by Gordon M. Hahn
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. Pp. 344.
Notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 0786479523
Russia’s North Caucasus and the Global Jihad
In mid-April 2013, the Chechen separatist struggle – probably favored by most Americans raised among Cold War anti-Russian sentiment – reached out from the Caucasus to strike the United States as two sons of an ethnic Chechen father from Chechnya detonated two pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon. Their purpose, said the surviving terrorist, was to “defend Islam.”
It is the contention of geostrategic analyst Gordon M. Hahn in The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond that the Chechen insurgency, which began as a secular, nationalist movement to create what was to be the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, was throughout the turn of the century “de-Chechenized,” taken over, Islamicized and jihadized, and ultimately supplanted by a successor, the self-declared Caucasus Emirate. The focus of war was thereby transformed from national liberation and statehood to a revolutionary, theo-ideological jihad to establish a Shariah law-based caliphate in the North Caucasus region from the Caspian to the Black Sea and throughout the “Muslim lands” of the Russian Federation. Moreover, he attests, it is linked to and actively part of the global jihadist movement, an ally (with material support flowing in both directions) of extremist Islamist forces including Al Qaeda and ISIS, and so is a threat not only to “infidel Russia” (which has been targeted by suicide bombers, “the jihadi method”), but to Europe (Denmark, Belgium and Spain, the sites of failed terrorist plots) and the U.S.
Hahn counters views that downplay or ignore the role of local and global jihadism in the current landscape in the Caucasus, and considers factors beyond Russian and Soviet cultural genocidal policies and authoritarian misrule, such as local cultural and religious traditions that account for that receptivity to jihadism (“an Islamic soil in which Islamism can take root”), and how the collapse of the Soviet Union ended their isolation and enabled Russia’s Muslims to forge ties with the larger Islamic community, including the increasingly active radical jihadis who offered an appealing revolutionary theo-ideology to rally behind. He exhaustively (and exhaustingly, as he repeatedly hammers points) documents the Caucasus Emirate’s growing links and mutual cooperation with groups like Al Qaeda. While there is no group named “Al Qaeda in the Caucasus” as there is, for instance, an “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”, Al Qaeda has had a permanent, although limited, presence in the region since the mid-1990s, not controlling but providing financing, training and even foreign mujahedin. On their part, the Caucasus Emirate became a terror network that joined the global jihadist alliance, declaring jihad against those warring on Islam – the US, Britain and Israel – not merely spreading global jihadi on their website and explicitly stating support for Al Qaeda and their ilk, but deploying mujahedin to fight in Syria, Yemen (one Caucasus Emirate leader rose to ISIS’s top military ranks and another to be a leading AQAP commander; it must be noted that this volume went to press before ISIS erupted across world headlines) and other global jihad fronts. Additionally, the Emirate openly had ties to Anwar al-Awlkaki, the late AQAP head, who sought to recruit terrorist cells to bring jihad to the “far enemy.” It is not disputed that the Boston Marathon bombers were at least indirectly inspired to jihad by the Caucasus Emirate (the older, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, considered joining the Caucasus Emirate’s ranks and reportedly had contact with its mujahedin).
While Hahn’s scholarship is commendably thorough, his relentlessness in pushing his viewpoint is off-putting, and his conclusion that the Caucasus Emirate is a major player in the global jihad and a real security threat to the U.S. is not substantiated so much as insisted on; the movement has lost three major leaders in the last siz months. Among the work’s other flaws is the complete absence of a glossary and of maps, each of which would facilitate a context for the reader. Nonetheless, the study is worth a look as it valuably fills in a gap in the overall picture of the revolutionary jihad that has involved so much of the world.