has dwindled. Bodansky acknowledges this reality and even credits it to disillusionment among Chechens with the meddling of foreign jihadists, but his final argument is repellent as well as simplistic: that the West should learn from the Russian authoritarian tradition how to deal with Islamist radicals.
This book therefore ends up as little more than a propaganda item for the ambitions of the new Muscovite tyrant, Putin. To Bodansky, American lives sacrificed in Iraq have been wasted, and the West would do better to adopt the Putinesque strategy of forcibly subordinating Muslims to "modernity."
Unfortunately for Bodansky and his friends, Putin and his methods enjoy little or no support in the West. This book has been undone by the most elementary aspect of Russian sociology: the persistence of brutality and tyranny that makes Russian solutions to radical Islam worse than the problem they are claimed to address.