Thursday, January 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Plan to Rate Human Rights in West Could Help Russia’s Muslims, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 31 – A Muslim commentator argues that Moscow’s plan to set up offices in Europe and the United States to rate the state of human rights in those countries could not only help limit the spread of anti-Islamic attitudes in those countries but work to the benefit of the growing Muslim community in the Russian Federation itself.
Stung by Western criticism of the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, the Kremlin has approved a plan for offices in Paris and New York that will “rate” the human rights situation in Europe and the United States, a measure that most analysts have dismissed as no more than a clever propaganda effort.
But a Muslim commentator suggests that these offices could prove to be more far more useful -- and not just to Islamic communities abroad. In an article that appeared online yesterday, Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov says that these offices will help Moscow protect Muslims in Europe and win friends in the Muslim world more generally.
The Russian government has said many of the right things about the rising tide of Islamophobia in Western countries, and given President Vladimir Putin’s frequently expressed desire to build bridges to the Muslim world, these new offices could allow Moscow to do more, Mukhametov adds.
According to the Muslim commentator, these are worthy goals, especially now. In his view, “a wave of right-wing populism” has swept into office over the last several years many “national radicals who play on popular Islamophobia and the problems of immigration” (
Anything the Russian government can do to stop that is important, he says, because “the situation [there] in part recalls that which existed in the 1930s. Only now in place of the Jews are the Muslims.” And while one hopes and prays that things will not deteriorate to the point they did then, there is a basis for “genuine concern.”
But Mukhametov makes it clear that his primary concerns are about Muslims with the Russian Federation itself when he argues that these two new offices abroad could help improve the situation of the umma at home. That is because, he writes, Moscow will not be credible abroad unless it behaves well at home.
If it doesn’t, he said, “we risk being like Gorbachev in the old Soviet anecdote. In response to the statement of the American president at the time that everyone in the US could come to White House and shout “Down with Bush!” the Soviet general secretary noted that in the USSR complete freedom of speech existed in precisely the same way.”
“Anyone here,” Gorbachev said according to the story, “could go to the Kremlin and cry out “Down with Bush!” and nothing untoward would happen to him.
That is why Muslims in the Russian Federation view this latest Kremlin initiative with “complete understanding.” But if they are pleased with it now, the Muslims in that country could quickly become angry if Moscow condemns Europeans for Islamophobia but does nothing to protect its own Muslims from the same ugly attitudes at home.

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