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Muslims' plans for rally against ethnic enmity may cause backlash

December 25, 2013, 18:12 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Valery Sharifulin

MOSCOW, December 25 (Itar-Tass) - The Russian Congress of Caucasus Peoples has declared plans to lodge an application with the Moscow city authorities for an anti-xenophobia rally in January. The location they chose, Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin, is notorious for the 2010 Russian nationalist disorders. According to one of the planned rally’s organizers Abakar Abakarov, the event may gather natives of the Russian North Caucasus republics and activists of the Tatar youth union Azatlyk. Central Asian non-governmental organizations are also keen to participate.

The participants wish to express discontent over the tone of several federal TV channels in covering events that involve migrants and natives of the North Caucasus, bans on wearing Islamic headscarves at schools and Moscow's unwillingness to allow building new mosques in the city, said the organizing committee. Furthermore, the committee is ready for a million-strong rally.

The initiative to gather “the first united rally against Islamophobia, Caucasus-phobia and xenophobia in Moscow” was reported Tuesday.

The idea has drawn a mixed response from the Russian Muftis' Council.

“The Russian Muftis Council has not yet formed a consolidated position as to the rally against xenophobia. The mosque and Islam are far from politics, whereas any rally is a political event. At the same time, Islamophobia is becoming a sore point in Russian society, and the Muftis Council cannot ignore this. The reaction will follow later,” the Council’s press officer, Gulnur Gaziyeva, told Itar-Tass.

Even though the plans for the rally were reported earlier this week, social networks and the press have already "sent sparks flying around." A former member of the Opposition Coordination Council, Vladimir Tor, told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily: “Stirring ethnic enmity will be much more successful, if Caucasus natives gather in a prominent place”. The leader of the Russian nationalist movement Russkiye (‘Russians’), Dmitry Demushkin, told the Russian News Service radio station the plans were “blackmail” . He believes that if the gathering eventually takes place, it will only foment Islamophobia: “The rally will undoubtedly meet with a negative reaction from Moscow's residents and, accordingly, the authorities.”

“The organizers do not represent the whole array of the Russian Islamic community that reacted to the initiative with caution,” a leading research fellow at the RAS Institute of Social Sciences, Professor of Central European University (Budapest), Aleksey Miller, told Itar-Tass.

The international relations expert believes “the controversial demands put forward by the rally organizers are not a political move to protect the rights of Muslims, but a policy of mounting an offensive.”

“Obviously, if the urges to fight xenophobia were the rally’s main goal, the organizers would seek allies not among the Muslims, but among Russian human rights activists. There are plenty of non-governmental organizations opposing xenophobia in our country. If they joined efforts, we could see a reconciliation rally aimed at uniting Russian citizens beyond religious barriers. But the organizers have preferred to invite only Islamic organizations to participate,” Miller said.

Said the scholar: “That the organizers have announced right from the start a million Muslims will gather to demonstrate is clear sign it is going to be a grand-stand show. I do not want to say fighting xenophobia is an insignificant issue. This rally's underlying aim is to not counter xenophobia, but to mobilize a large crowd for certain political purposes.


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