Staunton, May 27 – The leaders of the Caucasus Emirate have declared themselves part of ISIS, but such declarations, given that many Salafis in the North Caucasus view ISIS as not being an Islamic project — an attitude Russian officials need to promote and exploit — may have the effect of weakening the group there, according to Akhmet Yarlukapov.
Yarlykapov, a specialist on the North Caucasus at the Moscow Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology, says that ISIS nonetheless may be able to use the Emirate to threaten Russia and make officials there suspicious of and more hostile to all Salafi groups in the region.
By taking an oath of allegiance to ISIS, the popular Dagestani preacher Nadir abu Halid has raised questions about the possibility that this will quickly and immediately lead to more violence and instability not only in Dagestan but across the entire North Caucasus, Yarlykparov acknowledges.
“In reality,” he says, “events are developing in a very bad direction because ISIS is being popularized and field commanders of various levels are swearing allegiance to this structure.” So many are doing so that it is possible to say that the Emirate is “being transformed into one of the subdivisions of ISIS.”
But at the same time, the Moscow scholar points out, the Salafis of the North Caucasus are far from unanimous in their assessment of such actions because many of them, including some of their leaders, do not view ISIS as an Islamic project but rather as a narrowly political one that is dividing the umma rather than uniting it.
Such attitudes, Yarlykarpov continues, should be recognized and exploited so that there can be cooperation with the Salafis rather than a new round of hostility based on the notion that ISIS is Salafi and therefore all Salafis are for ISIS. “This is a mistake,” he says, “and can only lead to the further loss” of Russian influence on these communities.
Unfortunately, as the detention of Dagestani Salafi leader Mukhammad Magomedov over the weekend shows, the scholar says, the Makhachkala authorities are acting in exactly the opposite way, a decision that may very well have extremely negative consequences in the current environment.
According to Yarlykarpov, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Dagestan which “controls the majority of mosques” of the republic bears “the major responsibility” for ensuring that the authorities do not act against Salafis there in a counterproductive way and push those loyal to Russia into the arms of ISIS.