That was just one of the remarkable comments to surface at this meeting of Daghestani specialists not only from the republic but from Moscow, Syria and Turkey. Indeed, many of the statements they made are almost unprecedented in their criticism of what Moscow has been doing in the North Caucasus.
Among the most notable were offered by Khabib Magomedov of the republic’s Anti-Terrorist Committee. He said says that “everything being done in the struggle against terrorism isn’t curing the underlying problem.” Instead, siloviki actions are having exactly the opposite effect.
Moreover, the local expert continued, many still do not recognize how ethnic and religious factors are combining and how that combination requires “therapeutic” rather than “forceful” medicine nor do they know how to deal with the radicals’ use of the authority of the Imam Shamil, “who wasn’t a salafi.”
That is part of a general problem, he suggests, one that reflects Moscow’s use of atheists to fight religious radicalism. That is a mistake, Magomedov argues, because an atheist “cannot understand the motivation of an individual” who is acting on a religious basis. The atheist thus does things that only deepen that individual’s faith.
Another participant, Zaid Abdulagatov, a republic sociologist, said that the center has failed to define what extremism is and has exacerbated that lack by removing from the basic lexicon “national liberation movement,” a term that would keep Russians from treating as extremist a phenomenon that is something else.
A third speaker, Akhmed Dzhamaludinov, an aide to the rector of the Makhachkala Theological Institute, suggested that Russian officials had failed to recognize that “radicals today have changed the structure and methods of their work,” dressing like others, shaving their bears, and opening cafes to attract new recruits.
And a fourth speaker, Ruslan Gereyev, head of the Center for Islamic Research on the North Caucasus, added that in his view the biggest problem was that 30 percent of Daghestan’s population consists of young people, that social lifts don’t work, and that the only choices are emigration or joining the radicals.
“We joke among ourselves that in Surgut one can speak Lezgin and that in a short time have been formed entire villages of Lezgins, Kumyks, and Nogays.” But those who don’t leave in that way leave in another: they become discouraged and thus open to recruitment by radical Islamists.