Bullets silence whistle-blowers in Russia. Two years ago, a human rights lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, 34, and a Novaya Gazeta reporter, Anastasia Baburova, 25, were shot half a mile away from the Kremlin. Last summer, I attended the funeral of one of Russia's most prominent human rights defenders, Natasha Estemirova, 50; her kidnappers threw her body on the side of a road. A few months later, a popular opposition leader in Ingushetia, Maksharip Aushev, 43, was killed. His car was found riddled with 60 bullet holes on a road outside Nalchik.
These people were united by their uncompromising reporting on human rights violations in their own country. They understood exactly what lies at the bottom of the country's growing social problems.
This summer, one more murder was added to the list. In June, Maksud Sadikov, the tall, large-hearted rector at Dagestan's Institute of Theology, was shot in his car in Makhachkala, leaving his wife, four children, and hundreds of students in deep mourning. Sadikov was a reformer and a peacemaker. Faced with the increasing problem of how to stop thousands of Russian Muslims from traveling to Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and other centers providing free -- but more hard-line -- Islamic education, his solution was to improve Islamic education at home in Russia. He imported the best teachers from elsewhere, when necessary, and hired talented Russians back from overseas universities to participate in his program, training moderate imams for Dagestan's Islamic learning centers.
Respected by Moscow, Dagestani authorities and police, and Sufi and Salafi Muslim communities alike, Sadikov was an essential figure for negotiating peace between the religious sects that are de facto at war in Dagestan, where Muslims have been drawn into fighting the anti-Kremlin terrorism campaign that has long engulfed its neighboring republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia. When I visited Makhachkala in July, the republic's president, Magomedsalam Magomedov, called Sadikov "irreplaceable" in the peacemaking process.
The new university management feels deeply traumatized by Sadikov's murder; without their old rector, they say, the reforms will end. Who wants to risk their life for it? This calculation is becoming all too common. When I recently visited with journalism students at Moscow State University -- where a portrait gallery honors graduates killed in recent years, including Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya and TV anchor Vladislav Listyev -- only a handful of students would admit to wanting to be an investigative reporter. Nineteen Russian journalists have been killed in the country since 2001, with none of their murders solved.
so the weekly terrorist attacks and assassinations of officials in the North Caucasus
have become routine news that the majority of Russians prefer not to think about.
But Sadikov was the 13th religious or civil society leader assassinated in the
Caucasus since the beginning of
2010. Recent polls by the Levada Center show that only 9 percent of Russians
are concerned about increasing terrorism in the country, while 81 percent worry
most about rising food prices.
Sadikov foresaw the engulfing disaster in the Caucasus; unfortunately, his warnings did not bring much action.
Last year, I went to Dagestan to report a story for Newsweek about Islamic education reform in Russia. I met Sadikov by his university, right by the central mosque in Makhachkala. At the time, he was frustrated after returning from a Kremlin-funded conference with regional bureaucrats. He told me that the "dead-end five-year-plan" discussion did not result in any concrete progress for the republic: "While we are busy making speeches, our youth leave for the forest to join the hidden guerrilla war."