Staunton, November 8 – Roman Silantyev, the controversial Russian specialist on Islam, says that “more than 90 percent” of the money Muslims abroad sent to promote an Islamic rebirth in the Russian Federation, as diverted by those who received it for other selfish and corrupt ways, a development he says Moscow can only be pleased by.
Because that meant that fewer Islamist radicals were trained, he insists in a new article on the Antiterror.ru site, this misappropriation was “extremely useful” for Russia (www.smi-antiterror.ru/personality/professionals.htm?postId=17@cmsVBVideoPost&mode=1&id=11@cmsVBVideoBlog).
Silantyev, a protégé of Patriarch Kirill, has been studying the Muslim community of Russia for many years, and his views merit attention because they will receive it there. But his conclusions must be placed within the context of the broader message he has been delivering concerning Russia’s Muslims for most of the last decade.
On the one hand, here as in earlier articles and books, he seeks to present the leaders of the Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) as fundamentally corrupt and unreliable, a portrait that the leaders themselves reject and that most other specialists on Islam in the Russian Federation suggest is one-sided at a minimum.
And on the other, Silantyev again here as in earlier studies places the blame for the rise of radicalism among Muslims in the Russian Federation on foreigners. While no one disputes that Islamic centers and governments abroad have played a role, few experts downplay the domestic roots of radicalism as much as he does.
Silantyev begins his essay by asking rhetorically, “Can theft ever be useful?” And he suggests that corruption can be “extremely useful” for Russia. If, of course, extremists and terrorists are involved in it.” And he devotes the rest of his 1500-word article to an attempt to show that this is exactly what has been going on.
According to the specialist, Russia’s special services and “scholars of the most varied specialties” have been following the financing of Islamist terrorists and extremists by Muslim centers abroad for many years. According to one FSB official, 60 “Islamist extremist organizations,” “about 100 commercial firms,” and “ten banking groups have been involved.
Among the groups involved are Al Haramein, Islamic Relief, Taib, Al-Igas, the Assembly of Muslim Youth, the Organization for the Islamic Salvation of Chechnya, the Rebirth of the Islamic Heritage, the Society of Social Reforms, the Charity Society of Qatar, and the World Organization of Islamic Salvation.
The “exact sums” that these groups offered is “of course, unknown,” Silantyev says, but he adds that “it is possible to talk about their order of magnitude.” According to him, this has been approached a total of 10 billion US dollars and portions of it have gone to about ten thousand people and groups.
He provides some specific figures from the 1990s, noting that even earlier money began to flow to Muslims in the Soviet Union and then in Russia from Saudi Arabia, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, Turkey and Libya, which believed that Muslims long under communist rule needed to be assisted in recovering their faith.
Until the middle of 1992, Silantyev says, “the main and single partner” of such foreign foundations was the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the European Part of the USSR and Siberia, which was headed then (and now) by Talgat Tajuddin, who has styled himself “the supreme mufti of Holy Rus.”
Tajuddin received money to build mosques, to print and disseminate literature, to send Muslims on the haj and to provide them with Islamic educations both inside Russia and in Muslim countries abroad. At the time, many of Tajuddin’s enemies accused him of misusing some of the funds he received.
The foreign foundations which were providing money often did so for less than unselfish reasons, Silantyev continues, viewing the money as a kind of investment which would provide them with benefits in the longer term by changing Moscow’s attitudes toward Muslims both within the borders of Russia and abroad.
“Up to two-thirds” of the Islamic foundations sending money to Russia’s Muslims had “as daughter structures extremist organizations” which were interested in “establishing control over the Islamic elite of Russia, penetrating into the higher echelons of power and forming an influential lobby,” and even supporting secession in various Muslim parts of the country.
This became too much for Tajuddin, and as a result, the funds from abroad largely stopped flowing to him and began to flow instead to those imams who were in opposition to the mufti. That continued until 1999 when the Russian special services began to shut down these channels.
The “improbably high level of trust of the Arab sponsors,” Silantyev continues, “created ideal conditions” for some Muslims in Russia to misuse the money, keeping it away from its intended purposes and into their own pockets instead. And this diversion was exacerbated by the large number of hands through which such funds passed.
“Thank God,” Silantyev concludes, “more than 90 percent of the means intended to produce the Wahhabizaiton of Russian Muslims” were diverted one way or another. As a result, “instead of dozens or even hundreds of centers for the preparation of terrorists,” this money was used by other Muslims to buy “expensive cars and apartments.”
“One can only guess how things might have turned out,” he adds, “if the domestic partners of Al Qaeda had had cleaner hands.”