Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev ‘Dangerously’ Combining Tilt to West with Repression at Home, Muslim Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 10 – “The most dangerous scenario” for Russia’s development under President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a leading Muslim commentator, would be for him to defer to the Western powers abroad, something the latter would welcome, while tolerating the continued growth of repression at home, a development to which they might not object.
In a commentary published in yesterday’s Kommersant-Vlast’, Geydar Dzhemal, head of the Islamic Committee of Russia, argued that if the Kremlin adopts such an approach, as he suggested it appears Medvedev appears to be doing, then that will “inevitably lead to the collapse of the system” (www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=617).
In Dzhemal’s view, most of the more forward Russian policies regarding Georgia and Ukraine are holdovers from the presidency of Vladimir Putin and may be tempered by Medvedev given the expectations many around him and even more in the West have that the new leader will pursue a more “liberal” approach.
But at the same time, he said, the new occupant of the Kremlin seems unwilling or unable to curb greater repression against ethnic, religious and political minorities, possibly calculating that such crackdowns will make it easier for him to tilt to the West and that few in the West will object, especially if the target of this “unleashing of the whip” is the Muslim community.
As a result of this, Dzhemal insists, Muslims in Russia are now “a risk group (in the political sense!).” It is precisely “against them that most special operations are being carried out, that they are victims of hundreds of fabricated charges, and that they are sitting in Russian” prisons and camps.
It is “their books” which Russian prosecutors are declaring extremist and banning. And “in the North Caucasus, the regimes in several republics are conducting an undeclared war against their own young people -- in the first instance, against believing Muslims who in the jargon of the those in the force structures have given the code name ‘those who pray.’”
And as a result, Dzhemal says, “Muslims in contemporary Russia feel themselves to be second class citizens – and possibly even ‘non-citizens.’ However that may be,” he continues, “their status is worse than that of the Russian language minorities in the Baltic countries who complain so often about their mistreatment.”
Since Medvedev took office, the Muslim commentator continues, “every demonstrative act of force committed against Muslims [such as the brutal beating of a Muslim student in the Moscow metro] has been transformed into a certain signal to society as a whole: the new power cannot change the existing situation and force will continue” whatever the Kremlin declares.
Indeed, he suggests, under the existing Russian government, “Muslims are needed as victims, as the model of an enemy namely to those who will not accept any democratic changes or any fresh air in Russia,” a group that includes “the corporate bureaucracy which at present has usurped practically all the resources of power” in the Russian state.
Tragically, he continues, “Russia’s Muslims are ideally suited for this role: ‘the enemy is among us, he appears to be like us, but in reality he does not have anything in common with us!’” Such statements “provide the bureaucracy with the surrogate of an ideology which it cannot have in reality,” with “hatred for Muslims” as the real “’national idea’” of the elite.
And that in turn means that the way in which Medvedev treats his country’s Muslim community will serve as a barometer of whether he will introduce something new at home as well as abroad and an indication of whether the new president can in fact “justify the expectations so many have for him.”
Dzhemal’s argument will strike many as ill-informed. After all, Medvedev has promised the Kyrgyz government that his administration will work to combat ethnic and religious crimes (www.islamrf.ru/articles.php?razdel=1&sid=3311) and his aides have praised moderate Islam as a reliable ally of Moscow (www.islamnasledie.ru/news.php?id=1151).
But his comments are nonetheless indicative of how disappointed many of Russia’s Muslims already are in the new Kremlin leader and how angry they are becoming given what they see as his willingness to line up with the U.S. against the Islamic world even while tolerating more violence against themselves.

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