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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Orthodox and Muslims Slam 'Da Vinci'

MTOrthodox believers protesting "Da Vinci" on Pushkin Square late last week.
Russian Orthodox and Muslim leaders have formed a united front blasting the new movie "The Da Vinci Code" as blasphemous and an act of "spiritual terrorism."

The Hollywood hit starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou was released in Russia on Thursday, including at 75 Moscow movie theaters.

The Moscow Patriarchate has warned that opposition to the movie in the Orthodox community is so great that there are likely to be "extreme forms of protest," declining to elaborate on what that might be.

Father Dmitry Smirnov, who heads the patriarchate's military liaison division, appeared to stoke the controversy Thursday when he called on Orthodox Christians to protest the film at the Prosecutor General's Office.

"I am ready to sue those who arrange the showing of this film in our country," he said.

Also on Thursday, 15 Orthodox Christians descended on the Oktyabr multiplex on Novy Arbat to pray for moviegoers and protest the movie. After their prayer, the protesters torched a huge poster advertising "The Da Vinci Code."

The Council of Muftis of Russia, meanwhile, has rebuked the film for "insulting the senses of believers" and "imposing false information regarding the history of traditional religions."

Leaders of lesser-known Muslim groups have also made their voices heard. "Such creative works that distort spiritual values I consider to be spiritual aggression, spiritual terrorism," Nafigulla Ashirov, leader of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Asian Part of Russia, said of the movie in a statement last week.

And the Central Spiritual Board of Russian Muslims equated the release of the movie with the recent publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The cartoons provoked fierce protests across the Muslim world.

Earlier this year, Talgat Tajuddin, head of the Central Spiritual Board, called on Muslims to "thrash" gays if they held a parade in Moscow this May.

Curiously, Roman Catholic officials were more muted about the film, which depicts the Vatican as covering up the story of Jesus' family.

Igor Kovalevsky, the secretary-general of the nation's Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the decision to see -- or not to see -- the film was a matter of "personal conscience."

Sergei Mozgovoi, head of the Liberty of Consciousness Institute, a Moscow think tank, called the Orthodox and Muslim clerics' inflammatory rhetoric nothing more than a publicity ploy.

"It has very little to do with the real problems that Russian believers face," Mozgovoi said. He added that the anti-"Da Vinci Code" alliance that has emerged between Orthodox and Muslim clerics indicates that the real dividing line in Russian religious life separates the religious and secular worlds, not Muslims and non-Muslims.

Boris Makarenko, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, explained the particularly harsh comments that had come from the Muslim community on the grounds that Muslims are less tolerant of dissent than others.

"They need to be harsh to be appreciated by their flock," he said.