By Paul Goble
Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), says that “today, a much greater threat to the unity of [Russia] comes not from the Caucasus but out of Moscow where at the walls of the Kremlin, at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, thousands of young people under Nazi symbols shout ‘Down with the Caucasus!’”
Gainutdin’s charge, made in a speech to the All-Russian Muslim Conference on Thursday and in an interview with “Novyye izvestiya,” not only over overwhelmed his hopes to use this meeting to promote Muslim unity but also sparked a sharp rejoinder from Kremlin officials, thereby highlighting both divisions within Islam and between Muslims and Moscow.
In his speech, the SMRhead said that he wanted “with the help of Allah to develop a consolidated position of the Muslim community of Russia on the most serious problems of the development of our country,” problems that he said could only be solved by clearly facing up to them (www.muslim.ru/1/cont/33/35/2324.htm).
“The first and most essential threat for all the citizens of our country, not excluding the Muslims” Gainutdin began, “must be acknowledged to be the sharp intensification of xenophobia and chauvinism in Russian society,” and in particular, “the rapid growth of Islamophobia” among Russians.
This “ugly manifestion of intolerance,” the Muslim leader continued, has a long history and specific sources. To a large extent, he said, “the mass media” have played and are playing a negative role, “disseminating false information about Isdlam” and spreading “distrust and hatred among Russians of various nationalities and faiths.”
“Today, when we turn to many Russian media outlets,” Gainutdin said, “we are forced to cite the words of the Most High who said in the Koran ‘Why do you tell lies and conceal the truth when you have already known it?”
Related to this problem, the SMR leader argued, is the “unceasing” banning of “the best models of Muslim spiritual literature by provincial Russian courts.” Recently one of them banned the hadith of the Prophet, an action that shows the way in which anti-extremism legislation is now being used by Russian officials to attack Islam as such.
Other problems connected with this include “the proposals of a number of experts and religious activists” to prevent any graduate of foreign universities fromworking in Russia. This “absurd” idea is directed in the first instance against Muslims receiving training abroad but it will affect everyone – and to Russia’s detriment, Gainutdin said.
Many Russians want to blame Muslims and Islam for the rise in xenophobia, the Moscow mufti said, but this is completely wrong as recent events have shown. “After the bloody terrorist acts in Moscow and the events in the Manezh Square, our society has found itself between two fires,” which threaten to engulf it.
“On the one hand, terrorism and extremism, and on the other, neo-Nazism and chauvinism,” Gainutdin argued. And he concluded: “Today a much greater threat to the unity of the country comes not from the Caucasus but from Moscow,” all the more so because “Muslims are the first target of the terrorists both in the Caucasus and in Russian cities.”
To counter this situation, Gainutdin proposed improving ties with other faiths, ensuring the secular nature of the Russian state and preventing Islam from being politicized, and improving the management of and cooperation among Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs),
Gainutdin expanded upon these arguments in an interview with Aleksandr Kolesnichenko of “Novyye izvestiya” (http://www.newizv.ru/razdel/2011-03-25/3/), an interview published to coincide with the Muslim Conference that the Moscow newspaper headlined “The Threat to the Unity of the Country Comes from Moscow.”
Asked why it is that “precisely in the Muslim republics of war a war is going on, one in which [some] are fighting for the creation of an Islamic khalifate,” the SMR leader said that it is not the case that “all who go into the mountains and conduct their anti-government activity under [this slogan].” Many, he said, do so because of the failings of the government itself.
“I was in the North Caucasus, I met with ordinary Muslims and Muslim leaders and I received a clear answer: none of them wants the distintegration of Russia. Russia is out common country, which grew not only from Kievan Rus but also fromt eh Golden Horde and the Imamate of Shamil, the free communities of the Caucasus and the Volga-Siberia khanates,” he said.
“Today,” Gainutdin said, “in the North Caucasus, our brothers and sisters want to live in a great strong sstate where the rights and freedoms of every citizen are respected.” Unfortunately, today that is threatened, not so much by the actions of the few who engage in terrorist acts but from the attitudes of Russians about Muslims.
Consequently, Gainutdin concluded, “a much greater threat to the unity of the country comes not from the Caucasus but from Moscow” itself.
Typically, when a Muslim leader in Russia makes a statement with which the authorities disagree, the latter leave it to people like Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam whose opposition to most Muslim leaders and close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate have made him notorious in some quarters, to answer.
But this time, the Kremlin clearly decided more was needed,and Aleksey Grishin, the chief advisor of the Presidential Administration, weighed in with a sharp attack on the argument Gainutdin had made, dismissing it as an effort to explain away the problems of Russia’s Muslim community (www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=dujour&div=374).
According to Grishin, “very often, particularly recently, individual Muslim leadcers try to justify their inactive and inability to solve basic problems of the umma by references to the supposed existence of Islamophobia” in Russian society and particularly among Russian officials.
“This theme is very convenient as well to the enemies of Russia beyond the borders of the Russian Federation,” the Presidential aide continued.
Grishin then pointed out that “the term ‘Islamophobia’ means not opposition to Islam, as many mistakenly use it, but rather fear before Islam.” But whatever “fear” Russians feel about Islam is the result of “bloody terrorist acts which “unfortunately [have taken place] under the green banners of Islam.”
The people who commimt them, of course, Grishin continued, “are not Muslims because they are criminally using Islam for their own purposes,” and it is against that misuse of religion that “we must direct the basic strike in the struggle with Islamophobia. People are afraid of Islam because of [that].”
It is completely inappropriate to charge the Russian state with Islamophobia, the Kremlin official said. “In what other country can one see a 70 times growth in the number of mosques over the last 20 years!” Or seen the growth in the number of Islamic educational institutions from zero to 95?
And much of this growth has taken place with the active support, including financial assistance, of the Russian state, Grishin said. But “how hav e Muslim religious public organizations responded? With legal nihilism. Despite numerous warnings, they are systematically failing to obey the laws of the Russian Federation.”
Moreover, “when the state begins to struggle for the observation of law, the theme of persecution of Muslims again arises, Grishin said (www.regions.ru/news/2347224/). What should be happening instead, he argued, is that Muslims should focus on their own problems rather than blaming everyone else.
Various nominally Muslim structures have been created with false documentation, Grishin said, including media outlets “which openly stir up national and religious hostility.” Muslims should focus on struggling with them. “There was a portal called Islam.ru which among the people everyone called Islam.vru [Islam Lies].”
Fortunately, after having been closed, it will reopen under new leadership and with new ideas, the Kremlin aide continued.
But in his most widely cited comment, Grishin noted that much of the money given by the state to Muslim organizations is being used “ineffectively” or even criminally. “We have reports about mosques purchasing toilets for 42,000 rubles (1400 US dollars).” The Kremlin aide said he would like to have a look at such facilities.