On Koran, Mosque, And People Of “Caucasian Ethnicity” (The Values Gap-2)

A May 2010 poll conducted by VCIOM asked 1,600 people in 42 regions of Russia the following question: "Are there any particular ethnic groups you feel negatively about?"  While 56% of the respondents said "no", 29%  acknowledged having negative feelings toward "kavkaztsy", a collective term describing people of the Caucasian decent: Azeris, Armenians, Chechens, Dagestanis, Ingushis, and Georgians.  (Some other popular definitions of "kavkaztsy" include the politically correct "people of the Caucasian ethnicity" and "blacks," the term commonly used by Russian rednecks.) 

(I witnessed firsthand an expression of these "negative feelings" last summer in Saint Petersburg, on The Paratroopers' Day (August 2), when on a subway station, two guys in the paratrooper fatigues cornered a slim fellow looking unmistakably "Caucasian."  Having established, after a short interrogation, that the poor fellow was "from Dagestan", the "paratroopers" began punching him in the face.  Two sleepy police officers quietly observed the happening from the other side of the subway hall.)

Naturally, every time that "us" start disliking "them", violence follows.  The SOVA Center, a non-profit organization that monitors cases of nationalism and racism in Russia, reported that in the first half of 2010, 19 people have been killed as a result of hate crimes.  At least half of them were people of the Central Asia and Caucasus origin.  Yet the report pointed at a recent decline in ethnic violence, which was attributed to the pro-active position of the Russian Supreme Court and the increasing willingness by the law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crime cases. 

In contrast to Russia, America always took pride in being a country of immigrants, a "land of opportunities" where everyone is born equal and religious tolerance is a given.  So regardless of whether you prefer to be melted in a pot or to contribute a piece in a salad bowl, for as long as you work hard, pay taxes, and stay away from trouble, you're one of "us."

A number of recent developments have shattered this bucolic picture.

Just last week, a Terry Jones (calling this jerk a "pastor" would be a disservice to tens of thousands of real spiritual leaders all across this great country) attempted to publicly burn 200 copies of Koran, commemorating in such an imaginative way the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  A score of top government officials, including President Obama, pleaded with Jones not to, to which Jones eventually conceded, claiming that his "message" has been already heard.

The treatment of the "pastor" in the media has followed two major tracks.  The first kept reminding that Jones' church in Florida consisted of only 50 members and that he therefore didn't have too many followers.  (A brief note: the Russian skinheads do not represent the majority, or even a numerically significant faction, of the Russian society, either.)  The second track kept blaming the media itself for propelling Jones to the rank of a world celebrity.  For example, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post argued that Jones "should be ignored."  (A similar approach is usually taken by the state-controlled Russian media: ignore the event and then pretend that it never occurred.)

The Koran burning affair came on the heels of another controversy, the one over the "Ground-Zero mosque."  In the core of this story is the opposition to a plan to build an Islamic community center — with a 500-seat auditorium, theater, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare services, bookstore, culinary school, and a restaurant – and mosque (and not just a mosque as the critics of the idea claim) two blocks away from the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.  The opponents of the plan insists that building a mosque so close to the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks would be offensive to the victims of the tragedy and their relatives.  (My personal impression from visiting NYC is that in this crazy world of running people and unmoving cars that Lower Manhattan is, being separated by two blocks is about the same as living in different cities or countries.  Or on different planets, for that matter.)  

I'm not a Muslim and have no relatives who perished on the 9/11, so it's difficult for me to judge whose feelings will be hurt more should the mosque be built or not built at this particular location.  But I can't miss the thick anti-Islamic overtones the whole discussion has acquired.  Nor can I miss rapidly increasing anti-Islamic sentiments in the country.  49% of Americans say that they have "generally unfavorable opinions of Islam", according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll.   And here we have an Internet portal  already exploring "legal" ways to ban Islam in the United States.  An on-line petition "Ban Islam Now" is already in operation (signed for now by a refreshingly small number of "petitioners", though). 

I suspect that at this point, a disciple of the "values gap" between the United States and Russia would politely raise a hand and say: "Well, those are only words, a speech that, even being hateful, is still protected by the First Amendment."

Good point.  Unfortunately, in the U.S., as in Russia, as soon as you begin pointing to differences between "us" and "them", deeds follow words. 

Here are the deeds.  At a Denver, Col. meatpacking plant, Muslim Somali workers were denied drinking water after they fasted all day during the holy month of Ramadan.  A Seattle man assaulted a store clerk wearing a turban, having accused him of being a member of al-Qaeda.  A 21-year-old arts (!) student in New York stabbed a cab driver after the driver admitted he was Muslim.

No question, the level of anti-Muslim violence in the U.S. is still no match to the levels of ethnic violence in Russia.  (I won't touch the hate crimes committed against "traditional" ethnic minorities in the U.S., though)  So the numbers gap is still there, but can anyone point to a "widening" values gap?

