The Caucasus Emirate on the road from Yemen to Algeria (Part 1)
By Sergei Davydov, special to Prague Watchdog
In recent weeks some of the websites of the clandestine Caucasus Emirate have posted videos and new ordinances by Dokka Umarov (Amir Abu Usman, the Emirate’s autocratic leader) which permit one to speculate on the possible ways in which a virtual North Caucasus Islamic theocracy might be established.
The contents of one of the videos, dated April 25, have been reproduced in the online media a number of times. Most of the reports focused on a passage which could be interpreted as an endorsement of terrorist acts resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians who are not directly involved in fighting against the “mujahideen”: “If we are forbidden to kill those citizens [Russians], who are so called peaceful citizens, who provide for the army, for the FSB, by their taxes, by their silence, who support that army by their approving silence, if those people are considered civilians, then I do not know by what criteria it is judged.”
It is obvious that this interpretation of the concept of “peaceful civilian” can scarcely be derived from the traditional interpretation of the rules of jihad adhered to by most Islamic faqih (jurists). According to generally accepted Islamic law, the elderly, children, women, monks, hermits and the mentally ill can not be classified as muharib, that is, persons whom it is permissible to kill.
Exceptions were made only in certain specified circumstances – when people from these categories were directly involved in a battle or night attack, when it was impossible to distinguish sex and age. It was considered preferable to take the women and children prisoner, and then make them slaves. These are apparently the prisoners Mohammed refers to in the famous Hadith which says that “Allah will make people wonder when they see people hauled to paradise in chains”, meaning that their captivity will cause them to accept Islam.
At a superficial level, such a deviation from the “canonical” rules of war may lead one to recall the fatwa, popular in Wahhabi circles, of the late Sheikh Hammoud bin Uqla ash-Shuaibi from the Saudi city of Buraid. If one is to believe members of Al Qaeda, the texts penned by this scholar (it is noteworthy that he is known only in Salafist circles and among specialists on Middle East terrorist networks) were one of the sources that inspired the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001.
However, the analogy may be misleading. The external similarity of the arguments put forward by the leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Caucasus Emirate underlines the fundamental difference in the social base and genesis of these movements. In the case of the Caucasus Emirate, it is impossible to trace any significant impact of the so-called “devout bourgeoisie” on the formation of the Islamist discourse – one can talk only of a certain degree of financial support, which does not always appear to be voluntary. On the other hand, the social base of the Salafiyya movement in the Arabian Peninsula may be likened to that of Italian fascism. It is an “extremism of the upper classes”, and is founded on an idealization of the distant past: the Caliphate in the one case and the Roman Empire in the other.
Any comparison of statements by the leaders of the virtual Caucasus Emirate with those of the principal figures of Al-Qaeda needs to take account of the specific nature of the movement headed by bin Laden, which is more akin to a public relations agency than a network of combat units. Even on a Russia-wide scale, the activities of Dokka Umarov and his movement are not accompanied by media coverage of that kind, so the analogy with the public statements of Al Qaeda’s leaders, which are designed to provoke a wide reaction among the public at large, seems false.
The new direction of Caucasus Emirate policy may be better compared to a similar evolution which took place among radical Islamists in Algeria during the mid-1990s. Such a comparison may be particularly appropriate, as the social bases of the two movements (the middle classes, Islamic intellectuals and the disadvantaged young, with a predominance of the latter), and the genesis of the ideology ( a “holy war” against a godless national regime conducted in the tradition of anti-colonial guerrilla warfare, but with the nationalist discourse replaced by Salafist doctrine) in the two situations are very similar.
(Translation by DM)