By Paul Goble
Russian officials, who often describe what are obviously ethnic and religious conflicts as “criminal” or “domestic” disputes in order to protect their own reputations, are doing Russia no favors because their approach has led to a dramatic underestimation of the threat Islamist groups now pose to the country, according to Galina Khizriyeva.
Khisriyeva, a specialist on Islam in Russia at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) that is part of the Presidential Administration, says it is critically necessary that officials stop misleading their bosses and the public and accept the advice of experts who are very much aware of the threat (ruskline.ru/analitika/2016/05/25/obratnaya_storona_tishiny/).
Many Russian officials, she says, belive that “the fewer manifestations of extremism and terrorism on the territories under them and the less people write and speak about them, the better for them.” That may protect their jobs for a time, but it does nothing for the security of the Russian Federation.
These officials don’t want to listen to experts who tell them about problems and they don’t want to describe clashes as ethnic or religious, preferring instead to talk about “domestic” disputes. But “this of course is not simply flattering to themselves but a very dangerous and short-sighted position!”
Experts notice things that point to problems ahead, like graffiti or articles in religious or ethnic media outlets, problems that all too many officials prefer to minimize by suggesting they are the works of individuals not groups. But by taking this position, they allow these “individual” phenomena to grow into something much worse.
Khizriyeva also points out that it is also a mistake to deny the connections that exist between Islamist extremism and Russophobia given that the former uses the latter to “destabilize Russian society” and thus create a situation in which it has the chance to expand and achieve its goals.
Russia needs to copy the experience of countries where officials are encouraged, even required to listen to experts on religious and ethnic extremism. She gives as an example Israel. Unfortunately, she says, such practices are “extremely rare” in Russia and officials turn to experts “not before but only after events.”
Cooperation between experts and officials needs to be expanded in Russia, and the basis for that is for each to recognize the competence of the other. They are not the same: officials have the ability to act but they often do not know what they should act against or what the problems are. Experts are far more likely to know those things, Khizriyeva says.
As an example, the RISI scholar notes that “today experts are seriously studying the problem of the influence of Turkish Islamists in a number of regions of Russia,” but in doing so, they have encountered official reluctance to talk about this threat and an unwillingness to recognize how large a threat it has become.
She concludes her interview by giving six pieces of advice to officials:
- First, officials should develop a network of agents.
- Second, they should avoid classifying inter-ethnic and religious conflicts as “domestic” clashes.
- Third, “they should more actively work with diasporas, communities and ethnic and religious organizations.”
- Fourth, they should monitor Muslim publications for Russophobic and anti-Russian tendencies.
- Fifth, they should make sure that all mosques and prayer houses are registered. The unregistered ones are a threat.
- And sixth, officials should “devote particular attention to apartments and houses where several young men from Muslim regions live, often illegally.”
If officials do that and listen to the expert community, Russia’s national security will be enhanced. If they don’t, then it and they will suffer.