This substantial paper addresses the treatment of ‘pan-Islamism’ by Tsarist civil officials during the seven years between ‘Stolypin’s reaction’ in 1907 and the beginning of wwi. The study focuses on the texts produced on the eve and by the ‘Special Commission’ gathered by Stolypin in January 1910 “for the elaboration of measures aiming at thwarting the Tatar-Muslims’ influence in the Volga region,” and on echoes to this work among Russia’s Muslim opinion leaders. Reconstructing the vision of ordinary officials of the Tsar’s Home Office, O.B. shows that this administration’s conception of pan-Islamism was based on an association between outer and inner threats, built up on a fusion of religious and ethnic/national notions—Islam being perceived in this framework, at the same time, as a culture, a confession, and a national group (a national group potentially identified with the whole community of the faithful, and as such irrefragably opposed to the Christian world). The reaction of Muslim orators is traced first through one discourse pronounced in March 1912, in the Third State Duma of Russia, by the Kazan Tatar reform-minded jurist and politician Sadri Maqsudi (1879/80-1957). The author shows how his speech was centred on a notion very close to the Russian secularist vision of Islam—that of a necessary ‘communion (priobshchenie)’ of the Empire’s ‘backward’ Muslim populations with Russian ‘culture’ and ‘progress’. However “sincere” in may have been, as the author of the present paper questions, Maqsudi’s statements are confirmed by another, contemporary source: unpublished annotations added to the report of the 1910 Special Commission by the prominent Kazan Tatar reformist scholar, traveller and polygraph Muhammad Fatih Karimi (1870-1937).
Like Maqsudi’s speech, these notes are centred on the idea of a contribution of Islamic reform to the mutual “fusion (sliianie”—a term that would be very much in use in the early Soviet period—) of Muslim and Russian cultures inside the Russian Empire. As the author soundly argues, key features of these discourses developed by leading Tatar reformist authors, officially or not—Karimi’s notes in Russian were clearly written in preparation of public polemics—, are made by their command of Russian language and public norms, and their research of an absolute conformity of the notions they were promoting with those advocated by a majority of Russian officials—beginning with the Aufklärung-based, evolutionist notions of ‘culture’ and ‘civilisation.’ (From this viewpoint, the ‘Jadid’ discourse unquestionably marks a deep turn from reformist discourses developed by scholars of Islam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.) At the same time, the author opposes the contradictions between the ‘bipolar’ vision of Russian officials and the ‘progressive’ stance of Muslim reformists. So doing, O.B. illustrates the co-existence within these Muslim manners of world structuring of two mutually non-symmetrical and non-translatable “discursive spaces:” an ‘Islamic’ and a ‘Russian’ one—the first being implicitly present even in apparently the most ‘secularist’ Muslim pronouncements produced in the latter space. Paradoxically enough, this Muslim “cultural bilingualism,” bringing about varied forms of intellectual duplicity, did not always facilitate discussions between Muslim orators and Russian officials.
This contribution by an excellent connoisseur of archive resources in and outside of Russia brings a very useful contribution to the questioning of the lasting perceptions forged in the Cold War period about the relations between the Tsarist administration and varied Islamic-background populations of the Russian Empire. O.B. astutely takes into account unspoken resentments on both sides of the quibbles, and rightly stresses the mutual misunderstandings created by the utilisation of a common vocabulary. Though, it remains to be asked whether the very limited access that the author enjoys to the literature of the time, given her weak interest in vernacular languages, does not confine her to a narrow range of texts intended for the official sphere, in which ‘sincerity’ (the absencde of which O.B. very much deplores) does not appear a key feature. This very specific, if not specious kind of ‘Islamic discourse’ can be inded characterised only by the wiliness and endless apparent palinodes of its authors. It is also to be demanded whether the focusing of the spotlights upon a limited amount of work intended for an official audience, by essentially bilingual authors does not deprive us of essential aspects of their discourse—to say nothing of the extremely varied typology of Islamic discourses deployed throughout the Russian Empire during the last decade of the Tsarist period.