chapter  9
18 Pages

The radicalization of North Caucasian Muslims


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the role and nature of Islam in the Caucasus has evolved and developed dramatically and religious life in the region has been transformed. Unfortunately, among Russian and other external observers there continues to be a stereotypical view of Islam in the Caucasus region as being a single, monolithic phenomenon, and Caucasian Muslims are viewed as politicized and radicalized extremists. 1 Such perceptions are due to a degree of exaggeration and the general anxieties of the rise of Muslim extremism in global politics. In reality, there are multiple forms of Islam in the Caucasus so that there is no one form of ‘traditional’ or ‘offi cial’ Islam. There are also, as this chapter argues, multiple forms of radical Islam in the Caucasus which includes not only the Wahhabi-Salafi movement but also a radicalized neo-traditionalist or tariqatist (neo-Sufi ) current, both movements of which are actually intertwined in complex ways and often in confl ict with one another. Due to the growth and increased organization of these radical movements, this represents a signifi cant challenge to the stability of the region, the authority of the federal government, and the security and prosperity of the general population of the North Caucasus. More broadly, there has also been a core shift in the dynamics of radicalization in the North Caucasus away from ethnic separatism, which was marked particularly by Chechnya’s secessionist struggle, to a pan-Caucasian jihadist movement rebelling against the power of the ‘infi del state’ and seeking to create a Muslim state in all of the Caucasus. It is the developments and reasons behind this dramatic shift in the religio-political landscape of the North Caucasus, which is the principal focus of this chapter.