Repression of Muslims in Crimea – a reflection of Moscow’s fear of Islam as an anti-colonial force

Russian FSB secret police and paramilitaries suppress any open dissent in Crimea and actively search for any hidden resistance to the occupation. Beside using the judicial system to enforce the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, they employ secret abductions and extrajudicial killings of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists. (Image: GordonUA.com)

Russian FSB secret police and paramilitaries suppress any open dissent in Crimea and actively search for any hidden resistance to the occupation. Beside using the judicial system to enforce the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, they employ secret abductions and extrajudicial killings of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists. (Image: GordonUA.com) 

Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Russia

Zair Smedlyayev, a Crimean Tatar activist, and Said Ismagilov, the mufti of the Umma Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Ukraine, say that Moscow is likely to step up its persecution of Muslim Crimean Tatars not just because they are Crimean Tatars but because they are Muslims.

This reflects, the two of them tell Kseniya Kirillova, a US-based Russian journalist, Moscow’s fear that Islamic organizations it does not control can be a powerful anti-colonial force that could be directed against the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Zair Smedlyaev

Zair Smedlyayev

Pointing to the recent rise in Russian special operations against Muslims in Crimea, Smedlyayev argues that three groups of people there are now at greatest risk: observant Muslims especially among the young, Crimean Tatar political leaders, and ordinary residents that the FSB secret police hopes to compel to be witnesses in cases against members of the first and second.

Given Russian Islamophobia, he continues, FSB officers realize that attacking Muslims as such will be popular and be a royal road to further promotions. And they also recognize, he adds, that arresting or harassing family members may be a good way to gain control over other Muslims in the region.

Sheikh Said Ismagilov, the mufti of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Ukraine (Image: qha.com.ua)

Said Ismagilov

Mufti Ismagilov agrees, but he stresses that these attacks are not simply a means for FSB officers to gain promotion. They reflect an attempt to suppress all “Islamic organizations uncontrolled” by Moscow. Russian fears of such groups are reflected in the enormous list of banned books and the deportation of foreign mullahs from Russia itself.

These fears are a product of an appreciation by the Russian leadership that Islam can be “a very powerful consolidating religion which has experience of bringing people together and giving them definite ideas. [It] played a great role in the era of the liberation from colonialism,” and Russia is concerned that it could be again directed against it.

These longstanding fears were reinforced by the Arab Spring “when Muslim movements inspired the masses to the overthrow of longtime dictators,” the Ukrainian mufti says.

On the one hand, he continues, “the Kremlin is afraid to the point of panic of the potential within Islam; and on the other, it would like to put this force in the service of the dissemination of Russian ideology, on the very same principle that has helped this to occur with the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Russian rulers, the mufti suggests, “would like to reduce Islam to the level of everyday religiosity and subordinate the entire religious hierarchy, structure, and preaching to the goals of the state.” There is little chance they will succeed with Muslims in occupied Crimea; but they are unfortunately likely to try.

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Edited by: A. N.

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