Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Wahhabism’s Spread beyond North Caucasus Threatens Russia’s National Security and Only the State Can Deal with It, Mufti Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – The spread of radical Islamic ideas and organizations from the North Caucasus to the Middle Volga and other regions of the Russian Federation has gone so far that the existing Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) cannot cope with it, a leading mufti says, and consequently, the state must intervene against this threat to the country’s security.

            At a Kazan conference last Friday on “The Religious Influence of the North Caucasus on the Middle Volga: The Problem of Islamic Fundamentalism,” Farid Salman, head of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord, issued this call for forceful state intervention in the country’s Islamic affairs (www.kazan-center.ru/osnovnye-razdely/16/358/).

            Salman told that meeting, which was organized by the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research, that the impact of what he called “destructive processes” among Muslims in the Middle Volga had become so “obvious” that Moscow could no longer count on the MSDs to be able to police the situation.

            A decade ago, the mufti continued, there were few North Caucasians in the mosques of the region, but now there number has grown dramatically, and with that growth in size has come an increase in the influence such Wahhabis have on the young people of Tatarstan, the largest republic in the region.

             According to Salman, there cannot be any compromise with the Wahhabis, and the only acceptable approach is that of Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov: “absolute support of the Islam that is traditional for its region and no talks with the Wahhabis … Wahhabism cannot be defeted by the forces of the MSDs; only the state is in a position to do that.”

            Other speakers at the Kazan meeting provided additional arguments for Salman’s appeal to the state to move forcefully. Yana Amelina, the head of Caucasian research at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research there, said that in her view it is “now possible to speak about a single Islamist front from the North Caucasus to the Middle Volga.”

            The authorities in Tatarstan, she said, have begun to understand this and have “changed their policy,” but it is important to ensure that their actions “will not be limited to cosmetic changes: they must address the main problem.”

             Galina Khizriyeva, a senior scholar at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, added that the Wahhabis have changed their Internet strategy in order to enlist more supporters.  They have dropped their assumption that all Muslims will want to follow them and sought to recruit into their ranks young women even more than young men.

            Mikhail Fedko, a specialist on social and political conflict at Kazan’s National Research Technology University, said that the Wahhabis had recently expanded their influence beyond the Muslim community and were now having an impact on “the Russian nationalist youth of the Middle Volga.”

            According to young ethnic Russian Muslims, he said, “the Russian Orthodox Church is not openly conducting missionary work among Muslims fearing the anger of the latter. In this, the Orthodox clergy is very different from the Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who are actively and publically involved in missionary work among ethnic Muslims,” often with success.

            And finally, Rais Suleymanov, the head of the Volga Center which organized the conference, spoke about the impact of Tatars and Bashkirs who had served in the ranks of the Wahhabis in the North Caucasus and then returned to spread the ideas of the latter in their home areas.

             Summing up the meeting, Suleymanov said that it will be possible to “normalize” the situation but “only under the condition that a tough government line in support of the Islam traditional for Russia remains unvarying:  capitulating dialogue with Wahhabism as has taken place in Daghestan must not happen in Tatarstan.”
            Today, another Muslim leader pressed for government influence.  Appearing on a television program hosted by Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Patriarchate’s Department for Work with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, Perm Mufti Mukhammedgali Khuzin provided additional arguments for government intervention.
            Arguing that the Islamic community of Russia has been divided by the Arabs and the Turks into “spheres of influence and that Moscow must take steps to end that, Khuzin said that in the 1990s the groundwork for such influence was laid “when in certain MSDs ‘offices were occupied by serving diplomats of the Arab states” (interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=49892).
                To this day, he continued, “many Russian Muslim academic instsiutions are under the total control of foreign organizations.  The Moscow Islamic University, [for example,] is headed by a former staff worker of the embassy of Saudi Arabia.”  That would be Damir Khayretdinov, who speaks and writes frequently about Islamic issues.

            Last year, he continued, “several imams from Almetyevsk and Naberezhny Chelny admitted that in the early 1990s they cooperated with the special services of Saudi Arabia and recently a monthly stipend for their activity.” Khuzin said he personally had taken steps to prevent such things but strongly implied that other Muslim leaders in Russia had not.

            Over the last two decades, muftis and other MSD leaders have called on the Russian government to intervene to deal with their particular opponents, but these latest statements go beyond that and suggest that someone is testing the waters or even laying the groundwork for massive government intervention.

            Should that happen, it is entirely possible that the entire MSD system, inherited by the Russian Federation from the USSR and the Russian Empire, could collapse, possibly leading to even more uncertainty among Russia’s growing Muslim community and ultimately forcing Moscow to double its forces or back down.

            Whatever the center decided to do in that event, and it is far more likely that under Vladimir Putin, the regime would employ even more force, the door seems to be open for a clash between the Muslim community and Moscow far more serious than anything that has happened since Nikita Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign in 1959 and 1960.


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