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Revival Of Ethnic Code Immunizing Circassians Against Islamist Radicalism – OpEd

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Even though Islam has made a comeback in many Circassian regions, Naima Neflyasheva says, it has not generated the kind of radicalization seen elsewhere, largely because along with the revival of Islam has been a revival of the Adyge Khabze, the traditional code of etiquette that has governed Circassian behavior.

In the past, that code was seen as antithetical to the Muslim shariat, the specialist on the North Caucasus at Moscow’s Institute of Africa says; but today, many Muslim leaders in Circassian areas view it as complementary to Islam and as having a positive influence on believers (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/290090/).

Speaking at a meeting in MGIMO this week, she drew a sharp contrast between Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria where radicalization of Muslims is continuing and Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Adygeya where “there are no signs of radicalization” at the present time.

The Moscow scholar suggested that a major reason for that was the revival of Adyge Khabze and the support it enjoys among some Muslim leaders in the region goes a long way to explain why “radicalization has not engulfed the Western Adgys [Circassians] even though it has affected others.

Neflyasheva’s argument is important because, given Moscow’s concerns about the radicalization of Muslim opinion in the North Caucasus, it could provide a justification for the center taking a more positive stance with regard to the Circassians and to Circassian traditions and also for Moscow to promote the revival of similar pre-Islamic value systems elsewhere.

Another speaker at the session, Akhmet Yarlykapov of MGIMO’s Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security, stressed that “re-Islamization in the eastern regions of the North Caucasus, particularly in Daghestan, has had ‘an explosive character’ since the disintegration of the USSR.”

According to him, “Islam now only has expanded its influence by increasing the number of mosques, medrassahs, and practicing Muslims but deepened it by penetrating all sides of the life of society.” At the same time, however, Yarlykapov insisted that “this must not be the occasion for panic.”

Not only does the Russian government understand the situation better than it did, viewing sufism in Daghestan as a positive phenomenon rather than a negative one as it did in Soviet times, but it also recognizes that some problems are of its own making, including the failure to bring to justice those who kill imams and the spread of corrupt and repressive practices.

These things, like the two Chechen wars, helped radicalize young people in the North Caucasus and have helped ISIS to recruit as many as 5,000 fighters for its wars in the Middle East, an exodus that has “not ended up to now.” But Moscow has succeeded in undermining all radical Islamist “political” projects in the region.

Yarlykapov stressed that it is a mistake to think that radicalism is largely the product of poverty. “At present, many quite well-off people are leaving for ISIS,” he said, some of them because of anger about corruption and repression at home and the way those things have closed off their opportunities for social advancement.

The MGIMO scholar said that those in Moscow who believe that they can use what they call “’traditional Islam’” as a barrier against radicalization are now at a dead end. What such people should be asking is whether an individual or group is “loyal or not,” rather than getting involved in theological doctrine.

Neflyasheva agreed. She said that the Daghestani authorities should “return to the practice of the previous head of the republic under whom was conducted a dialogue of various trends of Islam and adaptation commissions worked.” They should also allow for the creation of a distinctly Daghestani Islamic educational system and the development of Islamic thought.


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Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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