Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Daghestanis Say Closing Mosques Heralds Return to Stalinist Times

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – Many liberal activists in Russia and abroad see the Putin regimes “tightening of the screws” around freedoms enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution as an indication that the Kremlin leader is step-by-step taking Russia back toward the years of Stalin’s Great Terror.

            But others in the Russian Federation have their own measures of the return to the Stalinist past, including many Muslims in Daghestan, the most Islamic republic in the country, who view the closure of mosques by officials as a clear sign of a return to the situation there in 1937 (kavpolit.com/articles/zakrytie_mechetej_v_dagestane_kerosinom_ogon_ne_po-23144/).

            Those who are taking steps in that direction forget,in the words of one experts cited by Kavkazskaya politika journalist Faina Kachabekova that “you can’t put out a fire with kerosene.”  If you try, they warn, you will only spread the flames. Closing mosques or repressing imams will only lead “to negative consequences,” the leaders of the Islamic community there say.

             In response to the closing of a series of mosques in Daghestan by the secular authorities in the name of fighting extremism, the Makhachkala journal “Chernovik” hosted a round table about how Daghestanis are reacting and what the consequences will be for them and for the authorities as a result.

            Nazhmudin Nazhmudinov, the imam of the Osman mosque, says that the closing of mosques in the name of fighting Salafism has now become a trend, a reflection of what he calls “an incorrect policy” that fails to recognize that closing mosques will have exactly the opposite effect that those who are carrying it out hope for.

            Daghestani Muslims are furious, he said, noting that in Khasavyurt alone, nearly 5,000 people, “99 percent of whom are from the youth,” demonstrated against the closing of a mosque there. Things could easily get out of hand, and he suggested that the fact that seven imams have been called in by the authorities for warnings suggests that it will.

            “We sense,” Nazhmudinov continues, “that the situation is become more tense as a result of these events. People understand that today they will close one mosque, tomorrow another and so on. The majority see in these methods a return to Stalinist times of 1930-1937.”

            Mikhail Shevchenko, the chief editor of Kavpolit, says that the closing of mosques is undermining not only the Muslim Spiritual Directorate but also Sunni Muslims in general.  When such things are done without discussion, it only leads those who object to adopt more radical positions.

            He calls on parishioners to appeal to the human rights ombudsman and the courts to block such illegal actions by the siloviki.

            Irina Staodubrovskaya, a specialist on Islam at the Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy, says that the closing of mosques reflects the fact that there is “no dialogue between society and the authorities … there are no mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts” and consequently things will get worse: “Dousing a fire with kerosene is not the best means of putting it out.”

            She urges both Muslims and the authorities to try to find a way to speak with one another before violence erupts.  If and when that happens, the scholar continues, “nothing will restore the situation to what it was before.”

            And Abakar Abakarov, a leader of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, adds that this problem is not restricted to the last month or to Daghestan. Rather it has been going on across Russia for the last two or three years and has involved the shuttering of more than 15 mosques from Kaliningrad to Ussuriisk.

            “Any sober individual understands that when we close a salafi mosque, we play into the hands of radical preachers. They move from one apartment to another, and six months or a year later, this can lead to an uncontrolled situation.”

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