Meet Vladimir Putin, the new 'saviour of Islam'

Meet Vladimir Putin, the new 'saviour of Islam'
Russian propaganda outlets are portraying Russian leader Putin as a champion of traditional values and a protector of faiths, says Bader al-Rashid.
3 min read
01 Dec, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a gloriously restored mosque in Moscow in September [Getty]

RT, or Russia Today, is an excellent window to the Middle East as seen through Russian eyes.

But following RT Arabic website's coverage of developments in Syria in particular, especially after Russia's intervention alongside the Assad regime there, reveals a lot about what kind of image Moscow wants to project in the Middle East.

The downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish planes last week was a seminal event in this regard, given its implication for the tense Turkish-Russian relations and rivalry in the region.

For instance, RT's coverage tried to claim that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had apologised for the incident, when he had not.

In an article in Arabic titled "Erdogan regrets Russian bomber incident and hopes it will not happen again," the website tried to rephrase Erdogan's statements to suggest the Turkish president was apologising for downing the plane.

In reality, however, Erdogan was regretting the Russian plane's violation of Turkish airspace, which forced Turkey to respond.

RT also omitted Erdogan's statements in which he strongly criticised Russian policies in Syria.

At the same time, RT accused Turkey of being an ally of the terrorists Russia in Syria, and in a mixture of tragedy and romance, described the incident as a Turkish "stab in the back".

An article titled "Where will Russia get the next stab in the back from", based on an article in a Russian newspaper, expresses Moscow's disappointment with all its allies, who could "stab Russia in the back" just like Ankara ostensibly had done.

But the stab in the back metaphor, which reflected Putin's reaction to the jet incident, is more suited to a love affair than international relations, let alone relations between powerful nations in a state of proxy war.

"Any of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict could stab Russia in the back, except Syrian President Bashar al-Assad," wrote the author.

Yet he did not explain why Assad would remain loyal, but perhaps the reason is because Assad is politically finished, and Moscow is the only artery than could now keep his cold body warm.

The Russians did not stop accusing Turkey of supporting terrorism and helping create the Islamic State group (IS), despite there being some overtures and de-escalation bids between the two countries.

Apart from carrying statements by Russian officials repeating these accusations, and threatening Turkey with sanctions should it continue to "flirt with terrorism", RT's material is rife with propagandised phrases designed to manipulate both the context of events and the readers' reception thereof.

"After Putin exposed Erdogan and other backers of terrorism, the 'Sultan' was infuriated, and his recklessness led him to down a Russian bomber in Syrian airspace, in utter disregard of the consequences," began another RT article, as if the authenticity of all these accusations must be taken for granted.

But RT's coverage topped itself with an article titled "Yes! Putin is the protector of Christianity, and Islam too."

What is rather comical about this article is not just its attempt to highlight Putin's anti-Western credentials and his purported defence of religions, by emphasising the sharp differences in values between Putin's Russia and the West, but also its claim that Putin's homophobia is evidence that he is a guardian of Islamic and Christian values.

The article cites Putin's measures against gay rights, abortion and "moral decadence", and celebrates Putin's inauguration of a mosque in Moscow recently, complete with Chechen Muslim President Ramzan Kadyrov's praise for Putin all to drive its point home.

"President Vladimir Putin, ever since he took over as president in 2000, has held on to traditional values against Western neo-paganism," proclaimed the article on RT.

Paradoxically, this is completely inconsistent with Putin's statements attacking Erdogan for seeking to "Islamise Turkey".