The groups have existed for the last 15 years, the three say; but they gained prominence this year when Daghestani “morals police” groups were successful in forcing the cancellation of musical programs the groups did not approve of and in keeping artists they object to from coming to Daghestan to perform.
In Chechnya, they have also assumed a higher profile in the last year. Karfagen has existed as an online group for much of the last year, although it was blocked for extremism by the Russian authorities in September. Nonetheless, it appears to be continuing to function as a group with more than 50,000 followers and to enjoy Kadyrov’s backing.
If in Daghestan, the groups appear to focus most of their attention on popular culture, in Chechnya, they target young women whom they believe are violating Islamic norms by their dress, behavior or decision to marry non-Chechens. The groups post pictures of women they have targeted online and encourgage others to shun them.
Most of these activities have little or no basis in Islam or in local cultures. Instead, they the are driven by a combination of young men who are still going through puberty and seeking to define their sexuality by oppressing others, the experts say, and of advocates of “pure Islam” for whom ethnicity is not important but a rigid Saudi variant of the faith is.
What is especially worrisome, the three experts say, is that the groups are not only intimidating others into doing what they want but adding ever new categories of people and actions they find objectionable. If that continues and if the authorities do not find a way to combat it, they suggest, the regimes which are now secular will not long remain so.
Instead, there will be an Islamic state or states in the region, imposed not by fighters in the forests but by young men using the Internet to intimidate others and thus gaining positions that neither shariat nor adat nor national cultures justify.