One of the bizarre "by-products" of the strengthening Islamophobia in the U.S. is a growing number of Americans (18% as compared with 12% in March 2009) believing that President Obama is a Muslim.  (President Obama is a Christian who attends the Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.)  I leave aside the question of why the religious beliefs of the President of the United States, a country with a constitutional separation between the state and the church, should become the subject of a public poll.  Much more troubling is the fact that the percentage of those who believe that the president is a Muslim is especially high, according to the same poll, among people who disapprove of his performance.  In other words, calling someone a Muslim is becoming a conventional way of showing that you don't like this person.  That this person is not "us", so to speak.

When asked why they don't like kavkaztsy, the respondents to the above-mentioned VCIOM poll referred to the "threat of terrorism."  After two Chechen wars and multiple atrocities in Moscow and other Russian cities committed by the Chechen terrorists, I can see their point.  And it's hardly surprising that the Americans — still bleeding from the wounds of the 9/11, going through two wars in Muslim countries, and facing the emerging threat of homegrown Muslim terrorism — begin considering trading their "values" for a sense of "security."

What will happen next?  Just ask  the "people of the Caucasian ethnicity" in Russia.   

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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24 Responses to On Koran, Mosque, And People Of “Caucasian Ethnicity” (The Values Gap-2)

  1. Good morning Eugene
    According to someone we both know (I’ll leave it at that), SOVA is the kind of org. highlighting Russian on non-Russian intolerance and not vice versa (which has included violence) – which as you know is an issue in some parts of the former USSR. I’ve heard my share of credible stories that (surprise) don’t get much if any attention. I’m not too familiar with SOVA to comment on it. With plenty of ground to cover, one can’t be well versed on everything.
    The incident you witnessed is most unpleasant.
    Regarding the building of mosques, see how the most “European” and ethnically pure of former Yugo republics dealt with the idea of building one mosque in its capital, where none have existed:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3590841.stm
    Best,
    Mike

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks much for your as always great comments.
    I’d like to stress again what I tried to explain in my responses to the previous post comments. The goal and scope of this post is not to write a scholar study on the ethnic/religious intolerance over the wolrd (the burqa ban in France, the Roma deportation from the same, the mosque controversy in Switzerland etc. etc. etc.). My goal was to point to similar reaction of two different people when challenged with similar adversities.
    Regards,
    Eugene

  3. Alex says:

    Interesting topics you discuss here, Eugene… Just yesterday there was news from Melbourne http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/09/16/3013198.htm , demonstrating what pavement the road to hell has.
    Very ugly scene, indeed, you saw in Leningrad’s subway. May it have been a small reprisal for the usual treatment of Russians by packs of … uhm ..not quite people http://zed244.livejournal.com/3931.html ? My own (somewhat outdated) experience was exactly the opposite -i.e. when Russians were beaten just for the fact they were Russians. This is not to say that I approve of the behavior you observed.
    Cheers

  4. Alex says:

    Eugene – just saw your comment to Mike. Apologies – your post’s main line (values gap) is quite well presented and there you are quite correct – there is no values gap in that between USA and Russia (I even suspect that on the official side it is in the opposite direction. (it’s just the topic itself draws strong feelings..)
    Cheers

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Alex,
    There are facts that can’t be denied. Like the one that 2/3 of all crime in Moscow is committed by non-residents and foreigners. Naturally, this produces a reaction.
    I suspect (although I don’t know the exact numbers) the same happens in Arizona, hence their SB1070 and the famous Sheriff Arpaio — the subject that by itself deserves a post.
    However, the most intriguing for me is the fact that the hate crime in Russia seems to be on decline (knock the wood!), but anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. are growing. Full 9 years after 9/11! Why? That’s the real question — and it bothers me much more than than what happens in Russia.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Alex,
    There are facts that can’t be denied. Like the one that 2/3 of all crime in Moscow is committed by non-residents and foreigners. Naturally, this produces a reaction.
    I suspect (although I don’t know the exact numbers) the same happens in Arizona, hence their SB1070 and the famous Sheriff Arpaio — the subject that by itself deserves a post.
    However, the most intriguing for me is the fact that the hate crime in Russia seems to be on decline (knock the wood!), but anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. are growing. Full 9 years after 9/11! Why? That’s the real question — and it bothers me much more than than what happens in Russia.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  7. Alex says:

    Eugene
    An interesting question about delayed reaction in America – deserves some thought.
    Might be that the anti-Muslim feelings got into “core” cultural values🙂 at the time of 9/11 – the ones, which cannot be changed & which people cannot rationalize.These are formed in early childhood (from the environment). Now the kids have grown (are growing) up ..If this is correct, the # of people with these will saturate to a constant level (I don’t know the acquisition age band for this category, so cannot say when) and then will drop back to “normal” only after a long time..One can assume that the percent of Muslims will continue to grow, so the “poll”-derived sentiment statistics will peak & then “improve”.
    Cheers

