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Islam and Chechnya

Text by Judith Matloff, photos by Diana Markosian

With the Kremlin’s approval, Islam is flourishing in Chechnya—a means to maintain at least a veneer of tranquility while keeping even more radical forces at bay.

Charles G. Cogan: Kind Hearts and Minarets

President Nicolas Sarkozy had some kind words to say about the Swiss the other day, in the wake of the surprising referendum banning the future construction of minarets in the Confederation. The French intellectual class, in the main, however, jumped all over him. There are indeed some kind things to say about the Swiss. They are an example of an inter-cultural modus vivendi. Of the Confederation’s total population of 7.7 million, 72.5 percent are German speakers, 20.4 percent are French speakers, 6.5 percent speak Italian, and 0.5 percent are speakers of Romansh (an obscure Romance language). All four are recognized as national languages. The Swiss gladly accept husbanding others’ money. They also husband their immaculate and picturesque farmlands. Their cities are clean, well ordered, and well policed. They also don’t like outside interference. They have a sturdy, almost totally conscript army to back this up. In the late Middle Ages, Swiss soldiers were considered among the best warriors in Europe. Perhaps this might have something to with the fact that Switzerland has not been in a state of war since 1815. Recently, the Swiss image has become tarnished, as the country’s position as a tax shelter for the super-rich has been criticized during the recent recession, and as the emergence of a far-right party has exposed a streak of intolerance in Swiss public opinion. But back to the minarets, of which there are four currently in Switzerland, where the Muslim population is 400,000. By a strong majority (57.5 percent) in a November 29 referendum, the Swiss said there shall be no more. What exactly did President Sarkozy say that caused such a typically French intellectual dither? First, that a referendum (“yes or no”) was not a good medium for such a complex subject. (The recourse to the referendum, however, is constitutionally mandated in the Swiss Confederation). Second, that rather than rail against the Swiss, one should look deeper into the motivation behind the rejection vote. Third, and most saliently, Sarkozy noted that while no one is seeking to discourage the free practice of religion, Muslims should be aware of Europe’s Christian heritage and France’s Republican traditions and therefore should not be overly provocative, choosing rather to practice their faith with “humble discretion.”

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: Islam's Seductive Weapon?

This article was originally published by Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kozhikode (Calicut)—A specter is haunting India’s state of Kerala, a supposedly new and secret Islamic weapon known as “love jihad.” Namely, the idea that young Muslim men court impressionable Hindu and Christian women to capture their souls as well as their bodies. In the Malabar region, where the majority of Kerala’s most venerable Muslim community lives, it is whispered that as many as 4,000 women have already succumbed. Can it be? Will seduction threaten the communal peace in this tolerant multicultural state? By chance, we arrived in Kozikode on the day riot police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators belonging to the activist group Hindu Aika Vedi (HAV) as they marched within a hundred meters of an Islamic social center. It was actually a “conversion center,” the protestors insisted. In reponse, a large crowd led by the Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) gathered to protect the threatened social center. In the end, it all ended peacefully, if not amicably. City authorities invoked a law banning provocative assemblies, a riot was averted, and the crowd dispersed. A newspaper account was careful to state that during the agitation, Hindu leaders of HAV escorted a pregnant Muslim woman in a jeep to the local women’s hospital. It also happened that we were that day meeting two highly respected Muslim leaders: a Congress Party veteran, T. Sadarikkoya, who as a youngster took part in Gandhi’s “Quit India” campaign in 1943; and Prof. M. N. Karassery of Calicut University, a leading authority on Kerala’s Malayalam language and a widely read columnist. Both agreed that yes, there were communal problems. Fundamentalists have been proselytizing, and its effects are evident in the prevalence of hijabs worn by a growing minority of Muslim women. But Malabar had its distinct civil culture. Whereas Muslims in India’s northern provinces arrived as conquerors, their brothers arrived in Malabar some 450 years ago as traders. With rare exceptions, they have lived in peace alongside Hindus and Christians. Another unifying factor, Professor Karassery stressed, is that while a common language, Urdu, unites northern Indian and Pakistani Muslims, the Malabar Muslims share the same language, Malayalam, with Hindus and Christians. Thus during the bloody exchange of populations that occurred when India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947 there were no riots in Kerala, and few Muslims migrated northward.



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