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Reaction Is Mixed in Russia to Paris Attacks

  • Daniel Schearf

There has been mixed reaction in Russia in the aftermath of the deadly attack in Paris on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, especially about the issues of satirizing Islam and freedom of speech.

While the Russian government and public have condemned the attacks, some have questioned the limits of free speech while others have pushed conspiracy theories. Russia's Muslim leaders have denounced the attackers as terrorists who are not real Muslims. But they also have called caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad a “sin of provocation."

Russia's Muslim leaders say those who carried out the attacks in Paris were murderers and terrorists, but not adherents of Islam.

Rushan Abbyasov of Russia's Council of Muftis cited the Muslim shop assistant who hid Jewish customers from the onslaught on the kosher market and the Muslim police officer killed in the attack as true believers.

“This is real Islam when a Muslim saves people, not when he kills. Because, I'd like to emphasize that, yes, they have insulted the Prophet, but the Koran teaches to respond to such things in a better way,” said Abbyasov.

But Abbyasov said depicting and satirizing Islam's Prophet Muhammad is as sinful as murder because it could provoke a reaction.

"The sin of murder is a most grievous sin, one of the most vile. But bringing about unrest from the viewpoint of Islam is a worse sin because from unrest and riots could result in the death of not just one man, but tens of men, hundreds or thousands," he said.

Russians and foreign residents laid flowers and held a candlelight vigil outside the French Embassy following the attacks.

As elsewhere in Europe, many also are debating the sensitivity of poking fun at religion, like painter Ludmila Kurilovich.

"I believe that one should think twice before acting, about the consequences. I think that one should live without insulting other people's ideals," said Kurilovich.

Yet religious sensitivities and fear of attack should not determine what gets published, said a computer specialist named Marat.

"A small portion of blasphemy is useful, so that terrorists cannot dictate to us what to publish," Marat said.

Also, conspiracy theories circulating in Russia blame foreign powers.

A popular tabloid newspaper and a pro-Kremlin TV channel reported claims that the United States planned it all, without any real evidence to back this up.

Russian officials were quick to condemn the attack as terrorism, while some called the killings proof that terrorism, and not Russia, is the real threat to Europe.

Meanwhile, Russia's Muslim leaders fear a backlash as right-wing Europeans denounce immigration and accuse Islam of being associated with extremism and terrorism.

The Muslim leaders say dialogue is needed to prevent misunderstandings.