Thursday, January 6, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Islamization of Daghestan Would Be Taking Place Even If Wahhabis Didn’t Exist, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 6 – Even if there were no Wahhabi militants, the most frequently used Russian designation for the radical and often violent Salafi trend in Islam, the Islamization of Daghestan would be taking place just as rapidly, according to a leading specialist on religion and nationality in Makhachkala.
Eduard Urazayev, a former republic nationalities minister and now a Daghestani political scientist, told a visiting Russian journalist that the traditional Muslims in that North Caucasus republic and the Muslim Spiritual Directorates have many of the same goals as the Wahhabis but seek to realize them by legal means (
And consequently, Uruzayev says,“even if there were no Wahhabis, the Islamization of Daghestan would be proceeded at top speed,” a conclusion that calls into question Moscow’s current approach of seeking to gain support from “traditional” Muslims and to play them off against the “Wahhabi” militants.
Indeed, it suggests that the Russian authorities must either begin a full-scale war against Islam in that republic at least, something that would provoke a backlash, or face the prospect that Daghestan will be a Muslim republic, one that with more mosques than before 1917 and whose government TV broadcasts “a minimum of four hours of religious programming every day.
In an article entitled “Back to Medieval Times,” Igor Rotar cites these and many other judgments of experts about the republic, noting that that the increasing Islamization of Daghestani society will strike any visitor as soon as he or she gets off the airplane at the airport in Makhachkala
Rotar himself asked his taxi driver to stop at a kiosk. Thinking that perhaps the journalist wanted to buy alcohol, the driver said that would be difficult because “the militants prohibit selling [it].” But when told that Rotar only wanted cigarettes, the driver agreed to stop and allow him to do his business.
After getting his pack, Rotar noted that there were bottles of beer along the back of the shop. He told the owner that he understood that was “prohibited by the militants.” The clerk “went white in the face” and said with tears in her eyes ‘Right now, I’ll take the alcohol off the shelf, just don’t blow me up.”
He calmed her down by telling her that he was a journalist and only interested in what is going on. Rotar then asked why she didn’t ask the militia for protection. Her response: “the militants say ‘the day is yours, but the night is ours.’” Rotar noted on a nearby clock that it was already 11:00 pm.
When he queried Urazayev about what Moscow experts take as an article of faith, a deep divide between traditional Muslims and the radicals on all things, the political scientist said that “in reality, traditional Muslims today show no less interest in the Islamization of Daghestan than do the Wahhabis.”
“Today, more than 2500 mosques exist in Daghestan, a greater number of prayer places than there were in pre-revolutionary times,” republic television features programs on Islam every day, and “the official Muslim leadership calls for banning exactly the same thing the radicals do, “although “they seek to achieve this by legal methods.”
At the same time, Rotar says, it would be “an exaggeration” to call Makhachkala “a typical Islamic city.” Only 20 percent of the people dress according to Islamic rules, concerts continue to take place, and wine and beef consumed. But one local artist said that “I fear that already a few years of now, this will be impossible.”
Moreover, there is a struggle within Islam, one that Aleksey Malashenko of Carnegie’s Moscow Center suggests may be just as important as the struggle of Islam as a whole with the Russian authorities. But, as Rotar shows, those who believe that the defeat of the radicals will mean an end to Islamization are dreaming.
And Rotar suggests that the relationships between the traditional Muslims and the Salafi radicals are far more complicated than many suggest, with many of the former sympathetic to the goals of the latter and willing to support the radicals even if they themselves are not prepared to pursue these goals in the same militant way by going into the forests.

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