Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia May Soon have More than 80 MSDs, Opening the Way for Radicalization, Observers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – Russia may soon have more than 80 Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs), with many federation subjects having two and some as many as four, creating a situation in which extremists can easily navigate among them or even seize control of one or another, according to a Moscow watchdog group.

            The Science and Education Against Terror group, which a group of scholars created to keep track of terrorist groups, says that most Russian Muslims follow “traditional” Islam but that the unwieldy administrative structures inherited from Soviet times and expanded since 1991 has opened the way to splits and radicalization (scienceport.ru/analitics/Islamskiy-faktor-7622.html).

            And last week, the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies held its first seminar on “The Improvement of Mechanisms of the Interaction of the State with Muslim Religious Organizations” whose attendees reached a similar if more dramatically expressed conclusion about where things stand now (www.riss.ru/?activityId=156).

            According to the Science and Education Against Terror group, “it is no secret” that the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) headed by Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin has pursued a policy of “’divide and conquer’” in the regions, creating new communities in order to be able to establish alternative MSDs.

            In the past, the group points out, “the Islamic umma on the territory of Russia was divided between the ‘Tatar’ and the ‘North Caucasus’ community,” but now “everything is mixed together and in every region, each has its own muftiate (MSD).” In one at least, Penza oblast, there are four of these institutions.

            And the situation is now better regarding those MSDs with all-Russian pretensions.  They include the Coordination Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus with 2200 parishes, the MSD of Tatarstan with 1300, of which 18 are outside of that republic, the Central MSD in Ufa with 1050 parishes, the SMR with 750, the Russian Association of Islamic Concord with 120 and the Islamic Congress of Russia with 50 subordinate parishes.

            According to the expert community, the Moscow group says, the expansion in the number of MSDs will continue into the future, “and 80 muftiates for the country is not a limit.” But what makes this development dangerous, it adds, is that it is allowing or even promoting “the radicalization of Islam” in the Russian Federation.

            Not only has Wahhabism gotten a second breath in the North Caucasus, the group observes, but this radical trend and others like it have gained official support in Daghestan, North Osetia and Tatarstan. And that development in turn has been exacerbated by the 2012 murders of traditional Muslim leaders in Tatarstan and North Osetia.

            As a result and despite the good work of Russia’s special services which have cut off funding channels to many radical groups, “a generation of young people, trained in Wahhabist ideology and ready for activity measures has grown up” and “the ‘Arab revolutions’ in the Middle East” are prompting many Islamists in Russia to increase their activities.

            That is all the more so, the group argues, because “a large number of international measures, in particular the Universiade-2013 in Kazan and the Olympics-2014 in Sochi are not a bad place des armes for terrorists” to attract attention to their cause by engaging in violent actions.

            The Russian Institute of Strategic Studies seminar reached similar conclusions, although it expressed them as it often has, in more dramatic terms.  Its participants said that “in the period from July 7, 2011 through July 2012 was destroyed almost the entire Muslim elite which identified itself” with traditional Islam.

            That development, the seminar suggested, prompted the RISS to create a special group to “monitor” developments in this regard and track “the causes for the worsening of the situation and for predicting the further course of events” in order to be able to work out new “approaches” regarding the relationship between the state and Muslim organizations like the MSDs.

            One of the seminar’s participants, Farid Salman, who represents the Russian Association for Islamic Concord, said that recent developments mean that “we can speak about the formation of an entire stratum of Muslims [in the Russian Federation] who are patriots of other states and have a Muslim identity not connected with its spiritual roots and Russian civilization.”

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