Censoring the unsayable

In her Spectator blog, Melanie Phillips takes issue with a new study which claims that negative portrayals of Muslims in the British media are leading to a growth in hate crime:

The view that Islamists who, for tactical reasons alone, oppose al Qaeda are not a threat to Britain — and should indeed be treated as allies against al Qaeda — is one of the most lethal mistakes that has been made by the British counter-terror world.  One example of such egregious establishment wrong-headedness that I cite in Londonistan is in fact one of the authors of this report, Robert Lambert. A former officer in the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terror Command, who until 2008 ran the Metropolitan Police Muslim Contact Unit, Lambert told a conference organised by the Danish police that terrorism could not be fought by contact with moderate Muslims but through partnerships with the Salafists (radical Islamists) – two of whom were at one stage at least actually officers in his own police department. I wrote:

Lambert believed that this would enable the police to understand the way extremists thought before they committed any acts of terror. But it surely goes without saying that a Salafist officer, who is committed to the overthrow of the west and its replacement by an Islamic society, poses a security risk of the first order. For a police counter-terrorism specialist to be promoting this situation beggars belief.

Now Lambert has co-authored this study which claims that identifying such Islamists as extremists is to incite attacks upon British Muslims. But just look at the organisation behind this study, the European Muslim Research Centre. On its advisory board sit Anas Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain, which supports Hamas, and Mohamed Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain, which supports the Islamisation of Britain and which has a number of Islamist affiliates.  The study also says it drew its information from, amongst others, the Muslim Safety Forum, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) UK, the Federation of Islamic Student Societies and the Muslim Council of Britain – all of which are Islamist fronts.

Muslim Russia

It turns out that “Ikramuddin Khan” is the pseudonym of Vadim Sidorov, a Muslim convert also known as Kharum ar-Rushi, head of the National Organization of Russian Muslims.

Many commentators in the West tend to forget that Russia has a steadily growing number of ethnic Russian converts to Islam. Specialist observers have documented the trend, however: in 2007, Paul Goble quoted a figure as large as 20,000, and by now the numbers are likely to be even higher. Daniel Pipes has a useful and interesting survey of the subject on his website, where he quotes President Dmitry Medvedev as saying:

“Russia is a multi-national and multi-confessional country. Russian Muslims have enough respect and influence. Muslim foundations are making an important contribution to promoting peace in society, providing spiritual and moral education for many people, as well as fighting extremism and xenophobia. There are 182 ethnic groups living in Russia, and 57 of them claim Islam as their main religion. This figure speaks for itself.”

It does indeed.

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.

From today’s correspondence

Dear David,

Thank you for your response. I would only add that Zakaev (whom I admire a lot) himself stated that “Chechen Islamism” is Lubyanka plot to destroy the Chechen resistance and to split the Chechen society. Of course the resistance had to turn to some Islamic identity but to call them “Islamofascists” is, on my opinion, a big exaggeration and misunderstanding that even undeliberately plays to benefit the Russian-Kadyrov regime. I wouldn’t support such kind of propaganda. Also, Andrei Babitsky himself had been in Afghanistan to investigate “Chechen ghost” stories and did not find a tiny evidence that support such claims.




Dear Nadezhda,

Well, I for my part would only add that if the [North Caucasus] Islamic resistance wants to avoid the Islamofascist label, its members need to stop writing and behaving like Islamofascists. Many of the statements that are published on their websites are outrageous, and could be classified as hate crime.

On the other hand, I’m sure that very many of the stories about Chechens in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere are untrue, and are engineered for Moscow’s propaganda purposes. My suggestion – and I believe it’s a moderate and reasonable one – is simply that these stories need to be looked into and analysed, and the results made publicly available.



Chechen ghosts

The uneasy relation between the various interest groups among those, both in the North Caucasus and outside it, who have tried to see a way through the problematic political and social landscape of this troubled part of the world, came to the fore again recently on Norbert Strade’s long-lived Chechnya Short List. Norbert has once again posted one of his periodic  “Chechen ghosts” items, this time a clipping from the Independent newspaper – an article by a British journalist who quoted a Western bomb disposal expert as saying that a new type of IED being used by the Taleban in Afghanistan was based on expertise “coming from foreign fighters from places such as Chechnya”.

According to the received wisdom in a certain section of the Chechnya human rights community, Chechens cannot be found in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. Even though Chechnya’s Islamic fundamentalists – who act separately from the increasingly out-of-favour nationalists – are as opposed to the U.S., Israel and the West as their Taleban counterparts, by a section of the human rights campaigners  they are thought to be exclusively focused on eliminating Russian control of the region. This approach seemingly ignores the fact that on websites such as Kavkaz Center and Kavkazan Haamash,  Chechen, Dagestani and Ingush Islamists routinely issue anti-Western statements. It would surely not be surprising if one or two Chechens ended up on the Afghan front lines, though the numbers can be disputed. There is also the complicating factor that such participation can be used by the Russian government in its ongoing campaign against Chechnya, which seeks to tar all Chechens with the brush of Islamic extremism.

To point out that it might be kinder and more realistic to treat Chechens as fallible human beings who might fall into political extremism either deliberately or as a result of being duped,   rather than as paragons of national-revolutionary virtue who can do no wrong, is not a popular line to take in Norbert Strade’s forum. I have already been attacked by the recently-reappeared Mikael Storsjö (who has done much in word and deed to support the Islamic fighters and their ideologists in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus), and other responses have been equally hostile. In the end one is forced to conclude that what really drives the opinions of these avowed pro-Chechens is an antipathy to Western political and military influence per se – as well as to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. For if sites like Kavkaz Center are really just projects of the unreformed Russian/Soviet KGB, then why give them any support?