Growing Islamophobia in Russia has Three Sources
By Paul Goble
Few Muslims in the Russian Federation have any doubt that they face a rising tide of anti-Islamic extremism, but they and especially their intellectual leaders disagree as to its source, with some pointing to international trends, others to national ones and still a third to local causes.
In an essay posted online today, Islam.ru’s Daniyal Isayev asks three leading Islamic intellectuals in the Russian Federation for their explanations as to why hostility toward Russia’s Muslims is growing and whether there is any one institution or group of people responsible for the outrages against that community (www.islam.ru/pressclub/islamofobia/vzifodtries/).
There is no agreement on this point, Isayev notes, and he suggests that “the most interesting” variants of the answer are provided by Maksim Shevchenko, a Muslim commentator on Moscow’s First Chanel, Abudlla Rinat Mukhametov, the deputy chief editor of Islam.ru, and Aslambek Ezhayev, head of the Umma Publishing Company.
Shevchenko, as he has on other occasions, suggests that the rise of anti-Muslim attitudes and acitons is part of a general preparation for a major war in the Middle East, one that Israel plans to launch “in the first instance” against Palestine, Iran, and Lebanon. In support of this, Israel is trying to whip up opinion around the world against Muslims.
The Israelis and their allies, he continues, “want to explain to the world and in particular to Russia” that all Muslims are enemies, terrorists, and murderers. By “blackening the reputation” of Muslims and “demonizing them,” the Israelis and their allies are driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in Russia.
Mukhametov in contrast argues that the causes of growing Islamophobia in Russia are Russian. The editor has argued in other places that Moscow is pursuing a three-part strategy toward the Islamic community – adaption of its members to life, the dilution of Islamic culture,m and restraint on the growth of the umma in Russia.
At present, he argues, the last is the dominant approach, one that on a more or less constant basis, “certain siloviki and bureaucrats” think can be transformed into “a final solution of the Muslim question” and thus promote hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Russian Federation.
That invariably leads to an exchange of attacks between these two communities, a trend that can be played up by those who want to exclude Islam from Russian life and have little concern either for tolerance or for the provisions of the Russian Constitution or the observance of Russian law.
But Ezhayev argues that one can best understand the sources of Islamophobia by focusing not on the international scene or even on the all-Russian one. Instead, he argues, one should focus on the North Caucasus, the Middle Volga and Siberia where some officials are convinced that Russia’s Muslims are under the influence of foreign extremist groups.
The “nightmare” scenario for such officials, he continues, is the idea that “an ever larger number of Muslims in the country are oriented not toward Talgat Tajuddin or Muhammedgali Husin but toward international Muslim scholars like Yusuf al-Qadawi, Abdullah ibn Jibrin, Said Nursi and others.”
Because these officials and especially the siloviki are responsible for security in their areas and because they are inclined to see a foreign hand behind all the greatest threats, they thus take actions against Muslims suspected of such links and that in turn feeds on xenophobic attitudes among the Russian population more generally.
Thus, Ezhayev implies, the professional responsibilities of these officials lead them to take individual actions which collectively feed into something larger rather than any one of these actions being a derivative of a more general policy, a reality that the Muslim publisher says the Islamic community must both recognize and make use of.
Isayev agrees, but he also thinks that international trends and all-Russian ones are playing a role and should be taken into consideration as the growing umma in the Russian Federation seeks to find its way toward a more tolerant relationship with the non-Muslim majority of that country.