While the rest of the world obsesses over the fate of Pussy Riot, in the more distant corners of Russia a far more significant phenomenon is underway: the spread of radical Islam. The New York Times reports that, since the beginning of Ramadan, the normally peaceful city of Kazan in central Russia has been hit with a gruesome wave of violent attacks from a nascent Islamic terror group:
But that comfortable assumption began to crumble just before the start of Ramadan in late July, when a senior cleric in charge of education was shot outside his apartment building on Zarya Street. Roughly an hour later, the city’s chief mufti survived a bomb attack that demolished his Toyota Land Cruiser. A previously unheard-of group, the mujahedeen of Tatarstan, claimed responsibility.On Sunday, a car carrying three men, an automatic rifle and Islamic pamphlets blew up in Zelenodolsk, about a half-hour west of Kazan, in what the authorities described as the inadvertent detonation of a homemade explosive.
Although little is known about the group responsible, this seems to be symptomatic of a larger shift in Russian Islam:
Russian Islamic leaders, long viewed as beholden to the government, are under mounting pressure to demonstrate political and religious independence, and tend to the needs of a community reshaped by immigration from Central Asia, increasing religiosity among younger generations and closer ties to the rest of the Muslim world made possible by travel and the Internet.
Although violent religious conflicts are not new to Russia, this is different because it takes place far from the border regions of the Caucasus, where much of Russia’s ethnic and religious violence occurs. Radicalization of Russian Muslims is a direct threat to Russian order and stability. What frightens the Kremlin about recent events in Kazan and points south is that the Russian government may be losing an ideological war that it doesn’t know how to fight.Russian support for both Assad and Iran risks further alienating its mostly Sunni Muslim population. A corrupt and ineffective “official clergy,” many of whom come out of the Soviet era when the KGB controlled the clergy, combined with a stagnant economy, spreading extreme ideology and a deepening sense that the Russian government is ‘anti-Islam’: these are an explosive combination and there is, unfortunately, a chance that many more bombs will go off before the troubles end. We’ve written before about this gathering storm; sadly, we will probably be returning to it for some time to come.