The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Chechnya's creeping Islamism

Chechnya is rarely headline news nowadays, but an attack last week shows that the province's problems are far from over.

In a coordinated attack on the parliament, Ministry of Agriculture, and office of the Parliamentary Speaker, gunmen managed to kill six people and injure another seventeen. Those behind it are Islamic insurgents who in recent years have largely operated in the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Although Chechnya is synonymous with North Caucasian violence, it has been one of the region's quieter republics since the current president, Ramzan Kadyrov, was installed in 2007. The dictatorial way in which he's ruled, and the crack-down on militants that he's orchestrated, has suppressed much of the insurgency and pushed it into Dagestan and Ingushetia. Russia's Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, sought to promote this perception by claiming "The situation we saw today is extremely rare. Here, there is stability and security." Nurgaliyev then went on to say:

"The leadership of the insurgent underground has practically been taken out. A significant portion of its arms supplies and financial resources have been cut off. The work of emissaries from foreign terrorist centers has been contained."

This may be true, to a large extent, but at what cost? It certainly hasn't been done by winning the hearts and minds of the Chechen population. In what can be considered a paradox between a government that crushes fundamentalism while encouraging creeping Islamism, Kadyrov himself appears to be backing a crack-down on women dressed "provocatively" in public. This raises some interesting questions about the way in which Kadyrov is ruling Chechnya. For instance, will backing more puritanical Islamic customs help him win support from young males that may otherwise join fundamentalist militant groups? Or will it store up more trouble for the future if Moscow ever decides to throw Kadyrov over-board? It's very difficult to say but today's Chechnya certainly offers an interesting case study in counter-insurgency and the type of political model required to contain militant populations.

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