Vienna, January 15 – Roman Silantyev, notorious for his own commentaries on Muslim leaders in Russia, says that the latest Islamic unity drive there is the work of someone he labels a Muslim “Ostap Bender,” a reference, of course, to the infamous confidence man in Ilf and Petrov’s 1928 novel, “The Twelve Chairs.”
And he adds, in an analysis posted on and hyped by the Interfax-Religion.ru site, that this effort, which he says resembles one at the end of the Russian Imperial period, will fail for the same reasons that all such moves have: the ambition and greed of Muslim leaders there (interfax-religion.ru/?act=analysis&div=133 and interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=33749).
What Silantyev does not say but what underlies these problems is the desire of the Russian powers that be dating back to the 18th century to transform Islam into a church with a clergy, something it is not and does not have, and to create a single institutional hierarchy that the government can control and use to hold responsible all Muslims below it.
But because Silantyev is a longtime protégé of Moscow Patriarch Kirill and has close ties with lay Orthodox groups, his views on what is going on in Islam are likely to be influential in Moscow and elsewhere, however tendentious and even inaccurate his position may be, and even drive Russian government policy.
After detailing the fissiparousness which characterized Islamic groups in Russia after 1991, a trend he argues was promoted more by the Wahhabis and the ambition and greed of individual Muslim leaders than by the essentially non-Islamic nature of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) system, Silantyev describes the current unification campaign.
This effort began in September 2009, the Moscow specialist says, and was the work of Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, the president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Russia and the head of the pubic wing of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), apparently in response to the selection of Baku’s Sheikh ul-Islam Allashahur Pasha-zade as head of the Muslim community of the CIS.
Niyazov’s goal, Silantyev says, is “not so much the unification of the leaders of the Central MSD, the SMR, and the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus but rather the creation in a single structure of Russian Muslims of a social-political wing, the leaders of which will equate the muftis in influence and gain equal access to the leading officials.”
Niyazov is “not badly prepared” for such an effort, being closely related to both the Central MSD’s Talgat Tajuddin and the SMR’s Ravil Gainutdin and having good political ties with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and the latter’s mufti, Sultan Mirzaev, who has joined Niyazov in this campaign.
In early December, Niyazov and Mirzayev claimed they had the support of all key Muslim leaders, but it quickly turned out, Silantyev continued, that each of them favored unification on his own terms – that is, an arrangement that would either give him control or at least a veto over what the Muslims of Russia would be able to do.
But as these talks were taking place, the Moscow Islamic specialist says, something new came to light: Rumors began to spread that Niyazov was being paid 46 million rubles (15 million US dollars) by those who wanted to gain control of these Muslim structures, rumors that if true suggest that Niyazov was engaging in a raid on the treasuries of these institutions.
(A major reason Silantyev gives for thinking that is what Niyazov is about is that at the end of the Russian Imperial period, the Ittifaq al-Muslimin Party called for the unification of Muslims less for religious reasons than in order to gain access to the tsar and other senior officials of the Russian state.)
Moreover, Silantyev continues, those involved “could not fail to be concerned by the biography of its chief initiator. Niyazov, who was once known as Vadim Valerianovich Medvedev before he changed his last name, his first name and his patronymic on the occasion of his conversion to Islam.
The activities of this advocate of Muslim Unity in Russia during the last two decades, Silantyev says, earned Niyazov the epithet, “the Muslim Ostap Bender,” and led Sergey Shoygu to describe him as “a street prostitute,” before moving to expel Niyazov-Medvedev from the ranks of United Russia.”
This “latest attempt at unifying the Muslim centers of Russia has become a matter of concern for Russian powers that be,” Silantyev says, even though Vladimir Putin himself has signaled that he would like to have a Muslim “patriarch,” with whom officials in the government could deal and which would help maintain order in the Muslim community.
But unification not on a religious basis but for business and political goals, Silantyev says, is something else entirely – and something the Russian powers that be have no choice but to oppose. Silantyev’s article, like the reports this week of compromising moneys found in the possession of one Muslim leader, are clearly part of that effort.