Friday, November 30, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet Regimes Unwittingly Opening the Door to Wahhabism

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 30 – By placing restrictions on the ability of traditional Muslims to spread their views and by assuming that force alone will be sufficient to contain and then destroy radical Islamists, post-Soviet regimes have opened the door for Wahhabism and other radical trends, accordingly to an Azerbaijani scholar.
Vasim Mamedaliyev, the dean of the theological faculty of Baku State University, argues that “as a result of the lack of educational work in society, radical Wahhabis are all the more intensively broader the spheres of their activity” in Azerbaijan and elsewhere (
And if the authorities hope to block the rise of the radicals, he continues, they not only will have to allow but in fact will need to actively promote “the broadening of the propaganda of Islam” as it is traditionally practiced in order to immunize the faithful to the false appeals of the Wahhabis.
That is especially true in post-communist countries, where many people who know they are members of traditionally Islamic nations – the so-called “ethnic” Muslims – currently have little or no idea about what Islam is all about, a situation that puts them at particular risk of being influenced by outside groups like the Wahhabis.
Theologian Gadzhi Il’gar, the head of the Center for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience and Religion, seconded Mamedaliyev’s view. He told Baku's Zerkalo newspaper that defeating Wahhabism required “not only an expansion in the amount of propaganda about Islam but also efforts to improve the health of society” as a whole.
One step that would do both, he added, would be to lift “the unofficial prohibition on religious programming on domestic television channels.” That alone he said would “radically change” the situation among Azerbaijan’s Muslims, who would then recognize how far the Wahhabis deviate from traditional Islam.
Unfortunately, Il’gar said, “too often,” government officials assume that “administrative measures” – a euphemism for the application of police force – will be sufficient to end the Wahhabi menace, but in doing so, they fail to see that this is a battle of ideas and not just of militant actions.
That is not to say that force does not have a role, the theologian and religious rights activist said. “Naturally, the authorities must neutralize radical groupings which present a danger for the state, but taking such measures by itself will not solve the problems of the radicalization of society.”
Many people both in the post-Soviet states and elsewhere have made similar observations, but in the face of the drumbeat of coverage of specific violent actions or plans for actions by Wahhabis and other radical groups, their arguments are all too often ignored.
But those who advocate using the resources and postulates of Islam itself to immunize Muslims against the radicals appear to be gaining a larger audience in recent months, not only in the post-Soviet states but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world where Islamist radicals have made inroads.

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