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Newspapers Join Wahhabi Witch-hunt

The local press finds it impossible to remain impartial in the face of mounting religious conflict
By Maya Bitokova

Local newspapers in Kabardino-Balkaria have been sucked into a bitter religious witch-hunt which is sweeping across the North Caucasus.


Papers across the region are gradually lending their voices to vicious state propaganda which blames extremist Wahhabi groups for everything from unemployment to matricide.


And leading titles have become an open arena for infighting within the Muslim spiritual leadership which finds itself morally challenged over the Wahhabi question.


Last summer, the editor of Severny Kavkaz, Georgy Kazikhanov, was quoted as saying, "We approach the subject of religious conflict with great care and try to keep information to a minimum. It's very important for us to preserve the peace between our peoples."


However, in recent months, Severny Kavkaz's editorial policy has seen radical changes. Alan Dadievich's article "They will seize power by peaceful means" was sub-headed, "And then they'll chop the heads off the unbelievers, on constitutional grounds."


Dadievich went on to accuse the authorities of "allowing radically minded Islamists in Kabardino-Balkaria to form a conspiratorial organisation which whips up ethnic hatred between indigenous tribes and the Russian population in a bid to destabilise the republic and win support abroad."


He concluded, "When they are enough of them, there'll be no explosion of violence. It will simply be evident that they are in charge and can express the people's will in the name of the republic. Russia will be too late - part of the Caucasus will have been torn from her grasp."


Hot on the heels of Dadievich's article came a joint statement from the Muslim communities of Kabardino-Balkaria addressed to Shafig Pshikhachev, chairman of the Spiritual Islamic Leadership.


They accused the mufti of deliberately ignoring the threat posed by militant Wahhabism in the North Caucasus.


"You admit the existence of Wahhabism and that there are forces ready to take up arms against the state," read the statement.


"You even admit that there are young men who refuse to eat food prepared by their mothers if it's improperly blessed and who are ready to kill their mothers for this mortal sin."


The Muslim communities demanded to know what measures the SIL plans to take to counterbalance the Wahhabi movement and to surrender any information on militant groups to the proper authorities.


The statement was signed by 52 spiritual leaders across the Kabardino-Balkarian republic.


Pshikhachev's response was duly published by Severny Kavkaz in an article entitled "Wahhabism is a denial of ethnic traditions".


The mufti agreed that "the supporters of Wahhabism are trying to turn the republic into an Islamic state". He then cited the example of Musa Mukhozhev, the imam of a Nalchik mosque, who led "an illegal organisation in opposition to the SIL and the authorities".


And he concluded that Wahhabism is first and foremost "an unwillingness to obey the authorities or bow down to official religion in any form".


Apparently, the mufti's answers did little to satisfy his critics or those who are convinced that a Wahhabi plot is brewing in Kabardino-Balkaria.


In the Severny Kavkaz crime column, reporter Igor Tsagoev wrote, "In Tyrnyauze, an active member of the local mosque was arrested for committing a series of street muggings. Police confiscated a balaclava helmet and a club bearing the inscription 'Allah Akbar' which he used as a weapon."


The headline above the article was unambiguous. It read, "Under the Black Banner of Jihad."


Maya Bitokova is a print and radio journalist based in Nalchik


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