Thursday, May 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: By Closing a Mosque, Sverdlovsk Officials are Spreading Not Stopping Islamist Extremism, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – “Wahhabism and religious fanaticism may become a real problem for Ekaterinburg already in a few weeks,” an analyst says, not so much because of the actions of Islamist missionaries as some in the media have suggested but because Russian officials are closing a mosque and thus losing their ability to monitor the Muslim community.

            The Ekaterinburg administration, Anton Olshannikov says, is taking away the building where some 1,000 Muslims had long prayed, an action that reflects both anti-Muslim attitudes and the spread of NIMBYism in Russia but one that is going to create “real problems” very quickly (

            “Religious extremism,” the journalist continues, “is a nightmare for the Sverdlovsk authorities and a headache for the regional siloviki.”  The latter act on the principle, he says, that the suppression of a mosque puts out “this ‘fire’” without any recognition of the reality that such moves only spread it.

             The probability of that outcome is increased, Olshannikov argues, because “the authorities today have completely lost control” over the various Muslim spiritual directorates – there are now six represented in that oblast alone – and thus, the fight over the place where the mosque had been has laid “a delayed action bomb” under society.

            The siloviki who are behind the closure have conducted multiple searches of the Rakhmat Muslim organization over the last year, confiscated what they deem to be “extremist” literature, and thus feel well within their rights to close the mosque down. But that ignores completely what the pensioners will do next.

            Amir khazrat, the imam of the mosque in question, notes that with the closure “about 1,000 parishioners will not have a place to pray on Fridays. “Are we supposed to conduct the five times a day prayers [required of Muslims] in a stadium?” he asks.  There won’t be any rising, he adds, but “these things will be retained in the memory” of these Muslims.

            The mullahs and imams of neighboring mosques are concerned that the radical views of the Rakhmat group will now spread to their congregations because the parishioners from there will be trying to find new places to pray and that the divisions among Muslims and among the MSDs will only intensify leading to further radicalization.

            One of the local siloviki speaking anonymously said that “no one” is threatening the rights of believers.” What is happening is that “we if we are struggling than it is exclusively with hotbeds of extremism and centers of Wahhabism in the Urals.  In the Rakhmat community, there are signs of both.”

            That may be true, but now, thanks to the actions of Ekaterinburg officials, egged on by one or another MSD and by Sverdlovsk oblast bosses, those hotbeds are not going to be doused but spread.  And that is a reality, Olshannikov says, that both the siloviki and the population in the region are going to have to face in the future.

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