Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s Fear of ‘Second Chechnya’ Opens the Way for Islamic Radicalism, Silantyev Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 10 – Fearful that a crackdown against Islam could provoke “a second Chechnya,” the Kremlin has adopted policies that have left Muslims the “most privileged” religion in the Russian Federation and thereby opened the way for Islamic radicalism, according to a scholar closely tied to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Roman Silantyev, who a year ago lost his job as executive secretary of Russia’s Inter-religious Council because of reaction to an earlier book on Islam, released a new study this week that seems certain to generate just as much media attention and even more political controversy than his earlier book did.
In his first study, Silantyev attacked what he said were the shortcomings of the leaders of the Muslim community of the Russian Federation and what he described as myths about the number of both Muslims in the Russian Federation and especially conversions from Orthodoxy to Islam.
His new book, “The Contemporary History of Islam in Russia,” expands on that argument. Now employed as executive director of the World Russian Public Council, Silantyev has not only expanded his book by 60 percent but also added a series of personal judgments certain to offend many and be challenged by some.
Both the Interfax news agency and “Izvestiya” today featured articles about the book, highlighting in the first case what Silantyev said were frequent exaggerations about the number of Muslims in the Russian Federation an din the second stressing the fact that “radical tendencies” are overtaking “traditional Russian Islam” at a rapid rate.
But more detailed accounts of his argument appeared on the Blagovest-Info website today (http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=4&id=12924&print=1) and in an interview Silantyev gave to the Regions of Russia web site a week ago (http://www.regions.ru/news/2066436/).
In those articles, the outspoken writer renewed his earlier attacks on the leaders of the various Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) and their failure to develop a system to train new mullahs and imams in the numbers and spirit necessary to prevent the influx of Wahhabis and others from abroad.
Both Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, who heads the Central MSD, and Ravil Gainutdin, who leads the Union of Muftis of Russia, again are singled out in Silantyev’s new book for especially withering criticism, with each accused of a lack of professionalism, vision and a variety of other shortcomings.
But what is likely to attract the greater attention to Silantyev’s new effort is his criticism of the Russian government. Not only has Moscow failed to block the spread of Islamist radicalism, Silantyev says: It has taken steps that in fact have allowed the radicals to win out in many areas.
Because it fears a possible repetition of “’the Chechen scenario,’” Silantyev writes, the Russian government has increasingly allowed leaders of “’Muslim’ regions” to act as they wish in exchange for declarations of loyalty to the Kremlin to the point that Islam has become “the most privileged religion in Russia.”
Moreover, he continues, Moscow has given traditionally Muslim regions like Ingushetia, Chechnya and Daghestan not only enormous sums of money but also virtual “carte blanche” to introduce Islamic course in the schools and to allow the de facto emergence of such Islamic customs as polygamy.
“The Orthodox regions of Russia do not have similar privileges,” Silantyev suggests.
Moscow’s deference to local elites has contributed to a situation in which the “traditional Islam” of Russia has become “the victory of ideological expansion from outside,” the Orthodox writer and activist says. And unless the Russian government changes course, “interreligious peace in Russia will come to an end.”
At present, he continues, “Wahhabis already control 70 percent of the country’s Muslim mass media,” and as a result it is directed at exacerbating inter-religious and inter-Islamic hostility. Moreover, he says, the extremists have not been averse to killing Muslims who do not agree with them.
At the end of his presentation yesterday, Silantyev urged that Moscow devote “all its efforts” to promote Islamic educational institutions within Russia to train people in “traditional” Islam and to back the creation of an all-Russia Muslim newspaper, a “normal” website, and “normal Islamic literature.
Unless the Russian government takes these steps and soon, he argued, it will face an even more dangerous threat from an increasingly radical Muslim community in the Russian Federation than the danger it is hoping to avoid by not provoking a new Chechnya.

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