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Caliphate for an Hour

Published: April 7, 2014 (Issue # 1804)


Columnists should make predictions about the future. The fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11 caught us by surprise because of failures of imagination. But besides publicly exercising imagination, columnists should also examine their own failed predictions in hopes of salvaging something from the fiasco.

That's the case with me and the Sochi Winter Olympics. Doku Umarov, the Chechen leader of the Islamist insurgents, had called for attacks on the Games. As the focus of the world's attention, they seemed the perfect target. Moreover, the closing ceremonies would be held on Feb. 23, the 70th anniversary of Stalin's violent exile of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations.

As everyone knows, the Games and the closing ceremony passed without incident. I asked myself, "Why?" Have President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov so smashed the Islamists that all they can do is issue grandiloquent videos proclaiming a caliphate across the Caucasus or blow up the occasional bus?

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The reason was far simpler: Umarov did not strike because he was dead. That death had been long rumored, and in Russia rumor remains a source of information worth taking into account. Thus far, there has been no information about the place, date or cause of death. More important now is the person replacing Umarov and the movement's probable direction under his tutelage.

The new leader is Aliasaskhab Kebekov, 42, who had been the spiritual leader and supreme Sharia judge of the Caucasus region. The first non-Chechen to lead the insurgency, he is an ethnic Avar from Dagestan, as was the iconic leader Shamil who combined strategic and spiritual gifts to lead a decades-long rebellion against the Russians in the mid-19th century.

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Dagestan itself is less ethnically homogeneous that Chechnya and thus more difficult for Moscow to impose a leader like Kadyrov. "Dagestanis are much more Islamist, they are better integrated into global jihad, and they are more super-national," says Yekaterina Sokirianskaya, North Caucasus director for the International Crisis Group.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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