Thursday, March 25, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Daghestanis Call for Repeal of Republic’s 1999 Ban on Wahhabism

Paul Goble

New York, March 25 – After the appearance of an open letter from a union leader denouncing the republic’s 1999 law banning Wahhabism, Daghestani parliamentarians have lined up to demand the repeal of this legislation which they view as discriminatory but which has helped to demonize that trend in Islam across Russia.
Taking advantage of changes at the top of the Daghestani political pyramid, Isalmagomed Nabiyev, who often prepares commentaries for the Makhachkala media, dispatched an open letter to the new leader Magomedsalam Magomedov denouncing the 1999 republic law as a counterproductive mistake (
Nabiyev wrote in his missive that “one of the main problems of Daghestan” is the intensification of conflict among various segments of the Muslim community. “Such a situation,” he continued, “was created thanks to the father of the current leader of the republic, the former chairman of Daghestan’s State Council Magomedali Magomedov.”
Under Magomedali Magomedov, Nabiyev said, “the Daghestani powers that be began to use force in order to root out one of the ideological directions in Islam. Not by the path of countering to this ideology other forms but by the path of the physical removal of the bearers of this ideology.”
That approach was both encouraged and accelerated by the adoption in September 1999 of the republic law “On the ban of Wahhabi and other types of extremist activity,” on the basis of which, the powers that be declared those who disagreed with them to be “enemies of the people” and thus allowed the force structures to persecute them “to the point of physical destruction.”
Nabiyev told the Caucasus Knot news agency that this law “contains in itself aggressive and discriminatory provisions” and that Makhachkala “using the right of initiative, devoted a great deal of efforts in order that such a law would be adopted at the federal level. However,” he said, “Moscow turned out to be more far-sighted.”
The union leader-commentator said that he had frequently called on former Daghestani procurator, Imam Yaraliyev, to do something about this unfortunate act, “but the procurator did not have the courage and decisiveness to suspend the implementation of the law.” Now that the republic has a new prosecutor (Andrey Nazarov), Nabiyev said, the situation could change.
In his letter, Nabiyev said that as a result of this law and its consequences, “the people have become a hostage of a civil war between representatives of two different trends in Islam.” In order to get out of this “dead end,” he continued, Makhachkala’s new leaders must take several steps in addition to overturning the 1999 law.
The republic powers that be must “decisively” shut down the activity of “the death squadrons” and end “the practice of extra-judicial executions.” They must “legalize the position of the Salafi leaders, and they must “take measure of an organizational character” to bring them into conversation with the leaders of other Islamic trends.
Other Daghestani leaders rushed to support Nabiyev’s call. Sayfullakh Isayev, the chairman of the legal affairs committee of the Daghestani parliament, said that the 1999 law must be repealed. “The adoption of the law,” he said, “was a big mistake. Now the time has come to correct it,” and he promised that his committee will hold hearings.
Another deputy, Akhmed Azizov, agreed. “Wahhabism,” he pointed out, “is an ideology. There are no problems arising from one or another individual following it. [And] if someone considers that this worldview is not suitable for Daghestan and Russia, he must find more convincing arguments than repression.”
That is because, Azizov continued, “all the history of humanity shows that it is impossible to defeat an ideology by force,” an ancient observation that the ongoing struggle with “Wahhabism” in Daghestan has simply confirmed.
Gadzhi Makhachev, a former Daghestani and Russian parliamentarian who now serves as the republic’s permanent representative to the Russian President, said that the1999 law had been pushed through by then-speaker and recent republic president Mukhu Aliyev and that he, Makhachev, was “categorically an opponent of the adoption of the law.”
Many other deputies at the time felt the same way, Makhachev added, “but Aliyev, using his own resources, was able to push through the measure.” At the same time, Makhachev said, the law should be retained on the books but not enforced so that future generations “will see how a highly placed official should not work.”
Although neither the republic procuracy nor the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan have reacted yet, it appears that Daghestan, far and away the most Islamic republic of the North Caucasus, is likely to annul the law, a step that may or may not have a major impact on developments there and elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, such a revision would certainly send a powerful signal to Daghestanis that attacks on Wahhabis and the followers of other Salafi trends in Islam no longer will have the blessing of law, a development that will undoubtedly affect other people far beyond the border of the most Islamic republic of the Russian Federation.
But on the other hand, repealing this law alone is unlikely to end Moscow’s demonization of the Wahhabis or end the views of many among the siloviki who have little interest in promoting social concord and who view force rather than persuasion as their weapon of choice against those with whom they do not agree.

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