Eye on Eurasia: Islamophobia rising - MENAFN, USA
- Eye on Eurasia: Islamophobia rising
UPI - Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Date: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 3:01:58 PM EST By
TARTU, Estonia, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Efforts by Russian
Muslims to counter the rising tide of anti-Muslim
items in the Russian media are often so
unprofessional, emotional and grotesque they increase
anti-Muslim sentiment in Russia and abroad, says a
leading Moscow specialist on Islam.
Roman Silantyev, who serves as secretary of the
Inter-religious Council of Russia and also as the
chief specialist on Islam in the Patriarchate's
External Relations Department, makes precisely that
argument in the current issue of the Russian Orthodox
Church's Tserkovniy vestnik.
Silantyev notes Islamophobia is increasing in Russia
-- a view shared by most participants in a roundtable
organized by the editors of NG-Religii in its Dec. 1
issue. And that makes countering this form of bigotry
-- and doing so successfully -- all the more
In his article "Several Thoughts About Islamophobia,"
Silantyev notes there are many responsible defenders
of Islam in Russia both among the country's Muslim
leadership and in the media. But at the same time, he
suggests the fight against Islamophobia in Russia is
all too often dominated by "doubtful." people.
Sometimes these "defenders of Islam" expect
non-Muslims to accept that "Islam is a religion of
peace because it is peaceful," a circular argument he
suggests is just about as impressive to non-Muslim
Russians as were Soviet-era claims the teachings of
Karl Marx "are all-powerful because they are true."
On other occasions, he says, the self-styled defenders
of the faith engage in nasty personal attacks such as
suggesting one or another writer should be examined by
a psychiatrist or should be ostracized because of
positive attitudes toward Israel. Or they make
irresponsible claims about the size of the Muslim
community in Russia or the number of ethnic Russians
who have supposedly converted to Islam.
Silantyev is especially critical of Russia's largest
Islamic information Web site, Islam.ru. He writes the
editors of this portal have managed "at one and the
same time" to launch suits against Izvestiya for
xenophobia and to post often vicious attacks on Jews
and Orthodox Christians.
Moreover, Silantyev notes, this site seems to spend
much of its time attacking leaders of the Russian
Muslim community such as Ravil Gainutdin and Talgat
Tadzhuddin, the head of the Union of Muslims of Russia
-- actions that only encourage hostility toward
Muslims by non-Muslims.
What those who want to fight effectively against
Islamophobia must do, Silantyev maintains, is "to
create a positive image of Islam in the eyes of
Russian society by stressing historical examples of
the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians,
their joint opposition to the godless power in the
past, and their common struggle against
non-traditional religions and new religious movements
in the future."
But none of that will matter, Silantyev concludes,
unless Muslim scholars and Muslim commentators provide
a satisfactory answer to "the principled question: why
do the overwhelming majority of terrorist groups now
acting in the world associate themselves with Islam
and why does not a single terrorist organization act
in the name of Orthodox Christianity?"
Not surprisingly, Silantyev's ideas have been attacked
by those he criticizes, a development not unexpected
but one that may receive greater attention than would
otherwise be the case because of the opening in New
York of a U.N. seminar devoted to the question of how
best to counter Islamophobia and promote tolerance.
The response of the editors of Islam.ru to Silantyev's
article was immediate and -- at least from the point
of view of Silantyev -- compelling evidence of some of
the problems he points to.
In often extremely sharp and personal terms,
Islam.ru's Abdulla Khasinov argues Silantyev is
illiterate on Islamic questions, his statements about
Islam.ru are both ignorant and unprofessional, and he
has rendered himself unfit to serve as secretary of
the Inter-religious Council of Russia.
Indeed, Khasinov concludes the only thing that
Silantyev could possibly be fit to serve the members
of that Council is tea "because for that he would only
need to smile."
Many Russian Orthodox clergy and laity will read
Silantyev's article, but few will see Khasinov's
response. By Khasinov's own admission, Islam.ru has
only some 8,000 subscribers, and beyond any doubt most
of them are Muslims who already agree with the site's
point of view.
That imbalance in access to the mainstream media, the
Internet's tendency in many cases to reinforce the
views of surfers rather than promote dialogue among
them, and the equally nasty comments of some of those
who attack Islam all help to explain some of
But Silantyev is surely right that getting angry won't
solve anything and that those who do want to combat
the evil of Islamophobia will never be able to do so
until and unless they overcome these limitations and
answer the challenge he has posed.
(Paul Goble teaches at the EuroCollege of the
University of Tartu in Estonia.)
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