Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Murders of Muslim Journalists Threaten Rule of Law in Russia, Mufti Warns

Paul Goble

Baku, March 25 – Both those who murdered two prominent Muslim journalists in Russia on Friday night and even more those forces which ordered the killings and are now protecting the perpetrators threaten all who want the rule of law rather than a “bandit” regime, according to the senior Islamic leader in the North Caucasus.
The murder of Il’yas Shurpayev, a journalist with Russia’s First Channel in Moscow, and of Gadzhi Abashilov, the head of the Russian television and radio corporation office in Makhachkala, has outraged many Russians and international media and human rights activists. (See the media reports posted by muslim-press.ru/.)
But these two killings, because both of the men involved were practicing Muslims whose religious beliefs informed their work, have outraged Muslim leaders around the Russian Federation more than perhaps anyone else, all the more so because these killings come at a time of unprecedented and largely unpunished skinhead violence there.
“The death of Shurpayev is an irreplaceable loss for the Muslim community of Russia, Damir Gizatullin, the deputy chairman of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), told RIA Novosti on Saturday. He was “a professional journalist and a true Muslim of whom we were all proud.”
Al’bir Kurganov, the first deputy chairman of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa, said that Il’yas was “a true patriot of his country” and that his reporting was “filled with love and respect for the Motherland.” As a result, he won the respect of all Russians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
And Ismail Berdiyev, the chairman of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, seconded those opinions, saying that Shurpayev’s “openness” and “professionalism” had won the respect of all those who knew him and his reporting about some of the hottest of the hotspots of the Russian Federation.
“In the name of the Muslim community of Russia,” Berdiyev continued, “we express our sympathies to members of his family and those close to him, in the first instance his parents, his wife and his daughter.”
All these comments came after the murder of Shurpayev had been reported but before that of Abashilov had gone out on the wires. Once that happened, the North Caucasus leader did not simply reiterate his statement of sympathy and respect but instead tried to draw some conclusions about what these brutal killings mean.
These two murders, he said with obvious anger, are “directly connected” and represent “a sharp signal for all Russian society from those forces that want to destabilize the situation and thus eliminate any chance for the rule of law and put in its place the mores of “bandits.”
That is because, the cause of these murders “lies in the professional activity” of these two journalists. “evidently, they did not wish to make a compromise with definite people where their human conscience, journalist honor and ethnics were involved.” And consequently, these forces had them killed.
Being committed Muslims, the Islamic leader said, their professional activities were guided “to a definite extent by the principles of their faith. “The shariat calls on all to be honest and conscientious and prohibits deceptiveness and duplicity.” And it is clear that religion played a great role in the lives and work of Shurpayev and Abashilov.
According to Berdiyev, the killers wanted to “box the ears of the law enforcement organs” and in that way generate the kind of outrage and violence that would destabilize the situation in the country, thus creating the kind of conditions that would allow them to get the upper hand.
But perhaps the most significant comment that Berdiyev made was his repeated insistence that responsibility for what had taken place was not limited to those who pulled the trigger in Moscow and in Makhachkala. Instead, he said, it belongs as well to those standing behind them who “ordered up” these “shameful murders.”
If, as seems likely, the authorities are no more successful in bringing to justice than they have been in the cases involving lower profile non-Russian and Muslim migrants, the anger these Muslim leaders feel will only grow. But if that happens, there is a real chance Moscow may not learn of it in a timely fashion from the media.
On the one hand, the electronic media in Russia are increasingly under the control of the government which has no interest in coverage of unpleasant realities. Indeed, its recent lack of coverage of events in Yerevan reportedly prompted some Russians to resume listening to foreign “voices” (www.gzt.ru/politics/2008/03/05/220002.html).
And on the other, some of the reporters for the still relatively free print outlets are so hostile to non-Russians and especially Muslims that their reports are more tendentious than accurate, a pattern that many non-Russians have been upset about for many years but one that some Muslim leaders are now beginning to complain of.
Yesterday’s “Nezavismaya gazeta” carried a letter to the editor from the first deputy mufti of Tatarstan, Valiulla-khazrat Yakupov, documenting the factual mistakes and unjustified conclusions in a single series of reports by that paper’s Middle Volga journalist, Vera Postnova (www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-03-24/17_muftii.html).
Yakupov’s letter makes a broader point: those who rely on Moscow media for information about Russia’s regions and republics are likely to find that they will not know what is going on until the problems there become so large that the central authorities will find it difficult, if not impossible to address them.

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