Monday, April 10, 2006

Muslims protest in Moscow against threat to raze mosque

Muslims protest in Moscow against threat to raze mosque

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems ok with Russian policies in Chechnya (I don't think live electrical wires in the anus are expressly forbidden in the Quran), so I am sure he will understand demolishing a mosque that is under construction ...

... As long as the weapons and nuclear technology keep coming.

A small group of Muslims and rights activists rallied outside Russian government headquarters on Monday to protest the threatened destruction of a mosque being built in the southern city of Astrakhan.

Russia's 20 million Muslims make up some 14 percent of the nation's population, but about half the 1.1 million inhabitants of Astrakhan province, which is home to the Volga Tatars, are Muslim.

Work on the mosque has been halted since last year, when the newly elected mayor said zoning rules had been violated. A local court has ordered the Muslims to dismantle the structure at their own expense by May 1 or face the bulldozers.

Regional official Oleg Popov insisted Monday there were legitimate safety grounds for the decision, pointing out that the mosque was close to high-voltage electricity lines. But he also said the demolition of the mosque was necessary because it was being built on land set aside for an apartment complex, the Interfax news agency reported.

"The courts are blindly supporting the administration. We can't even get local newspapers to print our views so we have been obliged to come here to Moscow," said the mosque's administrator, Asya Makhmutova.

"We believe we will be listened to and the federal government will help us, that is our hope," she said.

The threat to raze the mosque has heightened Muslims' concerns that freedom of religion is being trampled in an atmosphere of xenophobia fed by the Russian war against Islamic militants and separatists in Chechnya.

"This is yet another proof of the hypocrisy of authorities when they talk about defending the traditional religions. This would be the first time in decades that a mosque is destroyed in Russia," said Yevgeny Khlov from the group For Human Rights.

The protesters carried banners that read: "Shame on the Islamophobia in Astrakhan!" and "Russia is a multi-confessional state - Muslims are equal citizens."

Plans to construct the mosque across the road from a large Muslim cemetery on a 600-square meter (6,500 sq. foot) plot of land were originally laid in 1998. The city administration granted a permit three years later.

But after a new regional governor and mayor took office in late 2004, licensing officials did an about-face. Last summer, just months after work finally began as a result of a major fundraising effort, the Muslim community received an order to halt the project.

The planned mosque complex foresees a large, domed prayer hall, an Islamic school, three other small buildings and a 37-meter (120-foot) high minaret.

"The new Astrakhan authorities didn't like the fact that a Muslim place of worship is in such a prominent place," said a statement by the organizers of Monday's protest.

Of course, from a Western point of view, demolishing a half-built mosque that had already met local approvals, simply because of a local government change (and general dislike of Muslims) - surely seems like a worse offense than say ... printing a political cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).

But I suspect this will register barely a blip in the Islamic world, as Russia has been a good ally and weapons supplier in recent years.

From Radio Free Europe (April 4, 2006):
Russian President Vladimir Putin was proud to announce last week that, in 2005, Russia's arms exports, worth $6 billion, exceeded their targets by 25 percent. In the past year Rosoroboroneksport, the state arms exporter, has sealed weapons contracts worth $18 billion, according to Putin a 61 percent jump.

As the head of Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service (VTS), Putin has lobbied for the sale of Russian weapons systems during his visits to Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Turkey, and Middle Eastern countries.

The supply of Russian weapons to Syria and Iran has been of great concern for both Israel and the United States. Under international pressure, Putin eventually barred the sale to Damascus of Iskander-E tactical missiles, which could have changed the balance of power in the region. However, Russia continues to supply Syria with Strelets (SA-18) surface-to-air missiles, which in the view of Israeli specialists could be easily dismantled and handed over to terrorists.

In December 2005, Moscow also agreed to sell 30 TOR M-1 air-defense missile systems to Tehran. In addition to Syria and Iran, Moscow has negotiated sales agreements with Sudan. Also, Moscow continues to sell small arms and helicopters to the Hamas administration in the Palestinian Authority, which is boycotted both by Washington and Jerusalem. All in all, Russia should sell weapons worth $4 billion to Iran, worth $2 billion to Syria, and worth $400 million to Sudan, the Rosoboroneksport website (http://www.roe.ru) reported.
It is worth noting that the weapons sales to Iran made in December helped make the Russian weapon industry's year, as they were significantly below sales projects prior to the completion of that deal. Way to close out the year, boys! Christmas bonuses for everyone!

From Kommersant, "1 Billion in Four Days" (Febuary 23, 2006):
Alexander Denisov, the first deputy director at the Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service, announced on November 30 that “the plan of $5.1 billion, endorsed by the president, will be fulfilled and exceeded.” The $5.1 billion would have meant a 700-million slump in the exports in 2005, against indicators of 2004, which would be quite in line with the cyclic nature of the arms market, according to experts. [..]

On December 28, the total figure for 2005 went up by $200 million. President Vladimir Putin reported at a session of the Military and Technical Cooperation Commission that the arms exports retained “the stable growth” and cited the sum of $5.3 billion. “This is somewhat less than last year but it is roughly the same level,” the president concluded.

Oddly enough, after New Year’s holidays, the “somewhat less” turned into “a new record” that Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov reported to Putin on January 18. “We have summed up final result, which is $6 billion in 2005,” the minister boasted pointing out that the success proved the efficiency of the new system of military and technical cooperation introduced in 2000. The president was not at all surprised by the news, judging from his reserved reaction. Still, neither Putin nor Ivanov would explain how the initial $5.1 billion came to be the record-high $6 billion.

However, this record was also broken a week later. The head of Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service, Mikhail Dmitriev announced on February 9 that the agency “closed last year with the result of $6.126 billion.” The sum is more than $1 billion higher than the one that Dmitriev’s first deputy had posted. The change is unprecedented. The difference between preliminary results reported at the end of the year and the final sum that the arms export service usually announces in mid-February has never exceeded $100 million.
Never let it be said that the U.S. has the market cornered on hypocrisy.

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