February 10, 2011 / 4:53 PM / 7 years ago

Russia's Muslim elite vows to tackle extremism

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Muslims on Thursday set up a council of experts to devise ways to tackle extremism, two weeks after a suicide bomb attack on the country’s busiest airport killed 36.

“People need to be protected from extremism and terrorism, and educated away from this,” said Ravil Gaynutdin, the chief Mufti of Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population.

“These experts will play a very important role towards making things better... for Muslims to be more involved in Russian society,” Gaynutdin, clad in a flowing black robe and crowned by a silk white hat, told Reuters in an interview before chairing the council’s first meeting.

He added that the council, comprised of 38 Russian Muslims involved in politics, law and media, will regularly meet to analyse how Muslims live in today’s Russia and make recommendations to government on how their lives can improve.

Initiatives could include offering religious guidance to Muslim youths, setting up sports clubs, building more mosques and making sure Muslim literature is easy to find.

A decade after federal troops drove separatists out of power in a second war in Chechnya, the North Caucasus -- home to around half of Russia’s Muslims -- is plagued with violence and rebels there want to carve out a separate Islamic state.

Earlier this week Islamist leader Doku Umarov said he had ordered the devastating attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. Authorities say the bomber was 20-year-old Magomed Yevloyev from Ingushetia, a sliver of impoverished land neighbouring Chechnya.

Umarov, a Chechen, said hundreds of men are ready for jihad (holy war) in Russia and he presently has dozens of suicide bombers ready to unleash on Russian cities.

President Dmitry Medvedev has told security officials terrorism is Russia’s biggest threat.

Gaynutdin said Muslims must understand that “if you take a person’s life, then you stand on Satan’s path... These are not martyrs, but terrorists and suicide bombers.”

Experts say feelings of rootlessness and a lack of acceptance by ethnic Russians add to a dispiriting mix that pushes young men into the insurgency.

In December, Moscow saw some of the worst racial violence since the Soviet collapse when thousands of neo-nationalists gathered near Red Square and attacked passersby who appeared to be from the North Caucasus.

The violence shocked both ordinary Russians and officials, and sparked outrage from Muslim regional leaders.

Gaynutdin added that he hopes the country’s first Muslim television channel, proposed by Medvedev two years ago, will air in the second half of 2011.

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