Monday, January 3, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s ‘Traditional’ Muslims No Bulwark against Islamism, Amelina Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 3 – Russia’s “traditional” Muslims in whom Moscow has placed so much faith are no longer if they ever were a bulwark against the spread of Islamism across the country because they are unwilling to challenge the Islamists directly and often share the fundamental values of the radicals, according to a leading Kazan-based analyst.
And consequently, Yana Amelina says, Islamism will continue to spread in the year ahead leading to a further destabilization of the country unless the Russian authorities adopt “decisive and even extraordinary” measures to build up a new Islamic leadership ready and able to do battle with the radicals (
Islamism is spreading across the Russian Federation and becoming “an ever more important social-political force which presents a serious threat to the future of the Russian Federation,” Amelina begins. And “traditional Islam … is losing the battle for the minds not only of the young but also of the older strata of the population.”
A major reason for this, she suggests, is that the extremists not only have their own immediate resources but are able to count on the activity of what she calls “the international ‘Wahhabi lobby’ which is represented at a sufficiently high federal level” and whose activities pave the way for Islamist expansion.
These lobbyists, Amelina continues, “devote all their efforts to present the fundamentalists (the goal of which is the construction on the territory of Russia – at first ‘on immemorial Muslim lands’ and then on historically Slavic territories as well – of a khalifate based on Islamist ideology) as a equally respectable site of some ‘public dialogue.’”
And consequently, she says, these lobbyists who include both religious leaders and secular experts typically seek to justify or at least minimize the damage from any action by the Islamists, including terrorist attacks like those in the Moscow subway or any of the acts of violence in the Caucasus.
According to the Kazan-based analyst, “Moscow journalists and activists and also their ideological brothers in arms in the localities are calling almost for the integration of the Wahhabis into the official Islamic structures and organs of state power, for giving them equal access to the media and so on.”
Such projects, if realized, she says, “will lead to the destruction of the secular character of Russian statehood.” That is already obvious in Chechnya where the regime is introducing shariat law and in Daghestan where leaders are talking about reversing the 1999 law banning Wahhabis, and it is becoming obvious in the Middle Volga region as well.
In the North Caucasus, she continues, “it is becoming clear that traditional Islam in no way is a panacea in the struggle with radicalism [as many Russian officials and experts believe] and that the difference between the two in the final analysis resides in the sphere of tactics and not of strategy.” Both want an Islamic society; they disagree only on how to get it.
Increasingly, officials and experts in Moscow understand this threat in the North Caucasus, but many of them, Amelina argues, have failed to recognize it in the Middle Volga, a region “which has positioned itself in comparison with the North Caucasus as an example of the peaceful rebirth of traditional Islam in a poly-confessional society.”
Wahhabi attacks in Bashkortostan and especially the events in the Nurlat district of Tatarstan in November should lead to a revision of these assessments, she says. In the latter, one of the militants who was killed turned out to be a Kryashen who had accepted Islam and who was the son of the former prosecutor of Chistopol.
To respond to these developments adequately, Amelina suggests, officials must recognize that because the Islamists “conduct their struggle under religious slogans, the ideological basis of opposing them can only be a different religious ideology,” something the Russian authorities have not yet even tried to do.
Traditional Muslims cannot provide it, she suggests, because they are often unprepared “to acknowledge the true sources of terrorism [and are] unwilling to distinguish themselves decisively from their ‘mistaken brothers,’ the Wahhabis,” failures that are intensifying “the negative tendencies of distrust and antagonism among various parts of Russian society.”
And Amelina warns: “If the powers that be do not take decisive and possibly even extraordinary measures for curbing the Islamists and driving them out of the Russian public-ideological space … in the coming year, all the tendencies listed will only increase and sound an ever louder chord in the common diabolic symphony of destabilization in the country.”

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