By Jamie Glazov www.FrontPageMagazine.com
Frontpage interviewed Ilshat Alsayef, one of the founding members of Muslims Against sharia. He was born in one of the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. A military officer for most of his adult life, Mr. Alsayef started his military career as a Second Lieutenant during the Soviet-Afghan war and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after the First Chechen War.
FP: Tell us about the state of radicalization of Muslims in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.
Alsayef: There were two waves of radicalization of the ex-Soviet Muslims. The first wave started after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. After the fall of Communism, former Soviet Asian republics, now independent countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) as well as autonomous regions of Russia (Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia), experienced a resurgence of religious freedom.
Not having been able to freely practice their religion for a few generations, some of the local Muslims went overboard. Salafi groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and later al-Qaeda, became popular among newly-minted religious zealots. While the conflicts in Asian countries were mostly religious vs. secular, the Chechen conflict also had the independence element.
The second wave of radicalization started at the turn of the century. Some people claim that it was a result of the American War on Terror, which many Muslims interpret as the American War on Islam, but in reality the reason is skyrocketing oil revenues of Wahhabi states.
Centuries-old local mosques are being replaced by modern, Wahhabi-built mosques. Old imams who survived the communists are being replaced by Wahhabi clerics. This is not only true for predominantly Muslim countries like Tajikistan, but also for autonomous regions inside of Russia like Bashkiria and Tatarstan, where most people consider themselves more Russian than Muslim. You can see similar developments in former Yugoslavia, where moderate imams with little financial backing are being replaced by radicals with virtually unlimited financing.
If current demographic trends hold, Muslims in Russia may become a majority by the mid-century. And if current radicalization trends hold, Russia may become a war theatre comparable to Chechnya or Lebanon, but on a much larger scale.
FP: Expand for us a bit please on the demographic trends in Russia. Muslims may be the majority in Russia by mid-century? What will this mean?
Alsayef: The native Russian population is on the decline. About a year ago, the government started to provide a special subsidy for a second child; 250,000 rubles, which is about two average yearly salaries. Attracted by the economic opportunities, there is a steady stream of Muslims from the former Soviet republics and predominantly Muslim parts of the Russian Caucasus. Those Muslims tend to have much larger families than native Russian Muslims. Small Muslim communities of Moscow and St. Petersburg that made up less than 1% of the population 20 years ago have increased more than ten-fold.
The new generation of Muslims is more religious. Unfortunately, since most of the mosques are either completely or partially funded by the Wahhabis, the new generation is also more radical. 20 years ago, Russian Muslims were completely assimilated, both culturally and linguistically. The new generation tends to create its own communities. Those “enclaves” are easier radicalized.
If the trends of isolation and radicalization continue along with current demographic trends and rising oil prices, it is quite possible that by mid-century Russia will become a radical Muslim superpower.
FP: How can the current radicalization trend be stopped? The key is to stop skyrocketing oil revenues for Wahhabi states, yes? But how?
Alsayef: I could never understand why America spends a quarter of a trillion dollars a year on Persian Gulf oil while not using its own oil resources. Especially when some of this money goes to finance radical Islam worldwide (including in America itself) and the American economy suffers from high fuels prices.
Luckily, Russia does not have oil dependency. The long-term solution to stop the flow of petro-dollars to the Wahhabis is to create a non-petroleum energy solution. It will probably not happen in our lifetime, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be worked on today. The short-term solution is to combat radical Islam inside every democratic country. One part is to enact legislation to criminalize the spread of radical Islam. It is not an easy task, especially in America where Freedom of Speech is the cornerstone of the Constitution. However, some of the speech could be criminalized, i.e., a death threat to an individual. Advocating Sharia is a death threat to Democratic society. If you can protect an individual, you should be able to protect the society as a whole.
The other needed step is to empower moderate Muslims to combat Islamism in the public square. Unfortunately, neither the Russian nor the American government seems to distinguish between moderate Muslims and ‘soft’ Jihadis. In fact, Putin went so far as to condemn the publication of Prophet Mohammed cartoons.
