Moscow’s Mistreatment of Muslims Seen Triggering Violence Across Russia

October 9, 2014
Crowd outside Historical Moscow in Moscow on September 26, 2014, defending Muslim man arrested by police.

Staunton, October 6 – The editors of Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta warn in a lead article October 6 that “injustice toward [Muslim] believers could lead to violence” in Moscow and other Russian cities as well, a conclusion that new research on the state of inter-ethnic relations in Russia’s regions confirms.

“Almost two million” people have viewed a YouTube video showing the clash between Muslims in Moscow and the OMON on September 26, an indication of the attention that such events now receive and of the way in which unjust actions in one place can trigger them in others as well, the paper says.

The video shows a Muslim being arrested and then beaten by OMON officers, the paper notes. But what is shown next is more disturbing. Another Muslim shouted in response: “They’re beating it, and next time they will beat me [because] they will say that all Muslims are bad and terrorists.”

A crowd of Muslims then surrounded the OMON bus and shouted that if the first Muslim was not released, they would not allow the bus to go anywhere. Shouting “Allah Akbar!” they then said, “Brothers, let’s get him out!” They beat on the bus and passions grew, as Nezavisimaya put it, “with each minute.”

One of those taking part said “This is a revolution, brothers! This was a revolution!”

That certainly overstated the case, the paper suggests, but the reaction of officials and others to these events point to real trouble ahead. Last week, Anton Tsvetkov, a member of the Russian Social Chamber, said that the clash between Muslims and the OMON was equivalent to the Manezh Square demonstrations in 2002 and 2010 and the Biryulyevo violence of 2013.

He added that his group and the all-Russian organization, Officers of Russia, are “now actively studying the experience of racial disorders in Ferguson” in the US this past August to get ideas on what to do.

Muslims in Russia are already angry. Ali Charinsky, an Islamic activist, said on Govorit Moskva that “the government and the force structures have declared war on Muslims,” thus presenting himself as a representative of what he said were “angry Muslims.”

Over the last year, he continued, young Muslims have been “very strongly radicalized,” viewing what the authorities have done against Hizb ut-Tahrir for example as evidence that Russia is discriminating against all Muslims and concluding that they must be willing to fight for their rights, even against OMON forces.

Tsvetkov for his part said that he and the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus “are inviting observers to follow events and ensure that the rights of residents are not violated and that the rights of the police are not violated either.” Maksim Shevchenko, who is also a member of the Civic Chamber, proposed something even more radical.

He suggested that what needs to happen is to form public militias (druzhinniki) numbering from 100 to 300 who will blend in with the crowds of Muslims and provide support for the OMON in the event of trouble.

As Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, “the creation of such ‘parallel’ organs of law enforcement, especially along ethno-confessional lines, is a challenge to the monopoly of the state on violence which exists in a civilized society.” Moreover, it said, a situation in which the forces of order “need their rights defended” by such forces seems very “strange” indeed.

But it is certainly an indication of a radical deterioration of relations between the Russian police and Russia’s Muslims, and that is suggested as well by a new report on inter-ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation prepared by the Moscow Center for the Study of National Conflicts and

All ten of the regions were tensions are either “very high” or “high” according to the report are where there are either a large number of Muslims as a result of the influx of labor migrants (like Moscow and St. Petersburg) or which are historically Muslim (Dagestan and Tatarstan).