President Vladimir Putin has threatened to castrate a German journalist concerned about human rights in Chechnya. Read these excerpts about the Kremlin’s campaign against Muslims:

There are some 23 million Muslims in Russia, constituting approximately 15 percent of the population and forming the largest religious minority. Approximately 1 million Muslims live in Moscow. Elsewhere, Muslims live predominantly in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the northern Caucasus, and the Volga region

Muslims constitute the majority in seven republics of Russia, including Chechnya and Tatarstan. Both Tatarstan and Chechnya-Ingushetia (as it was then) refused to sign the Federation Treaty in 1992. Tatarstan negotiated a separate treaty which gave it special rights as a “state associated with” Russia. Bashkortostan, another Muslim republic, followed suit in establishing confederal rather than federal relations with Moscow.

Muslims throughout Russia have been demonised by the mass media as “Islamic terrorists”. In April 2004, the Union of Journalists of Russia accused the country’s press of stirring up international and religious discord. It charged that Moscow had “no newspapers that [we]re free of Islamophobic, racist and fascist publications.” In the same month, a group of Russian Muslims brought an action against the newspaper Izvestia and 2 of its columnists for the publication of an article containing calls to genocide of the Muslims and to a war with the Islamic world. Although, the plaintiffs were defeated at the initial stage, they are appealing the decision. Should they ultimately, succeed, Islamophobia in its various guises would be officially declared illegal.

Currently, a young executive director of the Badir publishing house is being prosecuted for igniting religious hatred after printing ‘Monotheism’, a book by Abdul Wahhab, the 18th century founder of the Wahhabi Islamic movement. It is “Wahhabism,” which technically refers to the austere form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. In Russia, where a moderate brand of Sunni Islam has been the traditional faith, the alleged importation of Wahhabism has come to mean something akin to “terrorism,” and is the most damaging charge one can hurl against a religious Muslim here short of accusing him of treason. Such sentiment has led to a formal ban on “Wahhabism” in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkariya.

The Chechen resistance fighters are regularly accused of Wahhabism, and Russian news media routinely raise the alarm. The FSB often confiscates Islamic religious material –even copies of the Qur’an — as seditious “Wahhabite” literature. The term has become a convenient rubric applied to Muslims whose work offends authorities. Journalist, Farid Nugumanov is under investigation by the FSB for his alleged Wahhabite sympathies after publishing an article criticizing the decision to build an Orthodox church next to the Muslim cemetery in his majority-Muslim village. He not only lost the job he had held for 16 years, but also found himself publicly labelled “the Wahhabi.”

After being questioned on Russia’s human rights record in Chechnya. Putin rebuked the reporter with the following diatribe: “They are talking about the need to kill all kaffirs, infidels, all non-Moslems, or Crusaders, as they say. If you are a Christian, you are in danger! …But if you decide to reject your faith and become an atheist, you are also subject to liquidation according to their way of thinking. … You are in danger! …If you decide to become a Muslim, even that won’t save you. Because they consider traditional Islam also to be hostile to the goals they put forward. Even in that case you are in danger! …If you want to go all the way and become a Muslim radical and are ready to get circumcised, I invite you to Moscow. We are a multi-confessional country, we have experts in this field, too. I will recommend that they carry out the operation in such a way that nothing grows back.” (‘Putin Offers Reporter a Circumcision,’ The Moscow Times, 13 Nov. 2002)

Extracts from: Russian Federation and Muslim Minorities