Radical Muslims Growing in Number and Influence in Russia, Silantyev Says

File Photo of Mosque in Kazan and other Landmarks

(Window on Eurasia – Paul Goble – Staunton, January 17 – http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/01/window-on-eurasia-radical-muslims.html)

Last year was a “successful” one for radical Muslims in the Russian Federation and hence “a failure for their opponents,” Roman Silantyev says. As a result, the upcoming twelve months promise to be “still more unfavorable for [Moscow’s] policies in the Islamic direction” both at home and abroad. Silantyev, a much-published Islamicist and commentator and a longtime protégé of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has frequently infuriated Russia’s Muslim community by his harsh criticism of its leadership, but his current role as a senior advisor to the Russian justice ministry means that his views reflect those of many within the Russian political establishment.

In the current issue of “NG-Religii” posted online yesterday, Silantyev provides his latest survey of the situation that the Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) currently find themselves, discusses shortcomings in the actions of the Russian government to promote “traditional” Islam, and offers predictions for the future (religion.ng.ru/facts/2013-01-16/1_musulmane.html?mpril).

Silantyev says that “the most negative trend” in the last year, one far greater than in the previous two years, were “catastrophic losses in the ranks of the leaders of traditional Islam, a large segment of whom were killed by terrorism.” And this “geography of murders” expanded to include previously peaceful areas like Tatarstan and North Osetia.

Among the most important MSDs in the country, the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) won back some of the influence it had lost in 2010 and 2011 as a result of criticism of the government by its leader, Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin. According to Silantyev, its gains reflected both changes in the Presidential Administration and the FSB and the failures of the SMR’s competitors.

The first of these to suffer in 2012 was the Coordination Center for Muslims of the North Caucasus. It suffered a loss when the MSD of Chechnya left its ranks, a decision that has pleased no one and that some on both sides are seeking to reverse. It also had problems in Daghestan where the sitting mufti, Akhmad Abdullayev, did not retire as expected.

The Russian Association for Islamic Agreement, in which Russian officials put so many hopes, in fact “ceased to exist de facto” last summer, Silantyev says, when the MSD of Perm and the Urals withdrew from its jurisdiction. That structure controlled 75 percent of the Association’s communities. The group tried to compensate by opening new mosques but with little success.

The MSD of Tatarstan, which left the SMR a year ago, was subjected in 2012 to “the strongest attack in its history. Not only did the Kazan authorities refuse to support its mufti, Ildus Fayzov, in his clash with the Kul Sharif imam, but then “terrorists almost beheaded the muftiate by wounding the mufti and killing his associate, Valiula Yakupov.

After those July events, Tatarstan Interior Minister Artem Khokhorin acknowledged that some members of the local bureaucracy were working with the Wahhabis and that “members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization have come out of the underground and begun to regularly conduct mass measures in Kazan.

(Perhaps significantly, Silantyev chooses to cite the Regnum news agency report on this case ­ www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1561229.hrml — something he does not do for any of his other statements. More than any other Russian news agency, Regnum has played up the rise of radical Islam in the Middle Volga over the last year.)

Also in response to the July attacks, the SMR decided “to take under its jurisdiction a number of communities of the MSD of the Republic of Tatarstan in Kazan and Kirov Oblast.” That boosted the SMR, but, Silantyev argues, it represented the final nail in the coffin of former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimyev’s efforts to have only one muftiate in his republic.

The Ufa-based Central MSD of Supreme Mufti Talgat Tajuddin “suffered the least” of the major Muslim structures during 2012, Silantyev says. It adopted a three-level system of administration, decided to oppose the registration of any new MSD without at least 30 parishes, and increased the number of Tajuddin’s deputies to four.

Equally or even more important, the Central MSD’s regional muftiates featured a continuation of “the change of generations” among their leaders. In four of them (Udmurtia, Samara, Penza, and North West), this transition involved having “fathers” had over their positions to “their sons who will continue their policies.”

But the SMR’s success rests on an action that is already costing it influence in some parts of the Russian umma, the Islamicist says. In apologizing to the state for his comments, Gainutdin has suffered a loss of authority about more oppositionally-inclined Muslims, all the more so because he has not been able to prevent more Islamic works from being declared extremist or to overcome Russian opposition to a new mosque in Moscow.

One measure the SMR pushed and that many in the Russian government supported was the convention of meetings with international Muslim theologians in Russia in the hopes that they would denounce Islamist militants in the North Caucasus and elsewhere. But that effort has been a failure and even counter-productive, Silantyev argues.

Such meetings were relatively common in Soviet times, he notes, but today the situation has changed in ways that make such gatherings risky: here is no longer “the Soviet discipline and vigilance” that are so very much needed “for their successful realization.”

The first of these measures, a conference on “The Islamic Doctrine Against Radicalism,” was organized by “the odious Yusuf Kardawi” with the support of the Qatar and Saudi media. Despite Moscow’s successful push for a resolution, “half of the key Russian muftis” ignored it, and the remainder felt it was so vague that even the most radical Muslims could sign on.

The second, devoted specifically to the North Caucasus, turned out to be “somewhat more successful than the first” because there Kardawi “concentrated on Russian realities, condemned terrorism, and declared Daghestan to be dar ul-Islam [the abode of peace]. But his other comments were less helpful, Silantyev said.

Among other things, another Muslim theologian spoke about the utility of “‘color revolutions,'” the “good intentions” of many radicals, and the importance of Kardawi who “not long before this had called Russia Islam’s number one enemy, thereby completely destroying any positive effect from the meeting.