It has been 460 years since the first Muslim groups were incorporated into the Russian state (www.prlib.ru/history/pages/item.aspx?itemid=268), yet Moscow has not advanced at all toward better understanding the Islamic world. Starting with the capture of Kazan in 1552 and until the Soviets took power in the 20th century, the Russians considered Christianization of their Muslim subjects both useful and plausible (www.islamtambov.ru/node/999). Even at the dawn of the 21st century, Moscow still does not realize who it is dealing with. The official website of the Russian interior ministry published a notice on November 12 stating: “The officers of the Chief Directorate for combatting extremism at the Russian interior ministry jointly with the Federal Security Service and the Chief Directorate at the Russian interior ministry in the Central Federal District foiled the activities of the international religious organization the Party of Islamic Liberation, which was recognized as a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and outlawed on Russian territory” (www.mvd.ru/news/show_115866/). As usually happens in such incidents, some weapons were found, including grenades stashed by the suspects. To make the public believe that the suspects are hardcore Islamists, officials announced that a search had uncovered extremist Islamic literature and “a guide for the recruitment and promotion of extremist Islamic ideas” (http://newsru.com/russia/12nov2012/6extrim.html).
The definition of extremist Islamic literature has been taken to absurd levels in the Russian Federation. At one point, a Russian court banned the publication, reading and possession in a personal library of the Prophet Muhammad’s biography (www.ntv.ru/novosti/305378). Books well known throughout the Islamic world were banned by the Russian government. Such famous works as the 40 Hadiths of Imâm an-Nawawî and the Gardens of the Righteous were blacklisted by the Russian legislators. Even books that provide instructions for Islamic prayer, stories about prophets and many other similar titles evoked the ire of the state censors. There are also ostensibly Sufi works among the banned literature, such as those by Said Nursî, Fethullah Gülen and a number of others (http://moidagestan.ru/blogs/37290/18972).
Therefore the report about the operation against an entire outlawed Islamic network seemed quite interesting. In the best traditions of Soviet propaganda, some misleading pieces of information were included in the news, such as the purported confiscation of one million dollars and two million euros that were “presumably counterfeit.” Four days later, the Russian interior ministry announced that 18 suspected members of the Party for Islamic Liberation had been arrested. This time, the Russian Interior Ministry also used the Arabic name for the Party for Islamic Liberation—Hizb ut-Tahrir—which is unfamiliar to most Russians (www.mvd.ru/news/show_116050/).
Hizb ut-Tahrir’s official website said that the police conducted searches on a much larger scale than was officially announced. According to the group, the police searched 40 locations in Moscow and Moscow Oblast, as well as 30 locations in Ufa. Some 60 individuals were arrested, the group said (http://hizb-russia.info/index.php/khizb-ut-takhrir/proklomatsii/strany-zapada/rossiya/777-massovye-obyski-i-zaderzhaniya-musulman.html). The Russian interior ministry noted that the organization had caught the authorities’ attention back in 2010, when members of the group from the North Caucasus and Central Asia were connected to illegal activities, including calls to overthrow the Russian government and to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the European part of Russia. It would have been absurd for Hizb ut-Tahrir to make such calls. To strengthen the case against the Islamic organization, Russian news agencies further reported that members of the organization had plotted to derail a train back in 2010 and had recently rented apartments “near transportation hubs” (http://newsru.com/russia/16nov2012/poezd.html). The Russian media also connected this organization to the attempt on the life of Tatarstan’s mufti, Ildus Faizov, and murder of his deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, on July 19 (www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2299705/v_kazani_vzorvali_mashinu_muftiya_tatarstana_i_zastrelili).
The Russian Supreme Court officially outlawed Hizb ut-Tahrir on February 14, 2003. The court designated this organization as a terrorist group, along with 15 other organizations. According to the Russian human rights organization Memorial, the court’s decision contradicted existing Russian legislation and was caused by an irrational fear of Islam (Islamophobia) that was spread by the mainstream Russian media. Criminal cases had been fabricated using torture, Memorial asserted (www.memo.ru/daytoday/05hizb01.htm).
Memorial’s statement makes sense, since Hizb ut-Tahrir did not perceive Russia as a country where Islamic rule should be established. However, hostile moves by the Russian authorities may force the leaders of the organization to review their position and declare Russian authorities to be their enemy, which will allow its members to go underground and act according to new rules. To date, members of the organization in Russia have engaged primarily in legal missionary work (www.sova-center.ru/religion/publications/2005/10/d6036/). So the Russian authorities’ attempts to connect the official Muslim clergy of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which closely cooperates with the authorities, to the terrorist attacks in Kazan demonstrates the complete incompetence of Russian specialists on Islam, who tend to see all Muslims as enemies of the state. Before the ink could dry on the Russian interior ministry’s statement regarding Hizb ut-Tahrir’s illegal activities, the Russian Council of Muftis hastily distanced itself from the organization and came out in support of the arrests (www.dumrf.ru/dumer/documents/5324). In fact, several members of the Russian Council of Muftis were known to have accepted and recognized the legitimacy of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s aims and activities even if they were not actual members of the group (www.islamnews.ru, June 6, 2005).
Thus the Russian authorities have officially recognized that the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami exists and operates inside Russia. The organization has not stopped its activities in the country since it was first designated a terrorist organization, but even expanded its activities. “Five out of nine suspects are leaders of the Russian and Moscow cells of the Party of Islamic Liberation,” the police statement said (http://newsru.com/russia/16nov2012/poezd.html). The main takeaway from all this is that Moscow does not really seem to know who is its ally and who is its foe; whom it can negotiate with and with whom it cannot. This means that the tensions between the Russian authorities and the Islamic community—which, according to various estimates, has from 15 million to 24 million people—will only continue to mount (www.newsru.com/background/28sep2005/moslemrus.html).