Wahhabi Trend in Former Soviet Republics

Takfiris a useful foil to legitimize state-sponsored brutality
Developing Just Leadership

Akhmet Makhmoudov

Ramadan 16, 1439 2018-06-01

News & Analysis

by Akhmet Makhmoudov (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 4, Ramadan, 1439)

It would not be off the mark to state that during the NATO facilitated carnage in Syria, the largest number of takfiris filling the ranks of terrorist gangs were probably citizens of the former Soviet Union (FSU). They came from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The most notorious leaders of the takfiri groups in Syria were either Dagestanis, Georgians, Chechens, or Tajiks.

Even though the first active Islamic movement in the region was a traditional Sunni Islamic organization in Tajikistan, Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), it is the Wahhabi narrative that came to dominate Islamic organizations in the region. We will try to analyze briefly why this occurred and what are the prospects of this contemporary Umayyad trend among Muslim societies in the FSU region.

The primary reason why the takfiri narrative became dominant among most practicing Muslims in the early 1990s is because prior to its failure, the pro-independence movement in Chechnya was infiltrated by Saudi trained pseudo-scholars. The Chechen pro-independence movement under the Islamic banner and slogans was the primary exposure for many Muslims of the USSR to Islam. Totally alienated from Islam during the communist era, most Muslims saw a sort of revival of their independence in those challenging Moscow’s imperial presence, which was concealed under the mask of “internationalist communism.” As Chechens pulled off numerous daring military operations against the Russian army, they became symbols of the new post-Soviet reality that many nations dreamt of for decades: total independence from Russia. This vision blinded many Muslims of the FSU region to the non-Islamic and at times un-Islamic conduct of warfare by Chechen militias and their steady drift toward the crude doctrine of Salafism.

The period of the Chechen war for independence from 1994 to 2003 was the single most important event in Islamic revival in the FSU region. Prior to mutating into the takfiri trend, the Chechen movement was seen as a symbol of independence from decades-old Russian conquest of formerly Muslim territories in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is no longer the case but the events of those years left a strong ideological and methodological footprint in the minds of many Muslims in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Today, remnants of Chechnya’s pro-independence movement are a leaderless bunch freelancing as NATO-facilitated shock troops to advance Washington and Tel Aviv’s agenda to partition the Muslim East into petty warring mini-states. It is highly unlikely, however, that the takfiri narrative will become the dominant mobilizing banner for Muslims in the FSU region.

Nevertheless, the takfiri trend is still a powerful tool utilized by regional regimes to undermine legitimate Islamic movements. This could best be observed in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan where the respective ruling kleptocracies allow the takfiri groups to function in a controlled manner to secure support from Moscow, Tehran, and Europe. The logic of this policy is that during a legitimate popular uprising the un-Islamic terror methods of the takfiri groups will legitimize any regime’s excessive brutality inflicted on its own population under the guise of “fighting terrorism.” Due to lack of ideological and organizational sophistication of legitimate Islamic movements in the region, this policy is an attractive option for regional regimes to maintain.

In the coming years, the primary challenge for most Islamic movements globally would be to prevent takfiri-minded and Saudi-linked organizations from hijacking the legitimate popular drive for change. This obstacle will be particularly difficult to overcome for Muslims in the FSU region as the salafi Saudi-minded groups have managed to establish themselves as primary alternatives to official state-sanctioned “Islam.”

While these NATO facilitated takfiri groups have failed to run a state or manage a society in Afghanistan, Chechnya, parts of Nigeria, Somalia, and more recently in Libya, and in parts of Syria and Iraq, some Muslims in the FSU region see them as potent vehicles to loosen the grip of current regimes. This coincides with how NATO views the takfiris: as tools of destabilization. A situation like this creates a dilemma for many socio-political activist groups in the FSU region that are unable to shake up the autocratic regimes on their own, but who are desperately anxious to get rid of them. This essentially boils down to the following question: should an alliance of convenience be struck with tools of destabilization? “No” is the easy answer for an outside observer, but not for a socialist, liberal, or a committed Muslim stuck in the torture gulags in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Azerbaijan. Until there is an authentic opposition movement that would present a bold alternative to the current oppressive regimes, the takfiri threat will continue to exist.

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