Staunton, November 10 – Interior Ministry officials in Voronezh oblast are now collecting detailed information about the Islamic community there, a development that frightens many Muslims around the Russian Federation not only because of its invasiveness but also because Voronezh has often been a bellwether for the policies of other Russian regions.
The religious affairs organization, Portal-Credo.ru, reported yesterday that the deputy chief of one of the departments of the Voronezh militia had sent a letter to the leader of the local Muslim organization requesting details about the activities of the community and its individual members (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=80721).
Arguing that the collection of such information about Muslims, as opposed to other religious groups, was necessary for “the study of the operational situation of the Central District of the city of Voronezh,” the milita asked where the community meets and for “personal data about those who conduct religious services and their membership in various trends of Islam.”
In addition, the militia asked the local Muslim leadership to provide information about the foreign ties of Muslims there, about the education the leadership had received in Russia and abroad, and in particular, judging from the way the question was asked Portal-Credo.ru suggests, about ethnic Russians who have become Muslims.
The militia said it wanted to know “the number of persons from among the indigenous population who traditionally confessed Christianity,” a convoluted formulation that indicates that the powers that be are especially frightened by the number of ethnic Russian Muslims and that they accept the notions of “ethnic Orthodox” and “ethnic Muslim.”
However much such an inquiry might appear to be justified on grounds of national security, it clearly violates the provisions of the Russian constitution and suggests that at least some in Moscow have decided to pursue a policy of open discrimination against Muslims, something that almost certainly will backfire.
In the less than 24 hours since this story was posted by Portal-Credo.ru, it has been picked up by almost all major Muslim websites in the Russian Federation, many of whom have suggested that this represents an attack on the rights of Russia’s Muslims and promised to try to force the Voronezh officials to back down.
It is possible, even likely that this effort is a testing of what people will put up with, all the more so given that this test took place far from the Russian capital and during the November holidays when most Russians were focusing on other issues. But unless Moscow disowns the Voronezh effort, other regions may copy it, and inter-religious tensions will only increase.