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Russia Profile brings you some of the best analysis on top stories in Russia today. But there’s always more behind them. Each Friday, our writers provide their own take on the news, offering unique commentary to put events into a different perspective. This week, Dan Peleschuk ponders the newly-emerging Islamist threat in Tatarstan and Tai Adelaja wonders if we do need a dress code in our Constitution.
The Threat in the Heartland
By Dan Peleschuk
For a while it seemed that the Kremlin had altogether forgotten about the Islamist threat that persists, with a deadly explosion or two each week, in its soft underbelly. Indeed, it’s easy to take for granted the violent insurgency that plagues the North Caucasus – it’s just always been there. But Thursday’s attacks on two high-profile religious officials in the Muslim republic of Tatarstan, deep in Russia’s Volga Region, shows that it may be time for the Kremlin to start paying closer attention.
For many casual observers, it was a total surprise: two separate, yet apparently coordinated attacks engineered to sever the highest echelon of official spirituality in Kazan, the republic’s capital, which has rarely – if ever – seen such acts of violence, are certainly out of the ordinary. As a result, Valiulla Yakupov, the republic’s deputy mufti, was gunned down outside his home, while his boss, Mufti Ildus Faizov, narrowly escaped death in a car bombing.
But upon closer inspection, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Analysts have pointed to the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism – Salafism, Wahhabism, call it what you like – within a heavily Muslim republic once touted as an example for interethnic stability in Russia. They say a battle has been quietly raging between the official ranks of Muslim clerics, which have sought to work with the local authorities to quell any sign of radical Islam, and an increasingly emboldened group of Islamists bent on spreading a purer form of Islam – the kind, for instance, which can be found in the ever-troubled North Caucasus.
Islamic terror may be reaching across Russia beyond the North Caucasus.
Granted, the details are still incredibly scant. Investigators have announced that they’ve caught four suspects, one of whom runs a travel agency which sends local Muslims on the hajj. Even the well-informed analysts and high-ranking muftis I’ve spoken to have held back from decidedly pointing the finger at one particular faction or another. Because that’s just the thing: there is no “one faction.” Radical Islamic networks, though pried open slightly with the widespread use of the Internet, are a notoriously difficult thing to pin down. At this point, it’s still tough to say whether the Kazan attacks were exported from the Caucasus or devised locally – or a combination of both.
But one thing seems clear: there’s a greater threat now in a region in which the Kremlin couldn’t have earlier suspected such high-profile attacks to occur. And because the threat is still seemingly amorphous, it becomes all the more dangerous.
Our Morality Police
By Tai Adelaja
These are testy times for Mother Russia. Just when you thought the emboldened opposition movement – that had the temerity to challenge the untouchables – was Russia’s only heartache, our giggling girls went riotous, desecrating the country's Holiest Temple. But now that they have been driven from their symbolic self-assertion to self-emasculation through a hunger strike, it seems just right to take on their disciples.
This explains why concerned citizens like Tatyana Moskalkova, a member of the Just Russia Party, have jumped to action. Moskalkova was no ordinary woman. She was a former deputy department head with the Interior Ministry and the only woman with the rank of general-major in that ministry. But her plan, which is tactical, rather than strategic, was to insert in the Criminal Code a provision that will “protect the honor, dignity and respect of others in the community and severely punish actions that injure the social and moral fabric of society." Are you thinking of Pussy Riot? Yeah, you’re right.
"We urgently need a dress-code written into our Constitution."
"The most destructive threat to a state comes not from its economy, but from a counter-cultural erosion of moral foundations of society," Moskalkova philosophized in an interview published by Izvestia on Friday. Moskalkova said her efforts are not directed specifically against Pussy Riot. “It is necessary to preserve certain standards of behavior or moral principles which society respected for ages,” she said. Then added: “If someone wants to go naked in the street, to show off his body, there are special places and establishments for this."
Moskalkova was apparently referring to one of the despicable acts of the art performance group Voina, in which the members had public intercourse in the Museum of Nature and then posted the video online. But what really irked Moskalkova, according to RBC Daily, was a video showing one of the Pussy Riot girls stealing a chicken from a supermarket, sticking it between her legs and carrying it out of the shop without paying for it.
But as sickening as those acts may be, Moskalkova's alacrity to protect us from them may yet suffer a setback in the State Duma. Vladimir Ponevezhsky, a United Russia deputy and a former prosecutor, said a provision to punish attacks on morality may be too broad and lend itself to different interpretations. "How does one qualify an attack on morality?" Ponevezhsky asked. It's a question I didn't expect from a member of a party that has voted overwhelmingly to criminalize libel and insult and made opposition protesting all but impossible.
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