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September 15, 2012

Religiosity, Russia and the Muslim World

Donna Welles
September 15, 2012

Responding to the attack on U.S. embassies and diplomatic territories across the Muslim world (specifically the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff in Libya), Russian bloggers have addressed the perceived growth of religiosity in their own country, and used the incident as an opportunity to discuss the wider consequences of political unrest.

Several media outlets have emphasized the connection between these anti-American violent outbursts and U.S. support for the Arab Spring. Evaluating the legitimacy of the recent bloodshed, many RuNet bloggers have questioned the validity of violently “avenging” Western religious liberality.

Blogger Evgeny Schultz contextualized the recent events in the Middle East amid growing religiosity in Russia in a post titled [ru], “Religion on the March: In Libya and Russia”:

Объяснение всегда просто: “Так требует вера, Бог”. […] Они экстраполируют всезнание, благость и всемогущество Бога на предстоятеля своей религии. И естественно, власть не собирается пропускать возможности мимо себя. Для власти религия - мощнейший электоральный рычаг. Но не понимает власть, что рычаг этот не им подчиняется. И рано или поздно ударит их по лбу. А вместе с ними и всю Россию. Никакие тактические выгоды не оправдают того стратегического тупик [sic], в который ведет клерикализация.

The explanation is always simple: “It requires faith, God.” […] They extend God's omniscience, kindness, and omnipotence to their religious leaders. And, naturally, the authorities don't intend to let this opportunity pass them by. For the authorities, religion is the most powerful electoral lever. But the authorities fail to understand that they don't control this lever. Sooner or later it's going to knock them upside the head — and all Russia with them. There are no tactical advantages that justify the strategic deadlock to which clericalization is leading.

Schultz's nuance, if one can call it that, has not characterized the reactions of all netizens. Hardliner Orthodox blogger Archbishop Sergey Zhuravlev, for instance, posted [ru] a militant anti-Islam rant in response to the mob attacks on American embassies.

On Twitter, some have aired skepticism about the effectiveness of violence as a response to sometimes offensive material.

In Baku, Azerbaijan, Rahman Haji wrote:

Один идиотский фильм о Пророке перевернул пол мира.Посол в Ливии убит, флаги США срывают с посольств на всем Ближнем Востоке. Просто ужас…

One idiotic film about the Prophet has turned upside down half the world. The [American] Ambassador in Libya has been killed, and American flags are being torn down from embassies across the Middle East. Simply awful…

In Chelyabinsk, Sergei Tretyakov tweeted:

Ирония дня: ливийские мусульмане увидели в интернете ролик про то, что мусульмане - не миролюбивые, обиделись и убили посла США в Ливии

The irony of the day: Libyan Muslims saw an Internet clip about how Muslims aren't peace-loving people, and they got offended and killed the U.S. Ambassador in Libya.

Others have been more ambiguous in their commentary. In Tula, for example, Gregory Bukreev connected [ru] the anger allegedly incited by an anti-Muslim film to the Pussy Riot case.

В Ливии убит посол США за фильм,где плохо показан пророк Мухаммед,а остающиеся на свободе участницы Pussy Riot готовят новую акцию.Подумайте

In Libya, the U.S. Ambassador was killed because of a film that negatively portrayed the Prophet Mohammed. Pussy Riot's remaining members not in jail are planning a new initiative. Think about it.

What is the public meant to “think” exactly? Bloggers seem to be united in disapproval of the mob violence against American foreign dignitaries, but a more vexing issue is Russia's own struggle with religious pluralism, including matters as troubling as homegrown Muslim and Orthodox extremism. The Orthodox Church's own growing influence, of course, was and remains a major concern for secularists following the Pussy Riot controversy.