Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslim Bloggers Speak Out on Putin, the Elections, and Their Community

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 27 – Russia’s Muslims are increasingly organizing their own blogs and posting notices on Internet forums, a development that has prompted the Islam in the Russian Federation website to publish the first of what it promises to be a regular description of this virtual space.
In a detailed essay filled with hypertext links to Muslim bloggers and forums, Aynur Sibgatullin provides a glimpse into one of the most important public spaces where the faithful in the Russian Federation are trying out new ideas and thereby building a community (http://www.islamrf.ru/articles.php?razdel=1&sid=1050).
Because Sibgatullin limits himself to materials posted during the first three weeks of this month, it is difficult to know whether what he describes is typical of this genre earlier or represents part of a clear trend. That will become obvious only after he files a number of such stories.
Even in this relatively brief period, however, he was able to find and then report on some intriguing comments by Muslims from various parts of the Russian Federation about Muslim attitudes toward Putin, participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and the efforts of Russia’s Muslims to organize themselves.
With regard to President Vladimir Putin, Sibgatullin reports, the Muslim blogosphere during these weeks was filled with discussions about whether it was appropriate for the followers of Islam to form groups like “the Muslims of Tatarstan for Putin.”
Some bloggers denounced this step, given what they see as the Kremlin leaders less than supportive approach to Muslims in the past. But other bloggers argued in favor of it, noting that Putin “unlike a majority of Tatars” attends religious services, albeit Christian ones, and suggesting that those who oppose him should form other groups.
Concerning Muslim participation in the December 2nd elections, the Muslim blogosphere was divided, with some arguing that Muslims have no business taking part in elections in a non-Muslim state and others saying that this is the only way Russia’s Muslims can increase their influence on such a state in the short term.
But on the ru_islam forum (http://community.livejournal.com/ru_islam/), “hidjab” --(http://hidjab.livejournal.com/) -- expressed what is likely the view of many Muslims on this issue: “I do not see a big difference between these existing parties, so none of them is all that interesting to me.” Only when they start taking direct positions on the Islamic community will it matter.
And finally, but certainly not unexpectedly, much of Russia’s Muslim blogosphere during this period was filled with discussions of the meaning of the Third All-Russian Muslim Forum that took place in Moscow over the course of the first four days of November.
Various bloggers, Sibgatullin noted, provided far more detailed descriptions of what had taken place there than did any of the regular media or even more formal Muslim websites. He said that the articles of Fatima Anastasiya Yezhova, whose Live Journal blog name is “sestra_fatima” (http://sestra-fatima.livejournal.com/), especially impressed him.
As is often the case with bloggers everywhere, perhaps the most interesting comments came from those who were correcting speakers on specific facts – such as how long the Bashkirs had resisted Russian occupation – or putting a different spin on the importance of the meeting than the participants typically did.
But of course, as Sibgatullin himself points out, in addition to discussions of these relatively serious matters, the postings of Russia’s Muslims in the blogosphere also feature information about various strange, improbable, and perhaps totally invented groups and events.
He gives as an example of this the posts on the “muslim_elves” community (http://community.livejournal.com/muslim_elves/), a group of bloggers who say they believe, how seriously is very much an open question, that elf-style role-playing allows them to navigate between the extremes of Sufism or Wahhabism.
Whether these Russian “Muslim Elves” will attract many followers remains to be seen, but their postings and those of other Muslim bloggers on what is the freest part of the Russian media provide an extraordinarily valuable means to learn what this community thinks and where Russia’s growing number of Muslims may be going.

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