Monday, May 19, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Need to Form Enclaves to Defend Against Xenophobic Attacks, Ashirov Says

Paul Goble

Baku, May 20 – Muslims living in the Russian Federation are now so often the victims of xenophobic attacks that they need to form enclaves like the ones Muslims have in many European cities in order to be able to defend themselves, according to the controversial head of the Muslim Spiritual Administration (MSD) for the Asiatic Part of Russia.
Nafigulla Ashirov, who has often drawn fire for his remarks about Zionism and other religions, said in an interview given to that the Muslim community in Russia has no choice, given official indifference or complicity with the skinheads, if it hopes to defend itself (
“A woman is the most defenseless part of the Muslim community,” the mufti said making reference to last week’s attack against one of them in the Moscow metro. (On that attack, see “If the authorities cannot effectively defend the citizens, the latter must be given the possibility to defend themselves” one way or another.
The best way, one that Europe’s Muslims have long employed either by default or by design, is through “the establishment of large neighborhoods” where they form an overwhelming majority” and where there is “a mosque, kindergartens, schools and other kinds of Muslim infrastructure.”
But in response to an explosion of opposition to this idea, Ashirov told a colleague that he had made it in the heat of anger after the recent attack and that he certainly did not want to be understood as saying that this was the only solution to the problems that Muslims in Russia now face (
Both because they formed such a relatively small portion of Russian cities in the past and because the “propiska” or registration system, which was universal in Soviet times and exists in a modified form now, they were not able and officials did not permit them to form the kind of neighborhoods that Muslim immigrants formed elsewhere.
But now with the dramatic growth in their numbers in many Russian cities – there are more than 2.5 million Muslims (in ethnic terms) in Moscow, for example – and the possibility of bribing officials to allow them to live where they want, more and more Muslims there are living together, as immigrant communities typically have elsewhere.
That pattern by itself is changing the relationship between the Muslims and the surrounding community, allowing the former to maintain the languages of the regions they come from and the traditional behavior of their nationalities and prompting the latter to view them with disdain or even outright hatred.
Many analysts and community leaders have seen this change as an indication that the relatively peaceful relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Russian cities is going to change still further for the worse, possibly leading to the kind of violence that have marred Paris and other French cities during the past two years.
Both Muslims and non-Muslims in Russia have long worried about such a trend, although the latter are more inclined to blame the rise of the skinheads and the latter to blame the Muslims themselves for any problems. (For an example on such discussions, see the roundtable in the current issue of Vestnik Evropy at
Up to now, few Muslim leaders have been willing to suggest that the two communities should live apart in the way Ashirov proposes, fearful that such ideas will only add fuel to the fire of inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions in the Russian Federation thereby making what they acknowledge is now a bad situation even worse.
But the rising number of victims of xenophobic attacks – more than 70 people mostly Muslims have been killed in Russia from them in the last four months alone – and the failure of the Russian police to protect Muslims from such violence are leading more and more people to think what was once unthinkable or at least unspeakable except by someone like Ashirov.
Nonetheless, at least in public, most Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation – such as Ravil Gainutdin, who heads the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) not only will not give any support for such an idea but are quite prepared to speak out against both it and him (
That could change, however, because as outspoken mufti argued at least initially, “those who like to speak in the name of Muslims and receive privileges in the name of Muslims by keeping quiet about these problems are only making the situation worse,” a prediction that if it proves true could tear that country or at least its major cities apart.

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