Thursday, October 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: One in Every Three Daghestanis Now Supports Islamic Radicalism, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – One in every three Daghestanis is a supporter of “an eclectic radical Islamist ideology,” one is a follower of traditional Islam, and one identifies as secular and does not wish to be subjected to “harsh religious limits,” according to a Russian analyst who has closely followed ethnic and religious trends in the Russian Federation.

            These figures, although only an estimate because no real sociological studies have been done there recently, are disturbing, Yana Amelina writes in the current issue of “Zavtra,” not only because they suggest that “time is working against” Russia but also because they highlight Moscow’s failure to understand the problem (

            On the one hand, most of the followers of Islamist extremism are members of the younger generation. And on the other, most Russian observers have failed to recognize how “eclectic” Islamist radicals are not only in Daghestan and other republics of the North Caucasus but also elsewhere in the Russian Federation.

            “There is no sense,” she insists, “of speaking only about Wahhabism,” as if that were “the main extremist trend.” Instead, analysts and policy makers need to recognize that Islamist radicalism includes elements of Wahhabism as well as the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic party banned in Russia.

            As recently as a few years ago, Amelina continues, “the supporters of these trends would not do anything jointly. [But] now they are combining into a single radical eclectic Islamist ideology, and even embracing other extremist trends.”  That makes radicalism more difficult to spot and far more difficult to fight.

            There are several reasons that such “an aggressive religious ideology” has made inroads in the Caucasus, “which for centuries followed traditional Islam,” she says. Among the most important is “a survival of the past,” one that reflects the continuing attachment of people in the Caucasus to Soviet ideas given the failure of the Russian state to formulate a new one.

            “Many people [in the North Caucasus], especially members of the older generation, up to now,” Amelina suggests, “continue to call themselves Soviet people and would like to see the return of the Soviet Union at the very least in the ideological sphere.”

            Another reason behind the rise of extremist is the crisis in traditional adat law.  “Whatever else one might say,” she notes, “it is experiencing absolutely the same problems that Russian society is – the devaluation of customary values, spiritual degradation,and the collapse of social and in part family ties.”

            “Radical Islam is filling this ideological vacuum,” Amelina says.

            The proponents of radical Islamism present it “as a panacea for all problems. The radical ideologues tell their followers that the goal of jihad, which the Caucasus Imarate and other band formations are conducting, consists not simply in the construction of an Islamicstate in the Caucasus but a struggle for the happy future of all humanity.”

             “To a certain degree,” Amelina continues, “present-day extremist Islam plays the same role as the communist idea did at the beginning of the twentieth century,” both in that it gives its adepts global goals and in that it conveys them in a simple way that “even the most illiterate peasant” can understand them.

            The radical Islamists in this way provide “simple answers to the most complex problems and also simple methods of resolving all problems: ‘unbelievers’ and ‘incorrect’ believers are guilty of all misfortunes and they must be either changed or destroyed.”  Like it or not, “this primitivism works” and is extremely attractive to many.

            Amelina argues that there is something in all this which is surprising.  The “Islamic terrorist international” has been conducting a war against Russia “for almost two decades.”  It has tried to “dismember Russia” and to end Russian control in republics and oblasts which have a Muslim population

            But despite this clearly ideological campaign, Russia has not conducted “any ideological war against extremist Islamic ideology.” Indeed, it has tolerated or even unintentionally promoted it by allowing young Muslims to study abroad even as Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries have largely put a stop to that.

            “What have [Russians] not learned anything” from their experience in the Caucasus?  “Logic says that salafi pressure on Russia if everything remains as it is will only intensify.”  But unfortunately, “Russia has enough of its own [nationalist] extremists,” people who say that Moscow should let the Caucasus go because Russians “don’t need it.”

            But “those who call for letting the Caucasus go, are simply illiterate and do not know that a large part of the Caucasians, [indeed their] overwhelming majority are loyal citizens of Russia; more than that, there are more real patriots of Russia and state-thinking people [in the Caucasus] than there are in Moscow.”

            Moreover, Amelina continues, “if one recalls the second Chechen war, then [it is clear that] Russian in fact owes its territorial integrity precisely to the Daghestanis” who fought Basayev and Khattab on their own.” Had they not, Russia “could have lost Daghestan and possibly a number of neighboring republics.”

            Despite that, there are clearly some “very dangerous processes” occurring in Daghestan now, she writes.  “The extremists are step by step seizing positions in society, and they simply kill their opponents. “ Radical Islam is “on the attack.” Obviously, “not all [its adepts] are conducting armed ‘jihad.’ Most of its members are simply supporters.

            Somewhat paradoxically, Amelina argues, Daghestanis have been restrained by the example of Chechnya under Maskhadov.  They, “having seen that instead of constructing ‘an ideal Islamic state,’” Chechnya became “a bandit enclave where illegality and anarchy were the rule.” Because of that, “the Daghestanis chose Russia.”

            But now, “many years have passed and Shariat Ichkeria has disappeared like smoke, including from the memory of people” in Daghestan.  And of course, “the younger generation was deprived of this memory altogether.  That is why it is so easily drawn into the world of “extremist propaganda.”

            Under these conditions, Amelina concludes, Russia must offer the North Caucasus genuine economic development. But even more, it must fill the ideological vacuum “as quickly as possible.” But she notes that “time, alas, is working against [Russia]," especially if Russia fails to understand and respond to the nature of the problem.

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