Extremist Nonsense

In my latest article for RT (which you can read here) I take a shot at the plethora of reports ranking countries for their freedom, happiness, and so on. I’ve made use of these reports myself in the past, and don’t think that they are worthless, but one definitely needs to treat them with a lot of care, in particular because they tend to contain a lot of pro-Western bias. 

In the article, I discuss a new report ranking states for religious repression, and note that in this area Russia deserves some criticism, especially for what I call its ‘despicable’ and ‘appalling mistreatment’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, I thought it would be worth spending a bit more time on the topic.

The persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is truly preposterous. The religion has been deemed an ‘extremist’ organization, in accordance with the Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity. What determines ‘extremism’ under the law is the subject’s motivation – an activity is extremist if motivated by ‘ideological, political, racial, national, or religious enmity, as well as hatred or enmity towards a social group’. The law also lists various specific activities which qualify as extremism, such as ‘public justification of terrorism’, ‘incitement of social, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred’, ‘propaganda of exclusiveness’, the catch-all ‘mass distribution of materials known to be extremist, their production and possession for the purposes of distribution’, and somewhat scarily, criticism of ‘federal and local governments and officials, official policies, laws, ideas, religious and political organizations’.

The legislation requires the government to maintain a list of extremist materials and allows for the prohibition of organizations who foment extremism. Those banned include several Russian nationalist and Muslim organizations, the Church of Scientology, and the Jehovah Witnesses.

Quite why the latter two organizations are ‘extremist’ under the terms of the legislation I cannot begin to fathom. One can challenge the validity of their beliefs, but to say that they are motivated by ‘ideological, political, racial, or religious enmity’ is absurd. Charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses involve purely peaceful activities without any ‘public justification of terrorism’, ‘incitement of social, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred’, or anything else of the sort. Those arrested are guilty of nothing more than meeting to discuss the Bible or possessing religious literature. About a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned, for terms of up to 4 years (or in the case of one Dane, Dennis Christensen, 6 years). The contrast between the severity of the sentences and the total lack of threat these people pose to public order is deeply disturbing.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, finding that a police raid on a religious service in 2006 had violated Articles 5 (right to liberty and security) and 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite this, in 2017 the Russian Supreme Court upheld the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since then, repression of the group has continued, including raids in multiple regions of the country this Tuesday. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation justified the raids by claiming that a new branch of the religion had opened in Moscow, and had held ‘secret gatherings’ and studied ‘religious literature’. In others words, a handful of people had met in the privacy of their homes and discussed the Bible. One might imagine that the police have more serious issues to deal with.

Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t the only ones to have suffered under the extremism laws, whose terms are interpreted so flexibly as to be able catch just about anybody whom the authorities take a dislike to. There is some evidence that senior officials are aware of the problem. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for instance, has stated publicly that the definition of extremism is too broad, while President Putin has said that equating religious organizations to terrorist and other similar groups is a mistake. Nevertheless, the repressions continue. 

This in turn reveals something about how Russian operates. Extremism legislation is hardly unique to the Russian Federation. Such laws proliferated worldwide in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the USA in September 2001. But in Western countries, these laws tend to be applied in a saner fashion. In Russia, laws are all too often applied in an erratic and arbitrary way, oppressing people who pose no danger to society as a whole. Many of the complaints made about Russia in the West are much exaggerated. But in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian state’s behaviour is both unjustifiable and counter-productive, as their persecution induces unwarranted suffering while serving no social purpose whatsoever.

24 thoughts on “Extremist Nonsense”

  1. “But in Western countries, these laws tend to be applied in a saner fashion.”

    I don’t think sanity/insanity has anything to do with it: it’s politics. In Russia in particular, I have the impression that Orthodox Church is a powerful political institution. But that’s not particularly unusual or remarkable.

    But even addressing this on your terms – really? What about, well, just off the top my head: BDS, for example?


    1. Thanks for that information, of which I was not aware. Of course, up to the Quiet Revolution, Quebec was something of a Catholic theocracy.


    2. They were prosecuted under the Nazis too. But you know that, I guess. Purple triangle in the camps.


      On the other hand based on personal experiences as a teenager and young adult, I have very mixed feelings from personal encounters with “the Jehovahs”, not the ones distributing the Watch Tower. Closer look inside.

      Babbling alert: I hope it is clear I don’t think they should be prosecuted.

      The mother of then two close friends had remarried. I met the family when I was a teenager, she had two sons with a Witness of Jehovah man after two boys with her first husband. Those two little boys were heavily drilled by the father. During all my short visits they always had to be around and stand up on signal to recite the respective paragraphs he wanted them to recite. It was painful to watch. They didn’t look like they enjoyed it … The man was a highly authoritarian character ,,,

      One of my friends half-brothers rebelled against his father as a teen and as early as possible moved out. His younger brother followed him soon. The elder was very successful, nevertheless he denied his parents a single penny in support when they were old and apparently in need. He went to court and won. It wasn’t about the money. He could have more than easily afford it. …

      One of the two bothers from the first marriage is still one of my best friends. (The one that was invited into Ernst Nolte’s doctoral colloquium) His elder brother after a wild life with a lot of drugs ending in a near-death experience during an accident, I vaguely remember him telling me about it, in seemingly no time at all had turned into some type of Jehovah Priest (Special Pioneer?) in the larger context of the US Allied Forces in the Frankfurt area. I met him there only once with his brother. Odd atmosphere, very servile wife, mother was there too.

