By Nazeef Mollah:
A recent article by The Economist titled ‘Salafis Mustered’ discussed the counter-intuitive Russian policy of targeting moderate voices especially among the clergy in the Muslim-dominated region of Dagestan, near the Caspian Sea. The targeting includes harassment and even arrest of a local imam, for example. The magazine draws the obvious conclusion from this that the crackdown on moderate voices is driving the region’s Muslims towards the ‘Islamic State’. It quotes an expert on the region who believes that moderate sections act as a “buffer…between young people and those calling for violence.” Clearly, the Russian security forces are not on the right track.
But the question that one might well ask is this: Do they really wish to be on the ‘right’ track here?
A more recent story by Reuters comes out with a shocking revelation. ‘Russian fighters are joining ISIS in record numbers’. ‘Nearly 1,700 Russians Fighting For ISIS In Iraq’. ‘Russians Are Joining ISIS in Droves’. These are a few of the headlines from various news platforms from the year 2015 that a google search shows. What about them, you may ask. Well, it turns out that this proliferation of Russians in the rank and file of the ‘Islamic’ State might have been facilitated by the security forces themselves.
It seems that there were many threats from ‘Islamists’ to the safety and security of people who were expected to arrive in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. To neutralise these threats, instead of countering them the old-fashioned way, Russian security officials allegedly gave them a free pass to travel out of the country. No prizes for guessing where most of these ‘misguided’ souls went.
The account given in that article has been taken primarily from actual militants (six of them) that the journalist contacted, those who were alive that is, one security official who coordinated with one of these extremists (God knows what’ll happen to him now), and family members of the people who went. Some of these people were on the ‘wanted’ lists of the region. Oh, it seems I forgot to mention the region – Dagestan.
These revelations raise more questions than answers first and foremost of which is: What the hell is going on? Was it done merely by local security officials or were the higher ups involved as well. How high were the ‘higher ups’ in the pecking order? The time we’re talking about is not too far back, really. By 2014, by which time Russians had been allowing extremists to slip by and travel to Syria for a while, the Syrian resistance to the Assad regime was already in a mess. ‘Islamic’ State had already “burst onto the international scene”. Their Toyota caravans had already begun their inevitable march on the Fertile Crescent. Why would Russia, then, allow extremists to go to that region? And why would it now crack down on moderate Muslims in Russia?
It’s a scary thought. A nation that has pledged itself to fighting the scourge of terror that has ruined the beautiful Arab state of Syria has actually been supplying foot soldiers to its enemies! Russian policy seems confused and uncoordinated, which is bad enough. But what if they know exactly what they’re doing? This scenario is scarier.