Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Russian has Become the Third Language of the Islamic State, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 24 – Vladimir Putin wants to expand the Russian-speaking world in all directions but he is unlikely to be pleased by one place where the growth of Russian speakers has been especially great.  In the ranks of those fighting for the Islamic State, Russian speakers now outnumber those who speak any other language except for Arabic or English.

            Aleksey Grishin, head of Moscow’s Religion and Society Analytic Center, says that at present there are approximately 90,000 people in the ranks of the Islamic State. Its activists are engaged in recruiting efforts in 24 different languages, of which Russian is now the third most common reflecting the group’s targeted populations (

            IS spotters and recruiters are currently spending from three to five million US dollars a day, money they have obtained largely from the sale of oil and antiquities on the territories the state controls, the Moscow expert says. And they are relying most heavily on three languages: Arabic, English and Russian.

            They use Arabic to recruit people from the Arab world, “from Morocco and Libya to Yemen and Iraq.” They use English to recruit Europeans and Americans. And they use Russian to attract Russians, residents of Central Asia and Azerbaijan, Crimean Tatars, and “Chechens living in the West.”

            Of the total number of active participants in the Islamic State, Russian speakers now form 5,000 to 10,000 – or seven to eleven percent – of the total. According to Grishin, approximately 300 to 500 of its activists are to be found in the city of Moscow itself, with others elsewhere in the former Soviet space or already in the Middle East.

            Islamic State recruiters are most active in major cities, he continues, because that is where the population and especially migrant workers are to be found. They work elsewhere primarily via the Internet, from sites based sometimes within the former Soviet space and sometimes from abroad.  It “is not important” where they are located,” Grishin says.

            Those involved in getting people to join the ranks of the Islamic State can be divided into two groups, spotters and recruiters. The first identify people Muslim or not who are unhappy with their current situation and may be interested in joining the IS. The others, using the names provided by the spotters, work to recruit them into IS ranks.

            Recruiters, Grishin says, have two goals: first, they seek to break the ordinary ties individuals have to family, friends and work place; and second, they use whatever interests such people have to draw them into IS ranks. If someone is interested in soccer, the recruiter is a soccer enthusiast; if he wants money, the recruiter says that is no problem.

            IS activists view almost anyone as a potential recruit if they can find some way to exploit his or her feelings of anger or incompleteness, but “it is simplest of all to recruit a Muslim” because IS propaganda is all about jihad and other Muslim values, Grishin argues. Thus the recruiter doesn’t have to overcome any religious barrier.

            To limit IS recruitment in Russia, he suggests, the Russian authorities need to do three things. First, they must publicly declare that they are going after the recruiters and will bring criminal charges against them. Indeed, he says, Moscow should consider making the punishments for those convicted of recruiting far harsher than they are now.

            Second, Grishin says, Moscow needs to “introduce in the upper classes of schools special anti-sectarian courses” in which pupils will have explained to them “the dangerous nature of various sects,” Muslim and otherwise.

            And third, the Russian government must “completely reform its work with migrants” to take into account the risk they pose as potential recruits for the Islamic State.  Not only do gastarbeiters represent a gold mine for IS recruiters, but they include numerous imams who prepare the way for recruitment.  That has to be stopped.

            Indeed, Grishin adds, many special services in Central Asia are now complaining about something that no one expected: Many Central Asians are going to Moscow and other Russian cities as ordinary traditional Muslims and then returning as Islamists who threaten the stability of their own countries.

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