by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 12, Jumada' al-Ula', 1439)
After Russia’s involvement in Syria to prevent the collapse of Bashar al-Asad’s government and Damascus falling to Washington’s pseudo-Islamic proxies, some Muslims started to mistakenly view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a shield against Islamophobia. While today some of Moscow’s interests in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi-occupied Arabia and partly Bahrain, and Yemen, align with legitimate Islamic movements, at a strategic level, Russia does not view Muslims as allies.
As pointed out in the European Islamophobia report for the year of 2016, “in contrast to many European countries, Muslims are indigenous to Russia. However, as a result of growing nationalist and isolationist sentiments and the narrow-minded consciousness of Russian society coupled with ill-conceived state confessional politics, Russian Muslims tend to be associated with ‘aliens’ and even enemies by the average Russian.”
The concept of Muslims being alien to Russia is not an idea that the Russian media highlights only inside its borders. It subtly wants to promote this notion in an already Islamophobic Europe. Today, anti-EU and anti-Muslim socio-political forces in France, Hungary, and Austria are close to the Kremlin.
In 2016, Russia Today (RT), Moscow’s foremost international media tool, angered many of its Muslim employees for negotiating to give a talk show to a well known British Islamophobe, Katie Hopkins. The same year, Andrew Rigney, RT’s UK studio director, made Islamophobic comments on social media saying that Islam was “rotten from the inside,” retweeted an image suggesting Muslims are inclined to shoot their own daughters, and shared an image saying “there is no difference between the Nazis and Islam.” Even though, Rigney later apologized, it was a mere pretence. Speaking to Crescent International, a prominent Muslim UK journalist stated that “RT in London has lost a lot of its Muslim staff because of its Islamophobic tone.”
Anyone who follows RT regularly, will immediately notice its Islamophobic bent whenever it reports on Muslims in Europe, camouflaging its anti-Muslim tone with the term refugees. This sometimes extends beyond Europe as well. In some of its reports RT even quotes the notorious racist and Islamophobic trash “journalism” website, Breitbart.
From the Russian perspective, it may be argued that Moscow’s alliance with the European and North American right-wing groups is necessary as it destabilizes NATO regimes from within and promotes regressive forces in the same manner as NATO regimes do in Russia. This is a mistaken tactic that may undermine Russia on a strategic level. The EU would never launch direct war against Russia for many reasons, the most obvious being that EU depends on Russian energy products. If Moscow continues to be seen by many Muslims as a hostile power, this would allow NATO’s intelligence agencies to facilitate an insurgency within Russia, as there is already a historical precedent to it in the North Caucasus. By trying to win over external allies, Moscow might create a blind spot for itself internally and alienate a significant portion of its own citizens. As US imperialism is in terminal decline, thanks to its dysfunctional and greedy selectoral process, there is no strategic geo-political threat to Russia emanating from NATO today as it was in the 1990s.
If Moscow is truly aiming to play chess instead of checkers, it should revise its policies and establish bridges with legitimate Muslim organizations. Moscow’s lack of genuine communication with Muslim organizations in the Muslim East and North Africa (MENA) region puts Washington at a greater advantage in post-Islamic Awakening (Arab Spring) events. The US was able to camouflage itself and subverted Muslim organizations in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Tunisia. A good place for Russia to start reforming its strategy toward Muslim organizations would be Tajikistan. In the Central Asian Republic, Russian and Iranian cooperation ended the civil war in the 1990s. If Moscow utilizes Tehran’s weight and influence in Tajikistan, Russia could avoid a repeat of Chechnya within its borders and the near abroad.