Thursday, August 31, 2006

Malika Soltayeva

Chechnya, according to the Russian Federal authorities, is returning to a state of normalcy after decades of unrest. A process of "Chechenization" is supposed to be underway, transferring the task of law-enforcement to pro-Moscow Chechen officials who are generally assumed to have given up any sympathies they might have had for separatism or national independence. The government they represent, led by the 3-year-old premier Ramzan Kadyrov, is presented to the nations of the West as an example of how radical Islam can be defeated and made to obey.

Yet there are many signs that this is far from what is actually happening on the ground. Indeed, if one looks closely, one discovers that not only is the closure of independent mosques leading, as Anna Neistat reported in the London Review of Books in July, to a re-radicalization of Chechen youth -- the Kadyrov regime itself is increasingly showing itself to be as ruthless and bloody as the Islamists it professes to replace. C.J. Chivers, whose shattering, extensive account of the Beslan tragedy, The School, aroused empathy and horror throughout the world, has written for the New York Times a description of what happened to a Chechen woman who because of some aspects of  her family life managed to incur the violent wrath and vindictiveness of the local security forces:

The humiliation of Malika Soltayeva, a pregnant Chechen woman suspected of adultery, was ferocious and swift.

Ms. Soltayeva, 23, had been away from home for a month and was reported missing by her family. When she returned, her husband accused her of infidelity and banished her from their apartment. The local authorities found her at her aunt’s residence. They said they had a few questions.

What followed was no investigation. In a law enforcement compound in this town in east-central Chechnya, the men who served as Argun’s police sheared away her hair and her eyebrows and painted her scalp green, the color associated with Islam. A thumb-thick cross was smeared on her brow.

Ms. Soltayeva, a Muslim, had slept with a Christian Russian serviceman, they said. Her scarlet letter would be an emerald cross. She was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back.

“Turn and be condemned by Allah,” one of her tormentors said, demanding that she position herself so he could strike her more squarely.

The torture of Ms. Soltayeva, recorded on a video obtained by The New York Times, and other recent brutish acts and instances of religious policing, raise questions about Chechnya’s direction.

Read it all.

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