From Matthew Omolesky in the Brussels Journal:
Last week, a Russian law banning foreigners from retail stalls and markets, announced by the cabinet last November, finally took effect. While facially neutral, the law essentially targets immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile, a Russian city court in Pyatigorsk convicted Anton Stepanenko of promoting Wahhabism, inciting ethnic and religious hatred, and encouraging vigilantism. Yet Stepanenko’s case had become a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre for many Russian Muslims, and after public appeals to President Vladimir Putin on behalf of the imam (an “exemplary, heroic figure for all the nation’s Muslims,” according to some), the charges were reduced and Stepanenko went free.
In the grand scheme, these are two fairly minor pieces of news, but still indicative of Russia’s present relationship with Islam. The first story suggests a revival of nationalism, an increasing wariness of pluralism, and, along with other recent moves by Russian national and provincial authorities to promote Orthodox Christianity and create incentives for having larger families, speaks to a growing awareness of the challenges posed by Russia’s demographic situation (discussed by Mark Steyn elsewhere and Fjordman on this space). The second story shows that the Kremlin is nonetheless eager to mollify the growing Russian Muslim population and is crossing its fingers that Russian “Euro-Islam” remains what the Economist has dubbed a “benign growth” (a term presumably referring to moderate Islam generally and not to what has taken root in Chechnya, Daghestan, and North Ossetia).
[A]s governments across the world have come to realize, Islam as a political force is not so easily corralled. The interminable conflict in Chechnya, which has pitted Russians against Chechens as well as being an internecine conflict, was an inevitable outgrowth of this policy.
As an increasingly nationalistic Russia seeks to grapple with the challenges posed by its own demographic doldrums and its complex relationship with the Eurasian Islamic crescent, it is necessary to examine how effective the longstanding Russian policy of co-opting Islamic moderates has been. As contemporary European nations likewise vie for the affection of Islamic moderates, it is worth noting that this instrumentalization of Islam poses its own challenges, and will mean that, to again quote Robert Crews, “religion and policing will become more closely intertwined,” something not ordinarily the goal of a liberal society. In the end, Russia’s age old balancing approach should certainly be of interest to European policymakers, but it still may be only postponing an increasingly likely confrontation.