Sunday, June 26, 2016

'Census of Islamist Extremists' Backfiring in Daghestan

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – The police in Daghestan have been ordered to carry out a census of Islamist extremists in that republic, but the numbers they report are likely to be much exaggerated given that officers have been told that they will lose their jobs if they report lower figures than their bosses expect, according to Elena Masyuk.

            The “Novaya gazeta” journalist says that this enumeration, which Daghestanis call “the Wahhabi count,” is dangerously counterproductive because the count itself is being used to limit the rights of Daghestanis and mosques is radicalizing society and leading more people to join the Islamists in the hills of the republic or in the Middle East (

                There is no legal basis for this census except from some Soviet rulings of the 1970s, she adds, although officials say that it has been authorized by Moscow officials. And there is no agreement among officials as to how many people are on it, with one senior Makhachkala official saying there are 9,000 on the list, while other says there are 16,000.

            But once someone is put on the list, it is in almost every case for life. (There have been a few cases in which the courts have removed an individual but only a very few, Masyuk says.) Once on the list, an individual cannot leave his village or city without permission, can be stopped at all guard posts and taken to the police station, can be forced to share his telephone contacts, declare his income and mosque attendance, be fingerprinted, and so on, all without any court finding of involvement in extremist groups.

            This census alone, she says, is creating “great nervousness in society and eliciting distrust among the population toward the authorities,” especially because the police are including in the list not only Wahhabis but Sufis, the traditional and dominant trend of Islam in that North Caucasus republic.

            The list is creating particular problems for two groups: young people who facing massive unemployment in the republic are denied the right to move outside the republic to find work and thus may be inclined to turn to the Islamists, and the country’s Muslim leaders who are being increasingly harassed by officials.

            Idris Yusupov, a journalist at Makhachkala’s “Novoye delo,” told Masyuk that “now, the authorities are not simply detaining parishioners” of mosques but opening cases “regarding imams and heads of mosque councils.”  Using “fabricated cases,” the authorities deprive the mosques of leaders and then close the mosques because they don’t have leaders.

            At the same time, the “Novaya gazeta” journalist continues, Daghestani police are trying to hide what they are doing. In the past, they detained people coming from prayers right outside the mosque; but now, the militiamen wait until the parishioners have gone a street or two away and then arrest them.

            In recent months, the Daghestani authorities have closed “at a minimum” 13 mosques, including some Salafi one. For Makhachkala’s silovikis, all Salafis are “potential terrotirsts and Wahhabis.”  But they are doing much the same to many Sufis, who had earlier been left untouched because of their “traditional” role in Daghestani society.

            Masyuk concludes with words that should lead Moscow and Makhachkala to rethink what they are doing. “Yes, it is true that in Daghestan as in almost the entire North Caucasus, there is an underground and there are Wahhabis for whom fighting for the faith against ‘the unbelievers’ and ‘bad’ Muslims has become a holy task.”

            And “there are young people who have been subject to influence of Islamist radicals who do not have work or prospects for securing their lives. But to put all these without distinction on a prophylactic list is not only not rational but illegal and anti-constitutional. It will generate nothing except anger, flight into the forests, or departure to fight in the Middle East.”

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