Staunton, October 24 – Vladimir Putin has managed to provoke into opposition to his language policies not just civic activists and republic governments but also Islamic leaders: The mufti of Tatarstan has declared that his Muslim Spiritual Directorate “has decided to get involved in the struggle for the preservation of the Tatar language.”
Kamil Samigullin says that “Islam as has been the case in the most difficult moments in the life of the Tatar people is again forced to stand in defense of the Tatar language. I am deeply convinced,” he adds, “that native language is one of the greatest gifts of the Most High” (islamio.ru/news/society/muftiy_tatarstana_islam_vynuzhden_vstat_na_zashchitu_tatarskogo_yazyka/).
Today, because it is under attack and at risk, the mufti argues, it “again needs our defense.”
On the one hand, the Tatar mufti’s words reflect the very special position of the Tatar language in Russian Islam. For decades, the mosques in Moscow and many other places were known as “Tatar mosques” because the language used in them was Tatar rather than Russian or Arabic. However, they are likely to be echoed by other muftis in other republics as well.
But on the other hand, the mufti’s words mean that the opponents of Putin’s language policy have acquired an important new ally, one whose strength may pose an even greater challenge to him that the civic activists and transform what had been a secular issue into a religious one, especially give Russian Orthodox support for Putin’s ideas.
And thus, as a result of his clumsy and heavy-handed approach, the Kremlin leader has set the stage for a religious conflict in Russia far more serious than any it has seen in the last century, a fight that will likely do more to transform the political and social life of Russia than many of the other developments that routinely receive more attention.