Dangers of debate

As one of a series of ongoing projects, the Prague Watchdog website, which formerly directed its attention almost exclusively to the subject of human rights abuses in Chechnya, has now under its new chief editor Andrei Babitsky turned its attention to the subject of Islam. Although the new project, titled “Islam Today”, has begun with a contribution from a Russian Muslim cleric, it is not focused solely on the North Caucasus but according to its editor, Mr. Ikramuddin Khan (so far of unknown nationality – but see the next post), will open an international debate on contemporary Islam across the globe.

As PW’s English-language editor I’ve expressed some doubts about this plan. It seems to me that if Prague Watchdog loses its Russia-North Caucasus focus it is likely to find itself to some extent adrift, especially on a highly inflammable subject like the nature of Islam. The comments section in the Russian-language version of PW’s site has already on occasion been taken over by vocal and militant Islamists of the Kavkaz Center and Kavkazan Haamash (Caucasus Emirate) variety, and I wouldn’t like to see this tendency spread to PW’s English-language comments. There are already enough discussion forums on the Web that deal with Muslim politics, Jihad, Islam, Islamic terrorism and related subjects. Some of those forums are dominated by extremist Muslim opinion, while others, like Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, present an alternative and opposing view from a Western, non-Muslim perspective. They all, in my experience, tend to attract posters who seem anxious to engage in debates that are often bitter and recriminatory, and sometimes downright scurrilous.

My own view is that PW would do better to concentrate on what it has done so well in the past, namely the analysis and reporting of current events in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, in which religion is only one feature of a constantly changing ethnic, political and ideological landscape. While some of the material PW now publishes fits this description, there has been a marked increase in the number of polemical and op-ed articles which are subjective in the extreme. The addition of a debate about Islam could worsen that trend quite a bit, in my view. So for the time being the “Islam forum”, with its accompanying newsletter-bulletin,  will not be appearing in an English-language version. Though if some of the prospective articles turn out to be of general interest, I will translate them for PW and post links to them here.

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