Reviews

Providing a rather stereotyped Orientalist vision of Islam in the North Caucasus, nourished by encyclopaedic literature on Islam ― a vision that compels ethnic groups to automatically submit to their respective historical confessional affiliations ― this article attempts to analyse (1) interrelations between the regional, local and community levels of the politics of Islam in Dagestan; (2) the relations between religious and secular politics; (3) the reflection of multinational Dagestani society in the Sufi paths’ mutual rivalries and alliances; and (4) the reasons for the failure of the republic’s Muslim Board to obtain religious hegemony within the republic. Besides orthographic mistakes (e.g., adhan should be preferred to “adham” for the Islamic call to prayer) and a series on cut-and-dried, often paradoxical assertions on Dagestan’s “extreme piety,” on the “Soviet mentality” of many Sufi shaykhs, or on the essentially religious motivations of protagonists identified exclusively as believers as in nineteenth-century report literature (e.g.: “It was inconceivable for the Dagestanis to make a life-or-death decision dictated by Chechnya’s ‘superficial’ Muslims [p. 756]”), the study provides a laborious general explanation of the conflict between Turkic ― Kumyk, Lezgi and Azerbaijani ― lowlanders and Caucasian highlanders in Soviet and present-day Dagestan. Turkic lowlanders are credited with more vulnerability to Soviet atheist policy than Avars, Dargis and Tabasarans living in remote mountains ― a value judgment that has not found in the text the beginning of an argumentation, and does not take into account the evolutions following the mass migrations of the 1930s to 1950s ― which, according to the authors, explains their opponents’ hostility to their aspiration at religious hegemony. The authors’ most convincing considerations lie in their evocation of the growth of Salafi influence among the Lezgi populations of Southern Dagestan (even if, in this case, the evocation of a post-Soviet “ideological vacuum” just adds one more stereotype to those reeled off up to there). In all, the article provides an interesting example of the literature produced on post-Soviet Islam through the categories of vernacular polemists, without a minimal effort at an economic and social identification of those who bear the different Islamic discourses presently on the market.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-7.3.B-596