While Russia is empowering Iran, America is empowering Saudi Arabia, which is even worse. On top of that, America is legitimizing ‘soft’ Jihadis and advance of Sharia by putting them in charge of government and academic programs and inviting them to major political events.
FP: Where exactly does Russia stand in the War on Terror? There is, for instance, much evidence that the Putin regime is in league with Islamists on many levels. (Click here to see Pavel Stroilov interview.)
Alsayef: I wouldn’t call this evidence. When someone portrays that “FSB [Federal Security Service – successor to the KGB] blew up four apartment blocks in Russia, and then were caught red-handed attempting to blow-up the fifth” as a fact, the rest of his “facts” must be taken with a grain of salt.
Did the FSB have the ability to blow up four buildings in Moscow? Absolutely. Would the FSB blow up those buildings? I find it highly improbable. Could the FSB get caught red-handed attempting to blow-up the fifth building? Absolutely not. Who would they get caught by? The cops? The cops can’t touch them. By the FSB itself? Not bloody likely.
The “fact” that the FSB blew up those buildings is as much of a fact as the “fact” that the CIA blew up the Twin Towers. It is nothing more than a conspiracy theory, and Mr. Stroilov should know better than present it as a fact. The claim that “The Putin-Medvedev regime is doomed” shows that Mr. Stroilov seems to prefer wishful thinking to reality. Barring an act of God, Putin will rule Russia for a long time, no matter what title he comes up with, president, prime minister, or Tzar.
FP: Well, the connection between the FSB and the blow up of four buildings in Moscow appears to me to be pretty solid in terms of what I have studied, and the Twin Towers conspiracy theory analogy doesn’t match in anyway. But we’ll leave this for another forum. Pavel Stroilov is welcome to contribute to our pages on this issue if he wishes.
Let’s get to Putin and the tie to Islamists.
Alsayef: In terms of the tie between Putin to the Islamists, first, and pretty much the only one, is Bushehr [nuclear reactor in Iran]. Everybody knows that the Iranian nuclear program, euphemistically speaking, goes beyond energy. The Russians know that. The Americans know that. Even the IAEA knows that. What the Russians don’t seem to understand, or maybe simply don’t care about, is that an Iranian-made nuke could be detonated in Moscow just as easily as it could be detonated in Washington.
Since I’m not privy to the Russian-Iranian nuclear deal, I might not be aware of some safeguards. For example, the Russians might control the weaponized nuclear material production and would be able to match the bomb signature to the reactor. However it is unlikely for Iranians to use a nuclear weapon without plausible deniability, therefore it probably will be given to a third party. This third party most likely would be a radical Islamic group that might ignore the wishes of its masters and detonate the bomb anywhere.
Second is Syria. Syria is a Muslim country and it has a fascist regime, but it is secular. However, Syria-Iranian proxy Hezbollah is an Islamist group and weapons sold to Syria have been known to turn up in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Third is Venezuela. Again, Venezuela’s government is hardly Islamist, but Chavez offered Venezuelan passports to radical Muslims who want to go to the United States. As for al-Zawahiri being the FSB secret agent, that’s just another unsubstantiated and highly improbable rumor.
FP: Russia’s stance on the War on Terror?
Alsayef: If the terror is within Russian borders, Russia is very forcefully against it. The famous Putin’s phrase about the terrorists is “budem mochit’ v sortire” which roughly translates into “we’ll whack them in the toilet.” But if the terror is outside Russia and it ties up American resources, then we have a different story. After all, Putin still sees America as Russia’s main rival; the fact that the feelings are not mutual, is somewhat of an insult to him. Russia doesn’t mind that much. However, the biggest threat to Russia is not America; it is the radicalizing Muslim population within its own borders as well as in Russia’s former satellites. Putin is focusing on America while overlooking a growing Islamist threat at home. As the last decades show, radicalization of Muslims always translates into bloodshed, but Putin’s government seems to think that it is immune.
FP: Ilshat Alsayef, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Alsayef: Thank you Jamie.