Thursday, June 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Must Respect Rights of Muslims or Face Wider War in Caucasus, Islamic Leader Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 26 – The Russian government must end its persecution of that country’s Muslims and respect their constitutional rights or it will face new violent challenges across the North Caucasus, according to Geydar Dzhemal, the often radical head of the Islamic Committee of Russia.
At a Moscow press conference on Tuesday, Dzhemal said that he and his colleagues are preparing an open appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev containing five specific demands. If these are not met, he said, then Russia will face a new war in the North Caucasus and finally lose a portion of its territory (
According to Dzhemal, Moscow chose to make Muslims its “internal enemy” after September 11th as part of a broader strategy to form “an alliance with America against Islam” thus permitting Russia to regain its status as “a world power” – ignoring in the process that Muslims have always formed a key “component of Russian civilization.”
In the seven years since that date, he continued, Moscow has initiated “hundreds of fabricated cases” against Muslims, it has put “the cruelest pressure” against those republics with a Muslim populatin, and it has sponsored or ignored direct physical attacks on Muslims in the streets of Russian cities. All of this is “leading Russia to the edge of an explosion.”
Indeed, Dzhemal said, “it is now possible to say with certainty that the much-ballyhooed assertion that military resistance has been defeated [in the North Caucasus] and that the result of the eight-year rule of Putin has been a victory [for Moscow over the peoples of that region] is to put it mildly not true.”
Not only does armed resistance in the Caucasus exist, it is “strengthening and becoming not national-separatist and para-political as it was in the past but political and international,” a shift that makes it more dangerous to Moscow not less if the Russian state is to hold that region within its borders.
Specifically, the leader of the Islamic Committee of Russia said, the Kremlin must meet five demands of the country’s Muslim community. First, it must “allow Muslims to participate in the political life of the country,” not via Islamic parties but through adequate representation in all branches of power.
Second, it must allow “free elections in republics” where the titular nationality is historically Islamic, such as Tatarstan and Ingushetia, in order to promote democratization and limit the influence of corrupt clans. Third, it must open the media to Muslims, rather than ignoring or attacking them on television and in the press.
Fourth, Moscow must review all “political cases” involving Muslims and release from prison and the camps, “the innocent people” who are languishing there as a result of the illegal acts of officials. And fifth, the authorities must “cease the shameful practice of prohibiting Muslim books.”
Dzhemal said that he and other Muslims have “a basis to hope” that President Dmitry Medvedev will meet them at least half way. The new Kremlin leader, he continued, “is carrying out a quiet struggle with the siloviki for the liberalization of society,” a clear indication in his view that “not everything has been lost. We have hope” that Russia can be saved.
More interesting than Dzhemal’s demands and implicit threat of a wider war in the Caucasus if Moscow does not meet them – after all, he represents only a small segment of Muslim opinion in Russia – have been the reactions to his remarks both within the more than 25 million-strong Muslim umma and among others beyond its ranks.
A commentary by the centrist Muslim portal, “Islam in the Russian Federation,” suggested that Dzhemal “does not represent anyone beyond the members of his committee who can be counted on the fingers of one hand” and that his statement “compromised” all Muslims because of its “extremist-Trotskyite” tone. (
But while saying that, the site surveyed several leading Muslim commentators, and their words suggest that many Muslims closer to the establishment are just as angry about the current situation in Russia as Dzhemal is but believe that his approach, one based on demands and threats to the state, may prove counterproductive.
Damir Mukhetdinov, the chief editor of the Muslim journal “Medina,” observed that even though Dzhemal is well-known for his “provocatory” approach and certainly does not represent the views of all Muslims in the Russian Federation, “it is difficult to argue” with the specifics of his demands.
And Vyacheslav Ali Polosin, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam who works in broadcasting, added that no one should take Dzhemal’s statement as anything more than “his personal opinion,” adding that he Polosin believes that whatever its current difficulties, “Islam has a great future in Russia.”
So far, the mainstream media have either ignored Dzhemal’s statement altogether or reported it without comment. But the chief editor of one site,, which is close to the Communist Party, has come out in direct support of the Islamic Committee leader’s analysis if not his prescription (
According to Anatoly Baranov, Dzhemal and his supporters “are absolutely right on all points.” There is massive discrimination against Muslims, and the government is “demonizing” them in its official propaganda, according to “the classical imperial principle of ‘divide et impera.’”
Little is left of the friendship of the peoples and internationalism of the past, Baranov says, and soon it is entirely possible that many Russians will openly declare not only “Russia for the Russians!” but even “Russland uber alles!” Should that happen, then “the term ‘prison house of peoples’ will return to Russia together with the remains of the last Romanovs.”
But Dzhemal’s suggestion that the Kremlin will face a wider war in the Caucasus if it does not meet his demands “has already become not an alternative” but the only possible outcome given that the authorities will never agree to the first, second or fifth of the Islamic Committee leader’s demands.
And so, Baranov concludes, “we support the demands of Russia’s Muslims. But as the song called the International puts it: ‘No one will give us liberation, neither god, nor the tsar nor a hero. We will achieve our liberation by our own hands.’” This citation, the editor says, is “for those who do not have that memorized.”

UPDATE for June 27: The leaders of most Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) have distanced themselves from Dzhemal’s declaration (, but some of them have indicated that his remarks may be useful in provoking a broader discussion of the problems Muslims face in the Russian Federation ( Meanwhile, the mainstream Russian media are now reporting his words, and Russian politicians are condemning them (

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