  8. Alex says:

    Eugene
    An interesting question about delayed reaction in America – deserves some thought.
    Might be that the anti-Muslim feelings got into “core” cultural values🙂 at the time of 9/11 – the ones, which cannot be changed & which people cannot rationalize.These are formed in early childhood (from the environment). Now the kids have grown (are growing) up ..If this is correct, the # of people with these will saturate to a constant level (I don’t know the acquisition age band for this category, so cannot say when) and then will drop back to “normal” only after a long time..One can assume that the percent of Muslims will continue to grow, so the “poll”-derived sentiment statistics will peak & then “improve”.
    Cheers

  9. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Alex,
    You might be right, however the problem is that there are only 1% of Muslims in the U.S. — too low of a number to serve as serious “internal” irritator. I hate to think that the growing Islamophobia coincides with Obama’s presidency, but…
    If I come across any reasonable explanation, I’ll let you know.
    Best,
    Eugene

  10. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Alex,
    You might be right, however the problem is that there are only 1% of Muslims in the U.S. — too low of a number to serve as serious “internal” irritator. I hate to think that the growing Islamophobia coincides with Obama’s presidency, but…
    If I come across any reasonable explanation, I’ll let you know.
    Best,
    Eugene

  11. Alex says:

    Yes, this Obama correlation is unfortunate. BTW, Obama’s supposed whiff of Muslim association stuck even with me.

  12. Marat says:

    I think Mr. Jones would probably be put into a jail in Russia for “hate provoking”. And I thought Muslims were among the victims of 9\11 too…

  13. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Marat,
    True, Muslims were among the victims of the 9/11 (actually, there were praying spaces for them in the Twin Towers). Moreover, there are already mosques in Lower Manhattan. The argument that two blocks is “too close” but four isn’t is simply ridiculous.
    Yes, my feeling is that Jones could be potentially tried in Russia. However, I’d reluctantly agree that giving such a moron a podium to convey his views is kind of counter-productive.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  14. Marat says:

    And how would you see this
    “From the Tea Party followers we have been provided images of Obama as the Islamofascist when Obama was being compared to Hitler. ”
    http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/67014

  15. Marat says:

    By the way
    While New York frets over the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero, Milan is pushing back against construction of its first mosque. Local Muslims have found an unlikely ally in the Catholic Church.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2010/0921/Catholic-Church-backs-Muslim-struggle-to-build-Milan-s-first-mosque

  16. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Marat,
    Thanks for the link. I even didn’t attempt to go “there”: mosques in Switzeland, burqas in France and Belgium, etc.
    The larger point is to see how the Western and “quazi-Western” countries like Russia respond to threat of terrorism, illegal immigration and combination of both. The response is pretty much the same — growing Islamophobia — and I’d argue that Russia doesn’t score the worst among the others.
    Sorry for repeating the same: no “values gap” here.
    Best,
    Eugene

  17. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Marat,
    Thanks for the link. I even didn’t attempt to go “there”: mosques in Switzeland, burqas in France and Belgium, etc.
    The larger point is to see how the Western and “quazi-Western” countries like Russia respond to threat of terrorism, illegal immigration and combination of both. The response is pretty much the same — growing Islamophobia — and I’d argue that Russia doesn’t score the worst among the others.
    Sorry for repeating the same: no “values gap” here.
    Best,
    Eugene

  18. Letun says:

    Bullshit, designed for western redneck

  19. Letun says:

    Bullshit, designed for western redneck

  20. Mark says:

    What’s alarming to me is not how dumb some American voters are, but how deliberately dumb they stay in the face of evidence that would convince anyone in their right mind. Another example (in addition to the excellent one you’ve already provided, the-president-is-a-muslim) is the controversy that simply will not die regarding Obama’s birth certificate. Conclusive proof that he was born in Hawaii has been provided, but some people insist they be shown the original long-form certificate and be allowed to hold it in their hands. If you give in to that sort of demand, it’ll never end. Those same people were quite happy with John McCain being born outside the United States.
    What did the other people present in the St Petersburg incident do? Did anyone make any attempt to stop the violence? The correct action for the police would have been to immediately call for reinforcements (I wouldn’t want to mess with the paras either, who have stringent physical requirements to be accepted which must be maintained, while police acceptance will tolerate a much lower standard) and then intervene as best they could. The conduct of the police in Russia is becoming a major embarrassment – I once saw a policeman kick a woman in the leg for speaking impolitely (I assume; I was too far away to hear) to him in the street in Vladivostok, and that policeman would be unemployed by the end of the day in my home town. My mother-in-law is a Caucasian, from Stavropol, and I would be furious if anyone were even impolite to her in the street based on her perceived ethnicity.
    Easy fixes, as Jesse Heath points out on his blog (Russia Monitor, for those who don’t know it), are infrastructure and reform of the police. There are dedicated, scrupulously honest police officers in Russia who risk their lives daily for poor wages, but their exemplary performance is overshadowed by the all-too-common disgraceful behaviour of others. A pay raise to encourage a better quality of applicant, strict oversight and accountability would bring about a rapid and observable change for the better. If you’re reading this, Dmitry Anatolyevich, make it happen – you won’t be sorry you did.

