Islam Struggles with Islamic Extremism

Extremists reinterpret Islamic values 

Extremism is apparently one of the most horrible phenomena that appeared in the 20th century. Unfortunately, there are no reasons for optimistic forecasts about it in the 21st century. Is it possible to fight this evil? Is it possible to settle conflicts down and not to let them occur in the future? Obviously, extremism and everything that comes with it - terrorism, hostage-taking, hijacking crimes - appears because of the impossibility to solve problems within the scope of the law and international rights of certain countries. An efficient counteraction against extremism is not possible, if one does not realize the essence of a conflict, its historical prerequisites and the geopolitical situation.

The problem of fighting extremism, terrorism and religious extremism appeared in Russia long before the 9/11 tragedy in the USA. It is generally believed, the Northern Caucasus is the epicenter of the Russian terrorism and extremism. The war in Chechnya, the permanent tension between numerous Caucasian nations that periodically grows to open conflicts in almost all republics of the Northern Caucasus exerts a very serious influence on the situation not only in the region, but in Russia on the whole. Why Caucasus? Is it incidental or is there a certain reason? Is there a way out of the situation, which seems to be like a curse? One may answer these questions for a very long time, and there will not be any answer found.

In 1993, professor of Harward, Samuel Huntington, published a book "The Clash of Civilizations." The researcher put forward an interesting interpretation of modern conflicts, which are considered as a result of the antagonistic cooperation between various civilizations.  The professor wrote: "Civilization identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another."

Future conflicts will be happening on two levels: between the groups of people that will live on those boundary lines on the one hand (for land and power), and between the states that belong to various civilizations (for the military and economic influence). The aspiration to comprehend the geopolitical situation in the world after the conflict in the Caucasus and in the Balkans, terrorist acts on September 11th, and the USA's actions that followed them, provoked a lot of thoughts about the fate of the modern world. One has to acknowledge, professor Huntington's ideas about inevitable contradictions between the Christian and the Islamic worlds have become rather popular nowadays. This contradiction has become the objective basis for the majority of up-to-date conflicts and possible confrontations of the future. The events in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in the Caucasus give certain reasons for such ideas to appear. The mentioned regions have been the territory of serious ethnic conflicts for a long time already. Those territories combine the cultures based on Christianity and Islam. Nevertheless, despite the visible substantiation of such concepts, one can not agree with them.

It is absolutely obvious, any theoretical layout of the geopolitical situation in the world is supposed to be built on the base of key factor analysis  - the factors that are capable of exerting either the positive or the negative influence on its development.  A mistake to determine those factors leads to the improper comprehension of the situation and directs the society towards false goals, which eventually results in the aggravation of a conflict.  An attempt to explain up-to-date conflicts with the contradiction of Christian and Islamic cultures creates serious obstacles for their solution, because it provokes a confrontation between two forces that originally possess a huge integration potential - Islam and Christianity.

Of course, a profound analysis of the reasons that make modern conflicts appear is a subject of a serious research. Yet, it is obviously not the basic problem of the present time.

The events in the Northern Caucasus - the war in Chechnya, ethnic conflicts - give a reason to believe that Christianity and Islam do not make an objective basis of present conflicts. On the contrary, the two global religions have played an extremely important role in their regulation. The relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Islam can be called an example of the inter-confessional cooperation, which has greatly affected the stabilization of the situation in certain regions and in the Northern Caucasus on the whole.

The active use of the religious phraseology by international armed groups in Chechnya, as well as by religious and political extremists in other regions of the Northern Caucasus creates a rather stable illusion of the extremist orientation of the Islamic religion as it is. Such comprehension of Islam occurs owing to unscrupulous journalists and politicians. The religious extremism jeopardizes Islam first and foremost - the Islam that has been practiced by many Russian peoples, the Islam that has shown an incredible influence on the culture of those peoples, which has helped them to take a worthy place both in the Russian and in the international community.

The superficial acquaintance with the new history of post-Soviet republics in the Northern Caucasus allows to see that Islam was just a screen for extremist groups' activities that pursued political goals first and foremost. The Islamic Renaissance Party is a bright example of a political extremist group. The party's struggle for the restoration of Islam has resulted in an attempted coup in Tajikistan and active separatist activities in the Northern Caucasus. It is important to notice here that Muslim people were the first to express their concern about the activity of that party. Both state and law-enforcement bodies stayed quiet - they were paralyzed with democratic reforms in the beginning of the 1990s. The extremist activity was condemned at the Third Congress of Muslims on the Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic and the Stavropol region in 1991. The tough position of the majority of Muslims was one of the most important reasons to stop the extremist activity on the territory of the republic and the region.

The analysis of literature, leaflets, audio and video materials, which are distributed by extremist religious and political groups, proves that extremists stand separately from the majority of the Muslim population and consider the traditional Islamic clergy its basic adversary. Therefore, there are no reasons to consider Islam the ideological basis of extremism. The vast majority of Muslims did not comprehend the extremist interpretation of Quran - they stood up against the activity of extremist groups.

The relations between Islam and the Orthodox religion do not give any reasons to talk about a cultural antagonism. On the contrary, living for a long time on one territory of the nations that belong to various language groups of people that practice different religions, assisted in the development of the specific inter-ethnic communication culture. This culture can be described as highly tolerant, respecting someone else's customs and religions. Inter-ethnic conflicts are presumably connected with territorial issues, not with cultural discrepancies, or political claims of the modern ethnic political elite. It is worth mentioning here - there is no correlation between emerging conflicts and the religious belonging of the subjects of a conflict.

A confrontation might appear both between the people of different confessions from Osetia and Ingushetia, as well as between the people from Karachayevo and Cherkessia, who practice Islam. Vice versa, a religious issue has never been touched upon in all known conflicts. A religion was a strong factor that restrained the development of conflicts. There are no objective conditions, under which a religion could become a real factor of confrontation. Orthodox and Muslims do not perform any actions against each other that would incite a conflict. The mountainous population traditionally practices Islam, the Slavic population traditionally practices the Orthodox religion.

On the other hand, confessions do not have ethnic institutes. The Orthodox and the Islamic clergy are on friendly, constructive terms with each other. As a rule, they exercise joint positions on public and political issues. The Russian Orthodox Church and Muslim clerical administrations in the Northern Caucasus have to solve similar problems. The lack of money, the low religiousness of the population - everything makes Islam and the Orthodox religion become objective allies.

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine the efficient struggle with extremist groups, extremist ideas, first and foremost, without the assistance on the part of religious associations. Islam is the prime ally of the state in the struggle with the Islamic extremism.

Candidate of historical science
Envoy of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia government for religious organizations

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Author`s name Olga Savka