Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Should Copy Jewish Lobbying Effort, Activist Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 4 – Instead of blaming Islamophobia for their problems and waiting for someone else to solve them, Russia’s Muslims should do what Russia’s Jews have done and create an institution to lobby the Russian government on their behalf, according to a leading Muslim commentator.
In an article posted on the Islam.ru portal, Abdalla Aminov notes that there are nearly 100 times as many Muslims in the Russian Federation as there are Jews and that “the overwhelming majority of Muslims belong to the indigenous population of our country” (www.islam.ru/pressclub/tema/posabul/).
But despite that, he continues, the Jewish community has a far greater impact on the Russian government because its members, unlike those of the Muslim community, do not simply blame others for their problems and wait for someone to solve them. Instead, Aminov writes, they organize and work for their co-religionists
The latest example of their efforts, he continues, is the formation of a Jewish Social Chamber, which is charged with defending and advancing the interests of the 230,000 Jews in Russia. And 20 million plus Muslims, instead of ignoring what the Jews are doing, should copy them and create a Muslim Social Chamber to do the same thing for the Islamic community.
Such a body, Aminov argues, will help the Muslims of Russia to overcome their “passivity” and their current “unwillingness or inability to defend their legal and inalienable rights” by providing a venue for regular and intense communication between the Muslim community as a whole and the various components of the Russian state.
Among the tasks such a body could take up, he continues, are “the spread among ethnic Muslims and other strata of the population of the spiritual values of the umma, the awakening of interest in live in Islamic countries, and operational reporting on manifestations of Islamophobia in Russia.”
Given that the Russian government has welcomed the creation of the Jewish Social Chamber, the Muslim commentator says that he is “certain that such an initiative would find support and understanding from the Russian authorities,” who are increasingly aware that “the size of the Muslim population of our country will only grow in the future.
What he does not say and what may be an even more serious obstacle to the realization of this idea is that there are many ordinary Muslims who have no interest in political activism and a large number of members of what might be called “the Islamic establishment of Russia,” both of which are certain to oppose doing what Aminov suggests.
Like many other Russian citizens, Russia’s Muslims are increasingly cynical about participating in the political life of a country where elections are rigged, the media controlled, and power exercised behind the scenes with few real chances for the population either to express its opinion or exercise control over what those in office do.
But more immediately serious is the opposition from heads of some of the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) who view the creation of any such alternative body as a threat to their prerogatives or who believe that Muslims should keep to themselves lest they attract the unwelcome attention of Russian nationalists and skinheads.
Among the most important of such people is Talgat Tajuddin, the long-serving head of the Ufa-based Central MSD, who in the past has opposed the establishment of any broader Muslim organization in Russia lest that undermine the MSD system and its special relationship with the state (www.islam.ru/pressclub/islamofobia/isvoipas/).
In the short term, he and others like him, especially given their ties with the Russian security services, is likely to be able to block the formation of a Muslim Social Chamber or to ensure that it is nothing more than a meeting place for leaders like themselves who can be counted on to support the Kremlin rather than to challenge it.
But ever more Muslims in the Russian Federation and especially younger ones are increasingly interested in getting involved in public politics rather than being forced, as now, to choose between complete passivity and potentially violent political opposition. And they are likely to welcome Aminov’s proposal, as will the Kremlin if it considers the alternatives.

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