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Eye on Eurasia: Islamophobia rising - MENAFN, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    Eye on Eurasia: Islamophobia rising UPI - Wednesday, December 08, 2004 Date: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 3:01:58 PM EST By PAUL GOBLE
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2004
      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
      Khasinov's anger.

      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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