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Window on Eurasia — New Series: KBR Officials See Islamist Extremism where Population Sees Only Ordinary Conflicts


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – The positions of the civil authorities and the population have reversed the norm in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic. Instead of the former dismissing ethnic and religious conflicts as mere day-to-day disputes, they are insisting that the conflicts have their roots in Islamist extremism, with the latter taking exactly the opposite effect.

            On the one hand, this unusual reversal of positions may be a sign that the civil authorities in the North Caucasus are about to launch, quite likely at Moscow’s insistence, a major campaign against Islamism and thus are inclined to see signs of its existence even where many would not.

            But on the other hand, it suggests that people in the North Caucasus are now prepared to defend their attachment to Islamic values by insisting that the argument the secular authorities have made before is one that they can use in the defense of those values. That creates a situation the powers may have great difficulty in countering – and not just in Muslim areas.

            In almost any society, there are differences between state laws which the government enforces and religious ones which the leaders of those communities do. Typically, these two sets of laws coexist without much difficulty, but there are times when the actions of the religious undercut the secular powers and then the latter respond, often harshly.

            The current case in KBR involves charges against a group of young Muslims in the settlement of Anzorey that the powers that be say have formed “Islamic patrols” and have been using force or the threat of force to compel obedience to Islam. Those charged face six to ten years in prison (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/358001/).

            Relatives and lawyers of the accused say there is no such organization which prosecutors are calling a jamaat, the term for any community within Islam. But officials say that they have evidence that the group has been active since 2005 and has become more so over the last four years (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/357934/and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/357830/).

            Ruslan Kurbanov, a specialist on Islam in the North Caucasus, says that within almost every faith there are those who want to take action to compel obedience. In short, he argues, this isn’t an “Islamic” problem, despite the attempts of the KBR authorities to present it as such.

            Oleg Orlov, a specialist on the North Caucasus for Moscow’s Memorial human rights group, agrees. He says that what such “patrols” are doing in the North Caucasus among Muslims is exactly equivalent to what Cossacks are doing among Orthodox believers in other parts of the Russian Federation.

            Such things are dangerous in both places and should not be tolerated, but it is important that Muslims and Orthodox Christians not be treated differently in this regard, the Memorial specialist says. Otherwise, that will be viewed by both sides as evidence of the kind of double standards that could land Russia in trouble.

            Given how often the powers that be fabricate criminal cases, it is no surprise that this is happening, Orlov suggests. And indeed, according to Valery Khatazhukov, head of the For Human Rights movement in KBR, most people there see these latest charges against the supposed jamaat members as nothing more than that.

Window on Eurasia — New Series