Islamist leader urges Russia to revise attitude to Central Asia, Caucasus Islamists

Dushanbe - The leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan has urged Russia to "radically revise its attitude to the Islamists of Central Asia and the Caucasus" and abandon "obsolete stereotypes."

"We've come to a point where the past should be regarded as so much history, all negative moments in our relations should be forgotten, new pages should be opened, and relationships should be built that are based on partnership and friendship," Mukhiddin Kabiri said at a meeting of the Dialogue of Civilizations Public Foundation.

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party the only legal Islamist group on the former Soviet Union's territory. It is represented in the Tajik parliament.

"For the past two centuries, all that Russia has been doing in the Caucasus and Central Asia came up against resistance from the religious part of the population. Other social strata, both in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, including in Tajikistan, have usually stayed apart from those confrontations, avoiding conflicts with the Russians," Kabiri said.

"For this reason, the Russian elite still sees religious groups in Central Asia and the Caucasus as enemies, and the attitude to them is invariably negative," he said.

Kabiri said Russia is on good terms with Hamas though Islamist groups in Central Asia and the Caucasus have objectives "similar to those of Hamas." "The Russian leadership is hypersensitive to the slightest activity on the part of Islamic groups in our regions, even acts of propaganda," he said.

At the same time, Russian society is warming up toward Islamists, he claimed.

"Pragmatic views on the Islam of post-Soviet space have been emerging among the Russian political elite. Those people realize that those obsolete stereotypes should be abandoned and that new relations should be built with the Muslims of our regions. Such sentiments are manifesting themselves increasingly clearly among the Russian elite," he said.