      But all this happened long ago, have to ask my friend, his brother. … Maybe I once knew more about it. But I probably will never forget those two little boys. Those images stuck.


  2. As far as the Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned, I would worry more about some of their organizational practices, which include institutionalized child sexual abuse at the hands of the “Elders”. There were some exposes about this in the American press. How predominant this practice is, I don’t know.
    My best friend at my previous job was actually a Jehovah’s Witness African-American woman, and quite a lovely person. She had even been to Russia a couple of times with her group before they got banned, and was quite a Russophile, really into Russian literature, history, and art. Her love for Russia was genuine. We never talked about religion or politics, but sometimes she would start rambling on about Jesus and I would just roll my eyes…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As far as “FREEDOM” is concerned, it’s the height of hypocrisy for Americans to measure or judge others, since America is basically a fascist totalitarian police state. And things can only get worse under a Biden/Harris administration, IMHO. Expect the jails to fill up with people hanging from the rafters.


    1. You feel, first thing they’ll do is build new jails or camps? Or are you suggesting via rafters, they’ll get no day in court and are forced to commit suicide?

      Notice, Trump hasn’t conceded yet, so there is still hope for you too.


      1. Hi, moon,
        Sorry for my ambiguity. I believe “hanging from the rafters” is American colloquialism denoting overcrowding, as in people are so jammed in the rooms that some have to climb up onto ceilings and hold on by their hands. I didn’t mean actually hanging by the neck, that’s horrifying. I could be wrong about that expression. I probably should have written: “Jammed in like the black hole of Calcutta”, except some Indians think that is a racist allusion. So I could have written “jammed in like sardines in a tin.” Which nobody can object to, except maybe sardines!

        Anyhow, I fully expect Biden/Harris to overcrowd the prisons as much as possible, and then build new ones. Biden brags that he “wrote the crime bill” of 1994 which basically declared war on American black people under the guise of “war on drugs”. And Harris calls herself a “top cop”. That b**ch is such an unfeeling sociopath that (during the first Primary debates) she joked about how, as a Prosecutor, she would lock up people for years for smoking marijuana, while she herself was enjoying smoking some pot in her own home.

        Another point to keep in mind: The American Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) is a way for a tiny handful of oligarchs to profit off other peoples misery. The more prisoners they cram in, the more money they make.

        Oh, and it’s not their “labor” they are after, it’s not like the 1930’s chain gangs where prisoners actually had to work hard, breaking up rocks and the like. No, here the work is just make-work. So, how do they make their profits, you may ask? From the ancillary services: security guards, laundry, cafeteria, etc. The larger the interned population, the more money they make. It’s a perfect scheme.


      2. I believe “hanging from the rafters” ,,,

        you are right/correct stackexchange is always a good way to go. Not only on language, but occasionally on language too.

        Otherwise, you don’t tell me anything new. …. I wouldn’t quite hype it up as you do. Did Clinton start to privatize prisons too? And that is were you want me to start?…

        I didn’t like the wave sweeping over us post the fall of the wall. I deeply disliked West-German self-righteousness vs the ‘East’.

        But narratives change quickly, no time to resolve issues.

        The Germans are Back!!!

        For the records, i considered Clinton a very bad choice just as I considered Biden a bad one. You can look this up on this blog. Maybe since I considered it a bad choice some considered it very, very good?


  4. They definitely are dangerous. Mostly to their own members rather than society as a whole though, through certain practices that can be classified as emotional abuse to keep members in the sect (and keeping donating) and, most importantly, the medical issues they have. They also involve kids in those medical issues. People die because they refuse aid.


    Whether this is ground enough to restrict religious freedom or not is a matter of opinion, but denying danger entirely is, I think, very wrong.


      1. Professor, I think you are confusing these people with Episcopalians.
        Meeting and worshipping is only a tiny part of what they do. Mostly it’s their “missionary” work. And they are a very tight cult, they would hide their children away rather than let the government tell them what to do. Any government would have a real hard time trying to figure out what to do with such people. They’re almost like gypsies in that respect.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “In Russia, laws are all too often applied in an erratic and arbitrary way, oppressing people who pose no danger to society as a whole

    > A hyper individualist liberal lecturing Russia about “society”
    > […]
    > […]
    > […]
    > Did our gracious host finally discover for himself joys of the modern “post-irony”?

    What a wonderful thing – “freedom of speech”! I thank you, Professor, for once again providing us, the Russians (and also your faithful commentariat here on Irrussionality) with the peak into the worldview of the liberal hivemind. Your opinion pieces – as sources – are invaluable.

    The fact that the Western (sorry for tautology – it’s one and only) liberal hivemind has its velvet panties in a tight knot means one things for us Russians – we are doing something right here. The so-called “Jehovah Witnesses” defined as a “religious organization” in the West are, in fact, a foreign totalitarian sect detrimental to the social well-being of the Russian society.

