Vienna, November 3 – In what may presage a new push by the Russian government to create a centralized Muslim spiritual directorate (MSD), a Moscow prosecutor has said that Islam’s lack of a clerical hierarchy has allowed extremists to spread their influence more easily among Muslims than among those groups with such hierarchies.
Vyacheslav Sizov, the head of the Procuracy General’s Administration for Sup0erivsion of the Enforcement of Laws on Federal Security, Interethnic Relations and Preventing Extremism, sharply contrasted the situation within Islam with those in Catholicism and Orthodoxy (mk.ru/social/publications/378699.html).
In an interview published in today’s “Moskovsky komsomolets,” Sizov suggested that a major reason for the rise of extremism among Muslims over the last decade is the lack of “centralized, hierarchical institutions of the type of the papacy or the patriarchate, which objectively would block extremist ideas and their practical manifestation.”
And he continued with the observation that even the MSDs which exist in the Russian Federation and which are charged by the state with maintaining order within the Islamic parishes under their supervision have proved unable to ensure the ideological supervision necessary to prevent the spread of extremism.
Indeed, he said, because Russia’s Muslims lack a strong domestic educational system, they have had to rely on foreign training academies, many of which are seedbeds of radicalism: At present, Sizov noted, “more than 2,000 imams, who have received their education abroad are working in Russia.”
Of still greater concern to him, it appears, is that about 3,000 of Russia’s Muslims are receiving such training abroad, of whom fewer than one in 15 have been vetted and sponsored by one or another of the more than 50 MSDs in Russia. As a result, few know what kind of educations they are getting and what they will tell their parishes on their return to Russia.
Sizov gave what is the politically correct answer to this problem, given that both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have at one time or another offered it: “the effective means against the dissemination of radical forms of Islam like Wahhabism must be the development of a network of religious [schools] in Russia itself.”
But his suggestion that the existing MSDs are not even able to control the flow of young people abroad for training indicates that he, like other Russian officials and some MSD leaders, would like to see the creation of a super-MSD that would impose the kind of “power vertical” in Islam that the Moscow Patriarchate has sought to do in Russian Orthodoxy.
Even as he pointed to the importance of such verticals in combating extremism, however, Sizov did not acknowledge either that Islam as a matter of doctrine and practice does not have a clergy, let alone a clericical hierarchy, or that Russia’s efforts to create such a hierarchy have often driven radicals underground but not out of business.
In the course of his interview, Sizov made five other important comments about the state of extremist crime and official responses to it in Russia. First, he admitted that extremist crimes there are continuing to rise – up six percent over the last year – although he suggested that the growth was slowing: A year earlier, he said, such crimes had risen by 30 percent.
Second, Sizov argued that “an analysis of criminal cases shows that one of the basic causes [of such crimes] is the dissemination of ideas of religious, national and racial supremacy, especially among minors and young people” and also by “the distorted conception of patriotism” that some groups have.
Third, the procuracy researcher continued, young people make up a disproportionate share of those convicted of extremism crimes, with more than 23 percent of those convicted being under 18 and with almost all of them acting in groups rather than as individuals as is more often the case among older people.
Fourth, Sizov conceded, the government bears some of the responsibility for the rise of extremism because regional officials have not always enforced the law on migrant workers and their arrival has been presented by nationalist groups as a “criminal” threat to Russian national identity.
And fifth, he said that despite the rise in extremist crimes, the powers that be have not been able to prevent extremist groups from taking advantage of the November 4th holiday, converting it in the eyes of most Russians from its intended message of reconciliation to one of nationalism and even xenophobia.