President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to say just a couple of words to briefly summarise the first part of our discussion. I support much of what has been said, and I think that parts of our discussion will lead to executive orders.
I will begin with what Mr Ismail-Khadji Berdiev [chairman of the Coordination Centre of Muslims of the North Caucasus] said about religious education on television. Since we have television as a medium, it should indeed be normal, modern, and ethical. Currently, we are transiting to digital broadcast technology. This will increase our possibilities significantly. I think that within the framework of this new broadcast structure, we really can think about creating a channel where we can teach Islam and where Islam – a religion traditionally present in our nation – can be thoroughly explained to the public by knowledgeable imams, well-prepared specialists, and theologians. I think that this would be the right thing to do. We will work on this matter; at the very least, such a channel would certainly be in demand in regions with many Russian Muslim inhabitants. Thus, I think that we should look into it.
Now I’d like to talk about work related to the media and the Internet, as mentioned by [President of the Republic of Ingushetia] Mr Yevkurov and several other colleagues. Clearly, this is very difficult work, but it needs to be done, because our efforts up to now have appeared rather weak.
As for how people are influenced by extremist websites and normal websites that explain the nature and tenets of Islam existing in our country: unfortunately, I’m afraid that the sites that we have created, including those at corresponding universities, do not garner the same amount of attention as extremist websites. Our work needs to be intensified, because we cannot force people not to go online, and we know that we can’t block these types of extremist sites. They will simply be transferred to so-called mirror sites, where they will continue to spread the same kinds of messages and the same kind of extremist information. Sometimes, going to those sites and seeing what they say (I myself sometimes visit those sites to see what they write) makes your hair stand on end. Their content has no relation to Islam or any other ideology. Thus, I hope we will continue this work together with Muslim spiritual leaders, perhaps in coordination with the Presidential Executive Office.
Another issue that was brought up here is tracking citizens who go abroad. I think that this is the right way to formulate this issue. We absolutely need to be able to track people, not only because they are going to countries from which they can import incorrect versions of Islam, but first and foremost, because they are our citizens. We must understand what will happen to them. Recently, I visited Cairo, Egypt. At that time, a group of Russian students was detained (or perhaps they were not students – it is still unclear). We have no information as to who went there, or why. The Egyptian side detained all of them together, because they, too, are trying to bring about some order. But these people are our citizens. And if they had no interest in acting against Egypt’s government, we must defend them. That alone should be reason enough to know what is happening to them, not to mention the fact that unfortunately, by having spent time at particular educational institutions, they are bringing untraditional elements and interpretations into our nation’s Islam. This is the root of all the problems that we discussed today.
Thus, I think that perhaps we need to draft a unified policy. I would like to ask the esteemed muftis and imams present here to discuss this matter with your republics’ governors and make a decision on how to go about doing this. I think that there should be some sort of general framework covering this whole process. At the same time, I feel that any attempt on our part to isolate ourselves cannot lead to any good results.
We are a big, sovereign state – a state whose inhabitants include people practicing different faiths, and the Muslim community is a part of our society. Clearly, we can and should have our own religious schools, ones that employ qualified teachers and provide the opportunity to get a good education. But we should not close ourselves to the outside world – that would be entirely unproductive. As you know, the forbidden fruit is sweet, which means that people would still go elsewhere and then return, claiming that they learned about the real Islam abroad, whereas Russian schools teach something else. Thus, I think that the idea of long-term agreements with recognised Islamic centres – you all know which ones I’m referring to – may really be a good plan. That way, we will at least know where our Muslim youth is going for their studies and how their ideas will change when they return. But in any case, we need to do both: we need to develop our own Muslim educational centres here in Russia and work with Islamic centres abroad – but we need to do this mindfully.
There were a few other matters mentioned at this meeting. What’s most important is to look truth straight in the face, to find modern answers to the questions asked by average individuals, as well as questions that come up at our various large-scale gatherings, and to make decisions. That is the only way that our authority can be effective and modern. That is absolutely true.
Two other issues were mentioned here. I support what was said by [President of the Chechen Republic] Ramzan Kadyrov regarding the fact that we should not refer to extremists as “Islamic extremists.” The correct term for a bandit is simply “bandit.” Such individuals do not have a religious context, even if some of them perceive themselves as true believers of Islam. They are not Muslims, they are bandits. That is how they should be referred to on television and in other media.
And finally, we absolutely must obtain worldwide support from influential Islamic spiritual leaders – those serving in the Caucasus – because without solidifying the influence of everyone present here today, we cannot overcome our problems. And in this regard, you can fully count on the support of the Russian government and the President.