Vienna, December 10 -- Reacting to the opening of the first Muslim hospital in Moscow, Dmitriy Rogozin, a nationalist politician Vladimir Putin has named as Russia's permanent representative to NATO, said that such an institution could transform the Russian capital into "a little Kosovo" and even threaten "the disintegration of the country."
Rogozin's remarks, which first appeared in Komsomol'skaya Pravda on Thursday and which he then amplified in comments to the Orthodox Russkaya liniya Internet portal are consistent with his past views on Muslims in Russia, but because of his nomination, Russia's Muslims have responded angrily, questioning whether someone with his views should represent their country."
But perhaps more significant, Rogozin's criticism of an institution Muslims have long sought has prompted one leader of their community to argue that such comments must serve to "mobilize Muslims" and to transform the Islamic community of the Russian Federation "into a fully equal subject of [its] economic, political and social life" ( http://www.islam.ru/rus/2007-12-07/#18862).
Last Thursday, the first polyclinic whose operations conform to Muslim requirements opened in Moscow, a step that the Russian capital's growing Islamic community had long sought and that had been approved by Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Many Russian news outlets covered the event, but perhaps the most interesting article appeared in "Komsomol'skaya Pravda" ( http://www.kp.ru/daily/24014.4/86593/print/).
Besides reporting on the special Islamic rules that govern how a hospital should operate, including gender segregation and medicines that when possible do not include alcohol, the paper featured the reactions of Muslims and non-Muslims to the event. Not surprisingly, the Muslims surveyed were delighted, but several of the non-Muslims were very much opposed.
One visitor to the KP.ru website said that ethnic "diasporas" like the Muslims of Moscow should limit their activities to "dances, songs and costumes," but that the opening of a separate hospital for them represented the appearance of "Kosovo in Moscow!" Most others cited by the paper were critical, as were 70 percent of those who responded to the paper's query "Do we need Muslim institutions" like this one?
But the most explosive remarks were those by Dmitriy Rogozin, a former Duma deputy now on his way to represent Russia at NATO. Because of his prominence, his comment that "the establishment of special religious or national arrangements or quarters will lead to the disintegration of the country" immediately attracted attention.
In a comment posted on the Islam.ru portal on Friday, Adalet Dzhabiyev, a Muslim businessman and community leader, said that he was not surprised by Rogozin's remarks given the latter's nationalist views. But he argued that those who hold such "half-mad," inflammatory, and "in essence fascist" views should to be allowed to represent Russia "in the international arena."
If Rogozin were simply a Russian politician, his statement would be unfortunate, Dzhabiyev continued, but if he is to represent the country, then Muslims as full-fledged and loyal citizens have the right to be concerned because any remarks he makes in that capacity are "much more important and dangerous than his typical marginal expressions."
Rogozin "may not like the growth of the self-consciousness" of Russia's Muslims or the creation of the kind of institutions that other religious and ethnic groups have, the community leader said, especially because they ought to force the Kremlin to explain "'why such people [like Rogozin] are representing Russia.'"
Given that challenge and the fact that Rogozin's nomination has been approved by the Duma but not yet by the Federation Council, the former Duma deputy and his supporters quickly responded with both a more moderate statement of what Rogozin says he believes and a personal attack on the business practices of Dzhabiyev in the past.
Rogozin told the "Russkaya liniya" portal that he had no idea who Dzhabiyev was "and did not particularly want to know." But the Russian politician said, the Muslim's comments were "uneducated and not very cultured" and in fact violated Islamic injunctions. "A true Muslim," Rogozin continued, "must never cross over into almost uncensored language."
Insisting that he has no plans to change his principles in response to criticism, Rogozin said that "we live in a civil state where questions like education and health care must be resolved for all citizens regardless of their faith or the national theory of this or that people." If the reverse happens and more Muslim-only institutions are created, he said, this will "lead to unpredictable consequences."
Rogozin added that, as a longtime specialist on the Balkans, he is "seriously concerned lest Moscow be converted into a little Kosovo," a possibility that many Russians cannot even imagine unless they recognize that the problems in that former portion of Yugoslavia began precisely when Muslims insisted on having their own institutions.
And the Duma deputy concluded by saying that his words were addressed not so much at Dzhabiyev as at Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov who "in fact is cur off from the real situation of things and is playing with the most radical forms of religious extremism" by allowing Muslims to open institutions like the polyclinic and halal stores.
But if Rogozin was prepared to direct his ire primarily at Luzhkov, the Russkaya liniya portal focused on Dzhabiyev and on the Muslim community as such. The website said that Dzhabiyev had lost the bank he founded because he had engaged in money laundering. And it asked rhetorically whether it might not be the case that the polyclinic might thus be engaged in "curing bandits and terrorists."