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The Wrong Islam: Barriers to the Incorporation of Labor Migrants in Tatarstan

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Abstract:

Considerable research has investigated the dynamics underlying the difficulties Muslim labor migrants face in industrialized, liberal democratic societies in Western Europe. Among the purported factors, Western Europe’s limited experience in accommodating reverse migration from its former colonies, and their non-Western cultural and religious traditions, looms large. Seeking to apply these frameworks for threat perception in more diverse societal contexts, this paper explores the barriers to incorporation faced by labor migrants from Central Asia in Russia’s majority-Muslim region of Tatarstan. Praised for avoiding ethnic conflict between the majority Tatar population and the minority Russian population, Tatarstan constructed public institutions to support ethnic diversity and Tatar culture. These institutions expanded their purview to include the influx of immigrants after the dissolution of the USSR and refugees fleeing the violence of Tajikistan’s civil war. Given this experience, Tatarstan been touted as an exemplar for incorporating Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia, who seek employment in such numbers that Russia is now host to the world’s third-largest immigrant population.

This paper argues, however, that the Islamization of Tatar ethnic identity has reduced labor migrants’ access to social incorporation in Tatarstan and the political relationship between Moscow and Tatarstan only amplifies the effects of this exclusion. The marginalization of Central Asian migrants is an unexpected outcome in Tatarstan, given the region’s stability of interethnic relations and the linguo-cultural similarities between Tatars and most ethnic groups in Central Asia. Even absent the problematically assumed avenues for social incorporation for “co-ethnics,” the abundance of mosques and vitality of Islamic life in Tatarstan ought to increase the likelihood of social incorporation, especially in comparison to Moscow, where only six mosques are available to the city’s two million Muslims. Furthermore, Tatarstan constructed public integrative institutions for forced migrants, providing these immigrants with access to regional bureaucracies, representation in advisory institutions to regional executive branch, and spaces to celebrate cultural diversity. Yet in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti in 2012 and the specter of ISIS, I argue that Central Asian labor migrants are increasingly viewed as security threats and face barriers to accessing these institutions.

I argue the contemporary construction of Tatar ethnic identity in Tatarstan conflates Tatar identity with Jadidism, an interpretation of Islam originating in the region. This Islamization of Tatar ethnic identity has marginalized Central Asian migrants along ethnic lines, as there is an assumed link between migrants’ ethnicity and interpretations of Islam that are viewed as foreign, regressive, and more readily radicalized. This obstructs migrants’ access to the incorporative opportunities available through Islamic institutions and social events, increasing migrants’ reliance on the public integrative institutions. Yet the operating protocols of these institutions prohibit any attempts to assuage the increasing securitization of labor migration in the public sphere. This leaves labor migrants marginalized in Tatarstan society despite assumptions to the contrary.

Reinforcing these local dynamics, Tatarstan has achieved a special relationship with the federal government, in which Tatarstan is viewed as a leading authority on Islamic education in Russia. This promotion of Jadidism and Tatarstan as a center of religious authority is not without controversy in Russia, yet it marks a political dynamic unique to the Western experience, as a domestic minority ethnic group receives federal support and recognition at the expense of other ethnic groups.

To make my argument, I begin with an overview of the constructivist and institutional literatures in ethnic conflict and highlight the tension the case of Tatarstan presents for both literatures, as it is a subnational case in which previously successful institutions begin to break down while identities are simultaneously constructed. I also use the theoretical concept of “meso-nation” to utilize the threat perception literature within migration politics to structure the dynamics we observe in Tatarstan. Using interview data collected in Tatarstan in 2013-2014, archival newspaper data, and literature produced by regional Islamic organizations and integrative institutions, I demonstrate that labor migrants have increasingly been viewed as a security threat based on their ethnicity and present the difficulties these populations face in Tatarstan. I then explicate the relationship Tatarstan has built with the federal government to demonstrate the potentially far-reaching effects Tatarstan’s ethnic politics on labor migrant incorporation across Russia.