  21. Mark says:

    What’s alarming to me is not how dumb some American voters are, but how deliberately dumb they stay in the face of evidence that would convince anyone in their right mind. Another example (in addition to the excellent one you’ve already provided, the-president-is-a-muslim) is the controversy that simply will not die regarding Obama’s birth certificate. Conclusive proof that he was born in Hawaii has been provided, but some people insist they be shown the original long-form certificate and be allowed to hold it in their hands. If you give in to that sort of demand, it’ll never end. Those same people were quite happy with John McCain being born outside the United States.
    What did the other people present in the St Petersburg incident do? Did anyone make any attempt to stop the violence? The correct action for the police would have been to immediately call for reinforcements (I wouldn’t want to mess with the paras either, who have stringent physical requirements to be accepted which must be maintained, while police acceptance will tolerate a much lower standard) and then intervene as best they could. The conduct of the police in Russia is becoming a major embarrassment – I once saw a policeman kick a woman in the leg for speaking impolitely (I assume; I was too far away to hear) to him in the street in Vladivostok, and that policeman would be unemployed by the end of the day in my home town. My mother-in-law is a Caucasian, from Stavropol, and I would be furious if anyone were even impolite to her in the street based on her perceived ethnicity.
    Easy fixes, as Jesse Heath points out on his blog (Russia Monitor, for those who don’t know it), are infrastructure and reform of the police. There are dedicated, scrupulously honest police officers in Russia who risk their lives daily for poor wages, but their exemplary performance is overshadowed by the all-too-common disgraceful behaviour of others. A pay raise to encourage a better quality of applicant, strict oversight and accountability would bring about a rapid and observable change for the better. If you’re reading this, Dmitry Anatolyevich, make it happen – you won’t be sorry you did.

  22. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mark,
    The St Petersburg incident has actually demonstrated a good side of Russian people too. An elder lady intervened and started to yell at the paras “to leave him alone.” This distracted them a bit, which allowed the young fellow “of Caucasian ethnicity” to run away. It looked like he was quite used to being in such a situation and knew how to behave.
    I’m a great fan of Jesse’s blog, but doubt that there are any “easy fixes” in Russia. Everything will take years and be painful. Combining the Bible and Chekhov, let me suggest that it’ll take at least 40 years to squeeze the last drop of slave’s blood out of the Russians. And this is on the assumption that Medvedev is Moses.
    Have a great weekend!
    Eugene

  23. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mark,
    The St Petersburg incident has actually demonstrated a good side of Russian people too. An elder lady intervened and started to yell at the paras “to leave him alone.” This distracted them a bit, which allowed the young fellow “of Caucasian ethnicity” to run away. It looked like he was quite used to being in such a situation and knew how to behave.
    I’m a great fan of Jesse’s blog, but doubt that there are any “easy fixes” in Russia. Everything will take years and be painful. Combining the Bible and Chekhov, let me suggest that it’ll take at least 40 years to squeeze the last drop of slave’s blood out of the Russians. And this is on the assumption that Medvedev is Moses.
    Have a great weekend!
    Eugene

  24. Hi All,
    Mark, the subject concerning Russian law enforcement brings to mind a based on a true story movie you might’ve seen:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070666/
    I know some of “New York’s finest” who were employed during that period (one of them who knew Serpico). They found the movie to be agreeable. The NYPD still has issues, like a comparatively lower pay scale in relation to suburban area police officers, earning a considerably higher salary – for work that is generally not as challenging.
    Other American police departments besides the NYPD continue to periodically have instances of racially motivated abuse. (like the one that involved Abner Louima – pardon any misspell, as well as others not getting much if any attention).
    This book I read touches on the organized crime factor:
    http://www.russiablog.org/2008/06/organized_crime_in_imperial_ru.php
    Large multiethnic cities the world over having a blend of wealth and poverty are prone to facing similar problems.
    On a somewhat related note, see Vladimir Belaeff’s latest at http://www.russiaprofile.org
    Comparative politics shouldn’t be confused with so-callled “whataboutism.” (A term that appears to have been popularized within “Russophobe” leaning circles.) Belaeff engages in the former.
    At the referenced Russia Profile venue, Alexandre Strokanov makes some interesting points.
    Best,
    Mike

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