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Terror in Dagestan has religious roots


MOSCOW. (Sergei Markedonov, for RIA Novosti.)

The recent bombings in London overshadowed terrorist attacks in Dagestan, Russia's largest North Caucasus republic in terms of area and population, where attacks have become as routine as the muezzin's calls to prayer. But the bombs in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt and the terrorist attacks in the London Underground are links in the same chain.

Islamic terrorism in Dagestan will grow into a major problem for the Russian Caucasus. Viewed by its organizers as part of the global jihad, terrorism in the republic merits as much attention as the London explosions.

Terrorism in Dagestan is more complicated and sophisticated than in Chechnya, and has a more serious ideological content. First, it is closer to "international standards" of terrorism, as terrorist attacks staged by Chechen rebels are mostly anonymous, and the names of organizers and those who carry them out are established only after investigation. Chechen separatism today is striving to maintain a limited battleground that no authority can control. But the series of recent terrorist attacks in Dagestan have one source: Shariah Jamaat, a terrorist Wahhabi organization.

Shariah Jamaat assumed responsibility for the July 1 attack in Makhachkala and a series of other recent political assassinations, including that of Magomed-Zagid Varisov, a public opponent of Wahhabism. In March this year, Jamaat proclaimed an all-out war against Dagestani law enforcers allegedly guilty of "murdering Muslims."

Second, the organization has declared its goals clearly and boldly: The creation of an Islamic state in Dagestan and the liquidation of Russia's military and political presence in the Russian Caucasus. After the tragedy in Makhachkala, it issued a statement over the Internet stating its readiness to "land a group of Dagestani mujaheddin in Moscow to stage a series of subversive attacks."

Experts say Dagestan is the most Islamic of Russia's regions. It has the largest proportion of practicing Islamic believers in Russia as a total of the population at over 90%.

The Islamic revival began in the early 1990s, when Islam was viewed as an integrating force that would rally multiethnic Dagestan. Z.S. Arukhov, a leading expert on Islam in Dagestan, who died recently in a terrorist attack, once said, "It was expected that the totality of the Islamic regulation system, the limitations of Islam as a social culture, and flexible relations with state authorities would give Islam crucial advantages in conditions of social and political modernization."

But Islam did not become a stabilizing and rallying factor. Instead, it grew increasingly political and radical - the reverse, negative side to religious liberalization. The revival of Islam in Dagestan was marred by the development of fundamental conflicts between Tariqatists (the local Sufi variety of Islam) and Wahhabis (Salaphites).

Wahhabi propaganda in Dagestan rested on the criticism of the local authorities. Massive abuses of office by officials, corruption, social stratification and ensuing mass unemployment, the aloofness of the authorities and their disregard for the public needs pushed disillusioned locals into the arms of the Salaphites. The latter offered them an alternative: A true Islamic order and radical rejection of communism and democracy and "false Islam" as political models.

The Salaphites present a model of Islam without clans, teips, virds and other forms of ethnic groups. Theirs is a standard project that could be in demand in the multiethnic and fragmented Dagestan.

The spread of Wahhabism in Dagestan is a result of the clan structure and the aloofness of the local authorities. The republic's political elite has not changed since the early 1990s. It was effective in the struggle against ethnic extremism during the "parade of sovereignties," the "Chechen revolution," and Basayev's invasion from Chechnya. But it takes a more finely tuned system of power to combat religious extremism.

What can Russia do in this situation?

Firstly, Russia should finally put an end to regional self-government. To do this, the federal center should use all available resources to push the project of a "Russian political nation." At this first stage of Islamization, many Dagestani residents are not ready for a clean break from Russia. Hence, the Russian project (universal and supra-ethnic) should defeat the Islamic project.

Secondly, the establishment of Russian state institutions in the Caucasus should not be limited to the war on terrorism. Russia should above all ensure effective control of internal migration in the overpopulated region. Out-migration of ethnic Dagestani groups (economically motivated migration) is a major problem.

Another emergency task is to restore the Russian population in the republic. Historically, Russians have always brought along European values and modernization. They are not connected with ethnic clans or struggles between Islamic factions, and so can function as a stabilizing factor. The return of Russians to Dagestan is also necessary to fill the social niches left by their departure (the intellectual market and skilled personnel). A normal migration policy would prevent Dagestan's secession by stealth.

Sergei Markedonov is head of the ethnic relations department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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