Conflict developing as Islam flexes muscle in Moscow
by Michael Carl
A Russian nationalist organization has declared that Moscow doesn’t need any new mosques.
According to Russian Today, Russikye National Movement Chairman Aleksandr Belov said Russians need to decide Russia’s future identity.
“It is necessary to decide once and for all whether Russia will turn into an Islamic state or it will remain a secular state, where foreign immigrants arrive, find jobs and leave after their work is finished,” Belov said. Russia’s chief, Mufti Albir Krganov, has asked the government for permits to build additional mosques.
Heritage Foundation Russia scholar and analyst Ariel Cohen said there are approximately 2 million Muslims in Moscow. Cohen added that the evidence of heavy migration is in Moscow’s schools
“Moscow is facing a real problem with a very heavy migration from the North Caucasus area,” he said. “In some areas of Moscow, roughly 50 percent of the students are children of migrants from that area.” However, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin gave an indication of his position on the issue when he responded to the Mufti’s request by saying that many of the Muslims praying in the city’s mosques aren’t residents of Moscow.
The cultural divide between Russia and Muslims became even more apparent this week when President Vladimir Putin said Muslim girls shouldn’t wear headscarves in schools. “President Vladimir Putin spoke out Thursday against the wearing of
headscarves in Russian schools in his first public comment on a potentially explosive issue,” the report said. Tensions have been growing between Moscow authorities and the city’s Muslim population.
In September, Radio Liberty reported that Moscow police arrested and detained Muslims who were waiting to pray at the city’s largest mosque – the Cathedral Mosque near the Kremlin. “Shermamat Suyarov says he will think twice before returning to pray at Moscow’s largest mosque,” the story said. “Suyarov, a 52-year-old Russian citizen of Kyrgyz origin, says he was sitting in a parked car waiting to attend prayers on September 17 when police ordered him out and detained him.”
A former CIA officer who asked not to be identified said the pressure for more mosques in Moscow is evidence of most Muslim’s sense of identity. “Muslims are a nation and jihadis are only the armed forces of the nation,” the CIA officer said. “Islamic leaders follow and are well aware of what happens to Muslims in Moscow and Beijing.”
However, the CIA officer added that Muslim leaders may give Russia the benefit of the doubt because of the present tactical situation between Russia and Iran. “But they also may make some tactical considerations and cut Moscow some slack as long as Moscow is troubling the U.S. and the West and is helping Iran and Syria,” the CIA officer added.
The former CIA officer noted that the anti-mosque movement could be coming from the Kremlin.
“So if domestic considerations were the only ones involved, I’d say that Putin may very well have pushed these demonstrations and may accede to them,” the former CIA officer said. “He can’t very well kill Muslim terrorists in Chechnya and permit them to infest Moscow even more.” Again, the former CIA officer cited Putin’s maneuvering in the Middle East.
“That said, Putin is also courting the barbarians in Tehran and Syria to poke a stick in the eye of the West. Since Putin and the KGB have total control domestically, I would suspect they are less worried about domestic concerns and will be more interested in putting a friendly face forward to foreign Muslims,” the former CIA officer said. However, domestic concerns may be the major driving force behind the Moscow debate.
Cohen again cited Muslim migration from the Caucasus. “The Russian Orthodox Church and its members aren’t happy with the Makino neighborhood in Moscow,” he said. “It’s heavily Muslim now and putting pressure on the Orthodox Church.” Cohen said there’s another dilemma.
“If Moscow doesn’t allow the mosques to be built, the Muslims will get more underground exposure to the Salafist and Wahhabi forms of Islam,” Cohen said. “The state-supported Islam will lose ground to the Salafi clerics and the underground radicals.”
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