Sunday, December 6, 2015

Are Mosques in North Caucasus a Source of Radicalization or a Defense Against It?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 6 – The debate between those who believe that mosques are a source of radicalization and that Russian society is better off without them and those who think that mosques by providing religious knowledge are a defense against the political abuse of Islam has broken out with renewed force in the North Caucasus.

            On the “Svobodnaya Pressa-Yug” portal, Anton Chablin, a journalist who specializes on the North Caucasus, surveys the participants in this debate who include not only politicians and social activists but scholars and religious leaders from the region as well (

·         Vladimir Polyboyarenko, a former member of the Cherkess Soviet of Peoples Deputies and now deputy human rights ombudsman for Stavropol kray, says that “neither the authorities nor the Orthodox need to oppose the construction of mosques. That won’t stop the process,” but what it will do is “lead to the radicalization of part of Muslims. Do we need that? Of course not!”

·         Aleksandr Yakushev, former chairman of the Nationalities and Cossack Committee of Stavropol kray, says that he remains opposed to the construction of new mosques in areas where Muslims are a minority because imams seldom if ever intervene to try to calm interethnic and inter-religious tensions. At the same time, he says, where they form a compact majority, there is no reason to try to block the construction of mosques.

·         Dmitry Pikalov, head of the Knight’s Move Discussion Club at the North Caucasus Federal University, says that Muslims have the constitutional right to have mosques, but they do not have the right to have them wherever they want them if others are opposed. Building large ones in the center of major cities only attracts radicals. That requires the local special services to become more active in checking on what is going on. Where Muslims are not the majority, he says, any decision about a new mosque should be taken by referendum.

·         Georgy Legkobitov, deputy chairman of the Social Council of the South and North Caucasus Federal Districts, says that “more is not always better” when it comes to mosques.  “Everything depends on the selection of the place” they are to be put up.  They should be situated in places where they will not attract extremists or generate inter-religious and thus inter-ethnic tension. 

·         Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, says that “the absence of open and public places for prayer violates the constitution … elicits a strong negative reaction from the Muslim community, and also drives young people into informal groups and shadow prayer houses where the probability of infiltration by extremist preachers is significantly higher.” Building mosques, she suggests, is thus “a serious step toward the neutralization of the propaganda of the extremists who call Muslims to go to Syria … Today, when the leadership of Russia is waging war in Syria, it needs the support, understanding or at least the absence of opposition from its own Muslims.”

·         Dzhulyetta Dzhanteyeva, a senior researcher at the Karachayevo-Cherkess Institute of Humanitarian Research, says “it is not a secret for anyone” that there has been “a process of Muslim rebirth in Russia” in recent decades and that there is a serious need for more mosques.  Opposing their construction “will only complicate inter-religious and at the same time inter-ethnic relations.”

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