    “JWs” (and Scientologists), unsurprisingly, became a symbol of the “Democratic 1990s” to the level of memeticness. Taking them out is completely consistent with fighting off the consequences of this disastrous for Russia decade. Western liberal hivemind can bitch and moan as loud as it can (oh, and it can!) but it’s for no use. Dealing with the religious extremism propagated in our country by the people, who now call us “adversaries” and “enemies”, is what Russia will continue to do.

    Is it “politically motivated”? YES. So what?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Could one issue with the Church of Scientologist and the Jehovah’s Witnesses be that they refuse to register as religious organisations in Russia because then, under whatever legislation that applies to non-profit religious organisations existing in Russia, they would have to open up their accounts to public inspection? What would be the reason for refusing to register if that is the case? What parts of the Russian legislation would these organisations fail to meet that would risk their deregistration as religious organisations?


  7. UPD.


    “The contrast between the severity of the sentences and the total lack of threat these people pose to public order is deeply disturbing… One might imagine that the police have more serious issues to deal with”

    Professor, where can one find your passionate defense of the freedom and dignity of one Мaria Butina, repressed by the “sane” Western Judicial Branch on politically motivated charges? That’s not for me, a friend asks.

    2) I hope anti-extremist legislation targeting fringe faith groups and movements will finally extend to the Mormons. Given what they say (e.g. their one of the most visible representative certain Mitt Romeny) they are nothing but an active fifth column working for the US interests. Besides, theologically speaking, they have nothing to do with Christianity whatsoever.

    3) I remind you all, once again, that my views are that of the *moderate* by the Russian standards.


      1. The question was:

        “[W]here can one find your passionate defense of the freedom and dignity of one Мaria Butina, repressed by the “sane” Western Judicial Branch on politically motivated charges [?]”

        Articles, blogposts, twitts, videos, interviews – anything?

        Oh, and BTW – she’ll be soon working on the RT. How about being more charitable to your future collegue, eh, Professor?


      2. How about being more charitable to your future collegue, eh, Professor?

        A prof outside the US and/or Russia (?) may not quite understand the importance of the right to carry arms generally or the right to carry concealed(?). But she’ll get him to grasp that.

        Don’t give up hope.


  8. “Persecution” of Scientologists is A-OK in my book. Wish it’d happen more often. It’s a phony sect, run on greed, in-your-face anti-intellectualism, isolation, overtly vengeful behavior etc, and ’twas all cooked up by a B-rate sci-fi author.

    JW is different, but certainly share some traits with these ridiculous sects, much like they share some traits with the equally bizarre phenomenon of mormonism. Russia’s approach to them is probably way too harsh, but then again I have personal experience with JW and it’s also a rather unsettling bunch. I’m like caught between a rock and a hard place on this one.

    My preferred approach would be to make things difficult for them, eg denying state grants, openly helping defectors, stopping them (through legislation) from denying their own children crucial medical treatment (ie transfusions in the case of JW) etc. Not just banning them outright and jailing key people. Too crude in my book.


  9. Religious persecution of catholics – of which I am one – has only decreased in the UK in the past 20 years.

    And I think this is due perhaps to society in general becoming more secular. Not religious tolerance / religion has become less important.

    In Scotland and Ireland their is still intolerance – overtly in some places – no matter what surveys say.

    Theses are long term historical, cultural and political issues.

    The problem with Jehovah’s Witness and Scientology is that they are imports into Russia and as such conflict with the existing society.
    Both these organisations are American ( made/ invented in America in fact ) and have their historical roots their.

    My personal view is that they are cults and are a danger to individuals and families involved in these organisations; they only want to mix with members.
    And exert emotional pressure if you choose to leave, dividing families.

    I don’t support Religious persecution but I do think countries have the right to exclude religions / organisations that they want.

    China / Saudi Arabia does not have to have Christian churches for example it’s up to them what suits their society.

    Religion is political – it is tool that can be used to control and indoctrinate so countries should be able to exclude ideologies they choose.

    Religious freedom is a red herring


  10. Both these organisations are American ( made/ invented in America in fact ) and have their historical roots their.

    Yes, looks like. Mostly founded in the 19th century? Am I wrong?

    I once stumbled across the Christian Science headquarters here in my town rather surprisingly. A girl friend of mine had been led there. Somehow. Curious story. Curious story since she seemed to be not at all the type you would think might wind up there. Based on that puzzle I found out, the then girlfriend of an artist friend had been a longtime member there too. They had a child and shortly after separated. But the artist himself wound up with the branch of the Brahma Kumaris here shortly. They had a gallery with art exhibitions too and looked quite well sponsored. I joined them shortly for early morning meditation sessions. 6 a.m. But the short lectures after …. real horror … skulduggery. But then, mediators were meetings with little dishes offered before people went on to their jobs.


    1. Ok I shouldn’t change and not check or proofread:

      But then, the ones that had mediated before, listened to the short sermon e.g. about how they would be reborn into a new era dressed in white as kings and queens, afterwards were offered well-prepared bits of food and drinks before they went on to their jobs.


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