– In the Russo-Ukrainian conflict Muslim Tatars are often emphasised, says Kaarina Aitamurto, Researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki.
The prevalent topic in Russian media is the fear based on high birth rates among Muslims. The image of serious threat is enforced by terrorism and the alleged aggressiveness, arrogance and assertiveness of Muslims.
This fear is without ground. Even though the percentage of Muslims undoubtedly continues to grow, Muslims still remain in a clear minority position in comparison to Slavs or Christians.
– In some Muslim republics in the Northern Caucasus or Central Asia, the local elite is allowed to implement religious policies, which contradicts the secular nature of the Russian state and even federal law. The price of Islamic politics is loyalty to Moscow, explains Aitamurto.
Muslim leaders fear of stigma
Earlier, Muslim leaders were eager to present somewhat exaggerated estimations of the number of Muslims in Russia in order to emphasise the role of Islam in Russia. Recently, their statements have rather focused on refuting claims about the demographic islamisation of the country.
Russian Muslims are ethnically and culturally a heterogeneous group and do not form the unified force that the nationalist press often portrays. The split is increased by the Muslim leaders’ wish to disassociate themselves from the problems concerning immigration.
– Among migrant and less privileged Muslims, this attitude might be interpreted as lack of solidarity. This policy of the Muslim leaders is caused by the fear of being labelled as radicals.
The main organisations are engaged in a bitter struggle for the position of the privileged partner of the state.
Ordinary believers frustrated
The internal rivalry and co-option by the state not only divide Muslims, but also discredit the main organisations in the eyes of ordinary believers. The resulting threat is the radicalisation of the Muslim population.
– The attempts of the state to prevent radicalism have not been successful, because they often reflect islamophobic attitudes, Aitamurto states.
– Paradoxically, Russia’s ‘preventive’ politics against the radicalisation of Islam have increased feelings of being discriminated against and anti-state sentiments among Muslims.
No mosques in Moscow
Anti-Islamic themes have become apparent as part of the increasing Russian migrantophobia.
In the Moscow mayoral elections in 2013, all of the candidates, including the most visible leader of the opposition, Alexey Navalny, and the Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, appealed to their voters with anti-migration themes.
After being elected, Sobyanin announced that no new mosques will be built in Moscow.
The threat of the islamisation of Russia was used as a tool of propaganda as far back as Soviet times. The association of the anti-migration rhetoric with anti-Muslim sentiments creates grounds for the growth of radicalised Islam in Russia.