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Prof. Menon wins top national award to study effects of "political Islam" on Russia

Rajan Menon, an expert in Russia, Asia and international and Eurasian security, has received a prestigious one-year fellowship from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to study the political manifestations of Islam in Russia.

Menon, the Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of international relations at Lehigh, is one of 11 "scholars of vision" in the U.S. to receive the grant, which is given through the Carnegie Scholars Program. The award offers Menon $100,000 in financial support, which he will use while on sabbatical next year to travel to Russia, conduct interviews and do research.

The title of Menon’s project is "Islam and the Politics, Foreign Policy, and National Security of the Russian Federation." He will focus on the republics of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia’s south Caucasus region and on the republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan in Russia’s interior. All contain significant Muslim populations.

"Islam and its political manifestations in Russia’s Caucasus region, as well as in Central Asia, will affect the entire future trajectory of Russia, including its domestic policy and foreign policy," says Menon.

What the example of Russia can teach about the challenges of "political Islam," says Menon, can be applied to other regions and countries, where, in some cases, these challenges are more acute.

"The future of Indonesia hinges on the question of whether the state can accommodate political Islam, whether it can reconcile its ethnic and religious diversity with its territorial integrity. Russia is not there yet; it still has a rather mono-ethnic population. But Russia has a fairly substantial Muslim population in the Caucasus and in other regions, and, like Indonesia, must also balance increasing religious and ethnic consciousness with the need to preserve its political order."

In the past two years, Menon has written several articles for major foreign-policy and foreign-affairs journals. These include "Another Year of Living Dangerously" (about Indonesia) and "Asia in the 21st Century: Power Politics Alive and Well" for The National Interest, and "Russia’s Ruinous Chechen War" for Foreign Affairs.

Menon is also one of five authors of Strategic Asia 2001: Power and Purpose, a comprehensive, independent study of Asia and its future that was published by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) and released at a conference of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. And he has written several book chapters and edited several books dealing with the topic of Islam and its effect on Russia’s national security as set in the context of Asia.

Russia’s war with secessionist rebels in Chechnya, which is almost a decade old, is the best-known manifestation of the challenges posed by political Islam, says Menon. Out of a population of 1.8 million people, about one-third of whom are Russian nationals, 300,000 people have been forced by the war to take refuge in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

"Chechnya is still bloody and troubled, and Russia is not one iota closer to a political or military solution," says Menon. "There’s no question that nasty characters, murderers and thugs are fighting the Russians in Chechnya. There’s also no question that the Russian military has committed rape, theft, execution-style murders and crimes against civilians.

"The analogy to America’s war in Vietnam is difficult to make," says Menon. "We had no territorial claim in Vietnam; we could withdraw. But states are territorial beings; they cannot let part of their territory walk away. And that is Russia’s predicament in Chechnya."

Menon has been interviewed frequently by news reporters for National Public Radio, the BBC, USA Today, and other radio and TV outlets and newspapers.

On May 3, Menon was invited by the Council on Foreign Relations to take part in its Congressional Roundtable Program. Menon briefed staff members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on India’s security dilemma.

Last fall, Menon received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to organize an international conference on globalization in Italy.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York is a general-purpose, grantmaking foundation established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie "for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people of the United States."

The Carnegie Scholars program funds research by young scholars and by established experts. A total of 28 fellowships have been awarded since 2000.

Menon’s class, the third class of scholars, will explore issues critical to civil society and terrorism, multicultural challenge in liberal democracies, ethnic conflict in Europe, race in American life, representative democracy, comparative development, constitutional configurations of the past, color-blind affirmative action, the sociology of military strategy and threat assessment, and the history of foreign aid.

Kurt Pfitzer
kap4@lehigh.edu

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2002

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