Monday, September 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: With Koran Ban, Moscow Finally Provokes Russia’s Muslim Masses

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 –With a Russian court having now declared the Koran to be “extremist,” Moscow has finally done what it says only Wahhabist and other Islamist radicals and hostile foreign intelligence services want: it has provoked not just the leadership of Russia’s 20plus million Muslims but this community as a whole.

            Muslims in Moscow and in cities across the country have put up banners denouncing the Novorossiisk court’s September 17 decision to declare a translation of the Koran “extremist” – the one on the Moscow ring road reads “Russia Against Islam: the Koran is Banned” – staged demonstrations, and begun petition drives to have the Kremlin overturn this declaration.

            In some places, the police moved quickly to take the signs down, but in others, including the Russian capital, these signs have remained up.  The number of demonstrations appears to be increasing, and the number of Muslims signing petitions is growing as well. (For a sampling of reports, see,,,, and

            The demonstrators and petitions are calling the Novorossiisk decision “an absurdity” and “a beastial error,” one that in the words of the petition circulating in Krasnoyarsk kray “demonstrates the incompetence of the organs who are taking such decisions” (

            According to Krasnoyarsk Mufti Gayaz-khazrat Faatkullin, what has happened to the Koran in Russia could easily happen to the holy books of other faiths, a dangerous development in which is “evident the shadow of the era which ended in the 1990s” and one that all believers must therefore oppose.

            How far this effort by Muslims will go is unclear: their anger at the Russian state may dissipate more or less quickly because that state, however oppressive it may be in particular cases, is not capable of enforcing a ban on the Koran across the entire country.  But it is clear that Russia’s Muslims are angry about this action, and that poses two challenges for the Kremlin.

            In the short term, President Vladimir Putin will have to choose between two unpalatable outcomes: overturning the declaration of the court about the “extremism” of the basic text of Islam, something that will infuriate many Orthodox Russian nationalists, or enforcing the decree which will only further alienate Russia’s Muslims and the Muslim world abroad.

            And in the longer term, Putin’s regime and its successors will have to deal with a problem they have helped create: a growing sense of Muslim identification among various peoples of the Russian Federation and a willingness of Muslims to organize politically against the regime.

            That danger is already present.  According to recent surveys, ever more Muslims in the Russian Federation are prepared to support Muslim political parties, with an absolute majority in many predominantly Muslim republics saying they would  (

            Whatever Putin decides to do, this latest case of overreaching by a Russian court, apparently animated more by anti-Islamic attitudes among many Russians than by any legal standard Russia or otherwise, has made the situation far worse for the Kremlin than have any earlier actions by any Muslim group in the Russian Federation.

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