Monday, May 28, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Nursi Decision Outrages Even Russia’s Most Moderate Muslim

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 28 – A decision by a Moscow district court last week finding the works of Said Nursi to be extremist has outraged the man many have identified – and some have criticized -- as the most moderate and Europeanized Muslim in the Russian Federation.
In a statement to the media, Rafael Khakimov, director of the Kazan Institute of History, a longtime advisor to Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev, and advocate of what he and his opponents call “Euro-Islam,” blasted the decision as an attack on Islam in general and Tatarstan in particular (
Because some in both Moscow and the West might have expected moderates like Khakimov to distance themselves from the attacks more conservative Muslims have made on the Nursi case, his words deserve special attention as an indication of the impact this decision is likely to have throughout all parts of Russia’s Muslim community.
Khakimov begins by noting “the Russian press has constantly tried to find in Tatarstan a nest of Wahhabism, separatism, pan-Turkism, nationalism, and even terrorism. Now,” he says, “ they have found ‘Nursi-ism.” But just like these other “-isms,” Nursiism is “a mirage,” something few Tatars know anything about. .
All experts on Islam and the Middle Volga region recognize this, the Kazan historian continues, But because of that, Russian prosecutors were forced to turn to psychologists and psychiatrists to make their case, specialists perhaps in their fields but people who know little or nothing about Islam or Tatarstan.
These experts told the court that Nursi’s writings could have an emotionally pessimistic impact on readers just like the works of the Japanese sectarians in Aum Sinrike. But that is absurd on its face – unless, Khakimov continues, one wants to ban any work that is less optimistic than Ilf and Petrov’s “Twelve Chairs.”
Nursi’s texts, Khakimov says, “are the direct antithesis of totalitarian ideology.” They exist within “the regime of dialogue as Plato did in his Academy,” something genuinely totalitarian sects, with their interest in “zombifying” their adherents never tolerate.
Indeed, the Shaimiyev advisor continues, Nursi’s arguments are very similar to those of the jadids, “the liberal trend among Tatar theologians” of a century ago. It is “our misfortune that the works of the jadids are so little known [today] – hence the interst in Said Nursi and Fatkhulla Gyulen [another Turkish Muslim writer].”
If there is no legal and constitutional basis for judging Nursi a totalitarian extremist as Russian prosecutors charged and the Moscow district judge ruled, then what in fact has occurred? Khakimov asks and then answers his own question: They were condemning Islam as such and Tatarstan in particular.
Unfortunately, Khakimov continues, these efforts by the secular authorities in Moscow have allies among some Muslim “hierarchs” in Russia today who are only too willing to allow the government to protect them from any intellectual or political challenge.
And as a historian, Khakimov draws an explicit parallel with what the tsarist authorities did to the jadids and what Russian prosecutors and courts are doing to Nursi now: Conservative imams in the former case told Prime Minister Stolypin that the jadids were supporters of pan-Turkist and pan-Islamist ideas.
Despite the fact that no evidence was ever found for such claims – tsarist governors in the region said they had tried and failed to find any – the central Russian government went ahead and closed the medressa that was operated by the jadids, even though it did nothing to limit pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic groups elsewhere.
The same thing is happening again, Khakimov says. Moscow is attacking the moderate Muslim thinker Nursi whose Russian-language translations are published in Kazan and Naberezhniy Chelny but not doing anything about extremist books by people like Sayid Kutb that have been published in the Russian capital.
This pattern leads Khakimov to pose three questions at the end of his article. First, why are Russian officials attacking Nursi and Western foundations but not focusing on the far more negative impact of Islamist foundations operating on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Second, Khakimov asks, why aren’t officials in Moscow concerned about who is teaching in Muslim educational institutions in the Russian Federation? And third, why aren’t Muslim students in these schools using the “tolerant Tatar textbooks” prepared before 1917 and instead using materials from abroad now?
“Don Quixote,” Khakimov concludes, “fought with imaginary windmills, and our glorious organs, together with journalists, are running after mirages as if there were no real problems. It is thus clear that the cases against the followers of Nursi are directed at discrediting the Republic of Tatarstan.”
Anything else, the advisor to the Tatarstan president says, simply does not make any sense.
Two other developments in the last few days provide support for Khakimov’s argument. On the one hand, an article entitled “How Do Russians Live in Rakhimov’s Bashkiria?” that has been widely posted on the Internet suggests that some in Moscow hope to discredit all Muslim republics (
And on the other, Vladimir Lukin, the Russian government’s human rights ombudsman, has weighed in with an article sharply critical of the Moscow district court’s ruling on Nursi, an indication that some officials are concerned about the impact of this decision on Muslim attitudes (
Defenders of the Russian publishers of Nursi’s books have appealed the decision of the Moscow district court: The Moscow city court is scheduled to take up the case in July. In the meantime, Khakimov’s words are certainly going to cause some in Moscow to worry about what this crackdown on Islam will mean for them and their country.

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