Given the dangers that the United States faces in Iran and Syria, and the rapidly deteriorating U.S. relationship with Russia with respect to these and other issues, one does not have to agree entirely with Andrew Wilson to appreciate his timely and insightful essay. He writes:
Till recently, the West (and, for historical reasons, particularly Britain) prided itself on having a unique insight into the thinking and politics of the Arab world. Something that involved a sympathetic, and even romantic, attitude towards Islam, evidenced by the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia and others.The British and Americans never paused to consider the rival claim of Russia to an equal, or even superior expertise in the same region, sustained by a wide-ranging foreign intelligence service, the professional input of a far-seeing academic community, and intercourse with Arab élites trained in Soviet universities;Today the West subscribes to the ultimately liberating consequences of the Arab spring. But Russia obviously has a much more skeptical attitude; and the West might do well to heed it.What give Russia its title to an independent view is its proximity to the arena in which things are happening. The wind of militant Islam is already blowing not only on the heterogeneous ex-Soviet republics which offer a frail barrier to events in Iran an Afghanistan but also on its own territory in the North Caucasus.
Click here to continue reading Wilson's article.
And click here to read about Russian Turkestan, or Russian Central Asia; here, to read about the Basmachi Revolt of 1916-1931, which is virtually unknown in the West; and here, to watch a classic, Soviet-era, Russian Eastern about the uprising. Considered Russia's most popular movie, White Sun of the Desert illuminates Wilson's point about Russia's proximity to and long history of involvement in "the East."