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Moscow to co-opt Russian Muslims to fight ‘radical Islam’

M.A. Shaikh

Anti-Islam animus is not confined to the US or Europe even if it is most pronounced in these lands. The virus appears to be permanently lodged in the genes of most non-Muslim westerners. Only this can offer an explanation for the multifaceted assault on Islam from different quarters in the west.

Barely a month after the declaration of an Islamic Republic in Chechenya in early November, and less than a week before the Organization of Islamic Conference’s Tehran summit on December 9-11, Moscow convened a meeting of its own to warn of the threat of ‘radical Islam,’ described as a form of extremism alien to ‘true Islam.’

The theme of the conference - held at Moscow’s parliamentary centre on December 3 - was ‘Islam in Russia: Traditions and Horizons.’ The meeting was organized by deputy prime minister Ramadhan Abdul-Latifov, the only Russian Muslim to achieve such rank in government although Muslims form more than 12 percent of the country’s population.

In a letter read at the meeting, Russian prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin hailed ‘the role of Islam in the establishment of the Russian State,’ apparently taking a leaf out of the book of western leaders, like Bill Clinton, who publicly praise Islam but privately plot to disembody it. But, as if to ensure that his praise of Islam should not be taken at face value, he quickly added that the new religious law - enacted only weeks earlier in the face of widespread protests by religious minorities - would give Islam a greater scope in Russian life and usher in an era of greater stability.

The law was introduced to give the Russian Church a dominant role which would dwarf other faiths into insignificance. Even the US has attacked it as an assault on human rights, while other western governments have protested to president Yeltsin - to no avail.

Another example of the kind of lip-service western Church leaders and politicians pay to Islam came when several delegates called for a dialogue between Christians and Muslims. But none of the speakers condemned the appalling treatment of Muslims at the hands of the Russian State and Church. The reason is simply that the purpose of the conference was not to improve the lot of Russian Muslims but to forestall the growth of Islamic revivalism among their ranks.

The successful war of independence in Chechenya and the consequent resurgence of Islamic activism there had clearly weighed on the minds of the conference organisers. Any lingering doubts that they had gathered to improve the lot of Muslims vanished as soon as the minister for nationality affairs Mikhailov rose to address the meeting.

He began his speech by condemning efforts made to project the Chechen war as a conflict between Muslims and Christians, dismissing them as manifestly untrue. Muslim scholars in fact played a prominent role in confounding those efforts, he said.

The minister was confident that Islam could be a ‘force for stability’ in Russian society but strongly warned against the danger posed by what he called ‘Islamic radicals’ adding that ‘Islam has no relations whatsoever with extremism.’ It was not immediately clear whether the worthy minister was aware of the pathetic extent to which he was aping Muslim dictators and their western patrons, who only manage to make themselves look ridiculous when they try to draw distinctions between various strains of Islam, as if Islam were a disease.

There is only one Islam, and there is no place in it for Russian imperialism or Soviet secularism, as the indomitable Chechens have demonstrated much to the trepidation of the Russians, who are fearful of the consequences of the Chechen example in other Muslim republics in the Russian Federation.

The Russians are fully aware that they cannot re-conquer Chechenya without enormous cost both in lives and money. But they dare not concede full independence to it in case this sets a precedent. Their concerns were not exactly relieved by Chechenya’s declaration of an Islamic republic in early November - of all places in Turkey, where president Aslam Maskhadov made the momentous announcement. His vice-president Vakha Arsanov several days later (November 10) issued a decree implementing the Islamic dress code (For details of both, and of earlier Islamic measures in the republic, see Muslimedia Archives: World - “It takes a Chechen to declare Islamic Republic”, issue no.27).

These developments clearly worried the Kremlin, and hung over the Moscow conference’s proceedings like a ghost. But the delegates had no obvious answer to this Islamic challenge apart from the time- honoured ones traditionally employed by the west and Muslim dictators. For instance, one of the proposals put to the conference is the establishment of an Islamic University and an Eastern Human resources centre to train orientalists and specialists in Islamic studies.

The government told the delegates that it was prepared to fund both projects. Who knows? One day Yeltsin might win the king Faisal prize for his services to Islam. He will join the current recipient, Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, who built an Islamic University. (See Muslimedia Archives: South East Asia - “Mahathir, Karimov new champions of Islam”, issue no.9). He might find Mahathir congenial company since Yeltsin is after all not a foreign currency speculator.

The Chechen president clearly saw the Moscow conference as directed against his country, but he was not impressed. No sooner had the meeting concluded its business than Maskhadov promoted Shamil Basayev - the Chechen commander most hated in Russia - to become de facto prime minister. Basayev had humiliated the Russian army by occupying, for a week, an entire village in southern Russia during the war of independence. Maskhadov who had been both president and prime minister since election in January, has handed the post of cabinet leader to Basayev, according to the Interfax news agency.

Muslimedia: January 1-15, 1998

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 21

Ramadan 02, 14181998-01-01

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