Most Common Document Word Stems:

tatarstan (192), region (165), polit (104), russia (98), ethnic (96), migrant (88), migrat (79), labor (78), feder (69), russian (66), econom (62), author (57), tatar (56), polici (56), shaimiev (54), islam (48), kazan (46), without (44), assembl (42), cite (41), permiss (41),
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MLA Citation:

Johnson, Colin. "The Wrong Islam: Barriers to the Incorporation of Labor Migrants in Tatarstan" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, TBA, San Francisco, CA, Aug 31, 2017 <Not Available>. 2018-06-19 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1256220_index.html>

APA Citation:

Johnson, C. , 2017-08-31 "The Wrong Islam: Barriers to the Incorporation of Labor Migrants in Tatarstan" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, TBA, San Francisco, CA Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2018-06-19 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1256220_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Considerable research has investigated the dynamics underlying the difficulties Muslim labor migrants face in industrialized, liberal democratic societies in Western Europe. Among the purported factors, Western Europe’s limited experience in accommodating reverse migration from its former colonies, and their non-Western cultural and religious traditions, looms large. Seeking to apply these frameworks for threat perception in more diverse societal contexts, this paper explores the barriers to incorporation faced by labor migrants from Central Asia in Russia’s majority-Muslim region of Tatarstan. Praised for avoiding ethnic conflict between the majority Tatar population and the minority Russian population, Tatarstan constructed public institutions to support ethnic diversity and Tatar culture. These institutions expanded their purview to include the influx of immigrants after the dissolution of the USSR and refugees fleeing the violence of Tajikistan’s civil war. Given this experience, Tatarstan been touted as an exemplar for incorporating Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia, who seek employment in such numbers that Russia is now host to the world’s third-largest immigrant population.

This paper argues, however, that the Islamization of Tatar ethnic identity has reduced labor migrants’ access to social incorporation in Tatarstan and the political relationship between Moscow and Tatarstan only amplifies the effects of this exclusion. The marginalization of Central Asian migrants is an unexpected outcome in Tatarstan, given the region’s stability of interethnic relations and the linguo-cultural similarities between Tatars and most ethnic groups in Central Asia. Even absent the problematically assumed avenues for social incorporation for “co-ethnics,” the abundance of mosques and vitality of Islamic life in Tatarstan ought to increase the likelihood of social incorporation, especially in comparison to Moscow, where only six mosques are available to the city’s two million Muslims. Furthermore, Tatarstan constructed public integrative institutions for forced migrants, providing these immigrants with access to regional bureaucracies, representation in advisory institutions to regional executive branch, and spaces to celebrate cultural diversity. Yet in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti in 2012 and the specter of ISIS, I argue that Central Asian labor migrants are increasingly viewed as security threats and face barriers to accessing these institutions.

I argue the contemporary construction of Tatar ethnic identity in Tatarstan conflates Tatar identity with Jadidism, an interpretation of Islam originating in the region. This Islamization of Tatar ethnic identity has marginalized Central Asian migrants along ethnic lines, as there is an assumed link between migrants’ ethnicity and interpretations of Islam that are viewed as foreign, regressive, and more readily radicalized. This obstructs migrants’ access to the incorporative opportunities available through Islamic institutions and social events, increasing migrants’ reliance on the public integrative institutions. Yet the operating protocols of these institutions prohibit any attempts to assuage the increasing securitization of labor migration in the public sphere. This leaves labor migrants marginalized in Tatarstan society despite assumptions to the contrary.

Reinforcing these local dynamics, Tatarstan has achieved a special relationship with the federal government, in which Tatarstan is viewed as a leading authority on Islamic education in Russia. This promotion of Jadidism and Tatarstan as a center of religious authority is not without controversy in Russia, yet it marks a political dynamic unique to the Western experience, as a domestic minority ethnic group receives federal support and recognition at the expense of other ethnic groups.

To make my argument, I begin with an overview of the constructivist and institutional literatures in ethnic conflict and highlight the tension the case of Tatarstan presents for both literatures, as it is a subnational case in which previously successful institutions begin to break down while identities are simultaneously constructed. I also use the theoretical concept of “meso-nation” to utilize the threat perception literature within migration politics to structure the dynamics we observe in Tatarstan. Using interview data collected in Tatarstan in 2013-2014, archival newspaper data, and literature produced by regional Islamic organizations and integrative institutions, I demonstrate that labor migrants have increasingly been viewed as a security threat based on their ethnicity and present the difficulties these populations face in Tatarstan. I then explicate the relationship Tatarstan has built with the federal government to demonstrate the potentially far-reaching effects Tatarstan’s ethnic politics on labor migrant incorporation across Russia.


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