Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Islamists Said Coming Together and Joining with Nationalists in Middle Volga to Create a ‘Fifth Column’ in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – Various groups of Islamist radicals in the Middle Volga are overcoming their differences and uniting and then collectively joining with ethnic nationalists to create a “fifth column” directed against Moscow, according to Muslim leaders, Russian Orthodox hierarchs, and academic specialists in that region.

            These observers expressed their view at a recent conference on Chelyabinsk on “The Spiritual Aspects of the National Security of Russia: Prospects for Directing the Improvement of State Policy and Forming a Social Partnership of the Executive Organs with Religious Groups of the Traditional Confessions” (www.regnum.ru/news/1602890.html).

                Leading off the conference, Mufti Muhammad Tajuddin, head of the Ufa-based Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), observed that religious radicals are consciously “creating parallel Muslim structure in the regions” and that their activities often “do not receive an adequate response from the authorities and law enforcement organs.”

            Mufti Rinat Rayev, who oversees Muslim communities in Chelyabinsk and Kurgan oblasts, said that religious radicalism is developing so fast because it “has foreign support” and is directed at “destruction rather than the building of peace.” Moreover, the radicals routinely share information among themselves, something their opponents often do not do.

            Russian Orthodox Archbishop Feofan of Chelyabinsk and Zlatoust warned that extremism in Russia today “is not only meetings in squares as in Arab countries; it also includes those who go from one apartment to another offering brochures and listening to the lectures of preachers.” Such people have “no love for the Motherland,” he said.

            Konstantin Putnik, head of the missionary department of Feofan’s see, said that in his view, “sectarians and religious extremists in their rhetoric actively use ‘human rights’ rhetoric,” a reflection of what he said was the fact that human rights groups in Russia that are supported by foreign interest now act “in the role of lobbyists for the sectarians.”
            Aleksey Grishin, head of the Religion and Society Information and Analysis Center, said that Islamist radicals in the Middle Volga are getting support from fundamentalists in the Near East who have gained from the recent unrest there and who are now in a position not only to offer diplomatic support but also political asylum if that should be necessary.

            “The final goal of the radical Islamists,” Grishin argued, “is making Muslims into the Russian opposition.”

            Another speaker, Rais Suleymanov, head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research, said Russia must follow the United States and adopt a tougher line against Islamist radicals, increasing prison  terms for membership in such groups from less than two to “now less than 10 years.”

            And Vasily Ivanov, who works at Suleymanov’s center described the ways in which Takfir val-Hijra adepts, who were trained in Islamic countries, are able to cooperate with other Wahhabist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir. The latter, he said, now view the former as its “military” wing.

            Today, two Russian news agencies reported, the coming together of Islamist radicals in the Middle Volga has been followed by the formation of a new alliance between them and nationalist activists in at least some non-Russian republics in that region (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=49222 and www.regnum.ru/news/fd-volga/tatarstan/1602928.html).

            According to their reports, Azatlyk, the Union of Tatar Youth, has signed a memorandum of mutual understanding with the National Organization of Russian Muslims (NORM), a group made up of ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam and who are sometimes considered to be the most radical and, because they can hide more easily, the most dangerous.

                The two agreed to engage in a dialogue of “healthy [ethnic] Russian and Tatar national forcs on the basis of the national self-determination of the Tatar and Russian peoples.” Further, they said that “Tatarstan is the territory of the self-determination of the Tatar nation and, in the same way, the Russian nation should enjoy self-determination on the territories of the krays and oblasts of the Russian Federation.”

            At the same time, the two agreed to act “against great power chauvinism which is directed at the deprivation of all native peoples of Russia of their ethnic uniqueness and the use of [ethnic] Russians and the Russian language for the realization of this task.”    
            Regarding this alliance, Mikhail Shcheglov of Kazan’s Society of Russian Culture said that he “does not know a single [ethnic] Russian Muslim who would popularize Russian culture. And in that regard, he said it is worth recalling the observation of Fedor Dostoyevsky that “there is nothing worse than a non-Orthodox Russian.”

            And Rais Suleymanov, head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research, observed that he is not surprised by this “political romance of [ethnic] Russian Muslims and Tatar national separatists.” Both are “against Russia: the one for the disintegration of the country and the establishment of an independent Tatarstan and the second for the establishment of an Islamic Republic of Russia.”

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