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Russian Muslims and ISIL factor

November 07, 2014, 17:51 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 7. /TASS/. Russia’s Muslim community is very patchy and although the followers of the country's traditional branch of Islam are in the majority, quite a few share the ideas of a Caliphate, including those who support the Islamic State, experts are saying in their comments on the threat the very existence of the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) poses to Russia. That such a threat exists is a hard fact, they agree, but it is not very serious yet. Some say the authorities’ response should be very delicate, while others urge an all-out war on any manifestations of radical Islam from the outset.

The emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the territory of Syria and Iraq and declaring itself a Caliphate, will inevitably influence the international and domestic agendas in the countries where a considerable share of the population professes Islam, the chief of the Political Economy and Regional Development branch at the Gaidar Economic Policies Institute, Irina Starodubrovskaya, says in the daily Vedomosti. The analyst believes that the Islamic opposition in the North Caucasus is very assorted.

“There, one finds supporters of Islamic fundamentalism, who are very far from having any ambitions to rise to power. Their dissent is confined to commitment to a different set of values. For such people, the ISIL is rather a risk of being subjected to more discrimination,” Starodubrovskaya said.

Also, there are followers of political Islam — those who are pressing for the emergence of a Caliphate as the ideal and fairest social system. Not now, though, but at some future date. In the eyes of this group, the ISIL and the atrocities it commits merely discredit a great idea.

Next, there are advocates of armed confrontation with the secular state and of violence and jihad. But even their attitude to the ISIL is far from unequivocal.

Lastly, there is part of the Islamic youth, not very well-versed and having a rather vague idea of Islamic dogmas, who reject the current social system because they see no chances in life for themselves within it. They are eager to get away from it at any cost and go where the wind blows. For them, the ISIL is an embodied utopia.

Starodubrovskaya believes that such a wide range of opinions regarding the ISIL requires a very careful response from the authorities. “Pressures will inevitably foment further radicalization of the North Caucasus youth and make it more supportive of the ISIL,” she remarks.

Russia’s Muslim society is stable by and large these days. Direct and indirect threats from the Middle East are not quite obvious, although ignoring them altogether would be wrong, says a member of the scientific council of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Alexey Malashenko. “In Russia’s Muslim community, the authority of the ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra and other radical and extremist groups is not very high,” Malashenko says in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

It would be wrong to say that Russia faces no threats from the Middle East at all, Malashenko points out, adding that participation of Russia-born militants in hostilities on the ISIL side is an example. “Their number is unknown. Estimates by politicians and officials vary from 300 to 2,000.”

Malashenko believes that the Russian authorities should pursue a stick-and-carrot policy. “Any moves that might push moderate Salafis, most of them representing youth subculture, towards radicalism should be avoided by all means. The golden mean must be looked for,” he said.

Senior research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Galina Khizriyeva, sticks to a different view. She is certain that the authorities must take the hardest line possible towards the radical Islamic groups. “There have been attempts by certain forces to provoke the emergence of hotbeds of civil war inside Russia, with the involvement of the Islamic factor. Russia has 20 million Muslims,” she told TASS.

The expert recalled that over the past 25 years, “several faiths uncommon in Russia penetrated into the country.” Russian Muslims have traditionally professed milder forms of Islam. They are capable of existing inside a secular society and of adjusting their religion to secular realities. “At a certain point, far more aggressive varieties of Islam existing in the Persian Gulf countries have begun to be planted in Russia and in very aggressive ways. Those who have been reformatted into accepting other faiths are absolutely unprepared to exist in a secular state. It is this type of people who support the ISIL. There are quite a few of them — hundreds of thousands,” the expert argues.

The radical Muslim environment is not homogenous, Khizriyeva says. There are people who are critical of wars the ISIL is waging. But the number of adepts of the aggressive trend in Russia is growing.

The expert says the largest groups of those sharing the aggressive faith are present in the North Caucasus. Moscow and Tatarstan.

Khizriyeva is certain attempts at appeasing the extremists would make no sense. “All of them, whatever their trends and shades, are followers of the caliphate ideology. Russia’s traditional Muslims are not. The extremists will never agree to compromise. There is nothing one can talk about with them,” she believes.

Extremist organizations are to be banned, their leaders expelled and entry to Russia for them must be denied, Khizriyeva concluded.

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