China building electromagnetic pulse weapons for use against U.S. carriers

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China’s military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against U.S. aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report made public on Thursday.  Portions of a National Ground Intelligence Center study on the lethal effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons revealed that the arms are part of China’s so-called “assassin’s mace” arsenal – weapons that allow a technologically inferior China to defeat U.S. military forces.

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U.S. finalizing plan to boost support for Syrian rebels

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is finalizing a plan to increase training and small-arms shipments for Syrian rebels, two U.S. security sources said on Friday, as Syrian government troops gain momentum following the collapse of U.S.-backed peace talks.  The United States would increase assistance and send the shipments to moderate rebel factions mostly based in Jordan, along Syria’s southern border, the officials familiar with the plan told Reuters.  The additional supplies are likely to be modest and will not include surface-to-air missiles, the officials said, raising questions over the impact in a civil war that has killed an estimated 136,000 people, produced nine million refugees and threatens to destabilize the region.

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Billboard that says ‘Jesus is Muslim’ upsets some groups

A group plans to protest near a North Side billboard carrying messages about the Islamic faith.  Protesters are specifically opposed to the message “Jesus is Muslim” that some recently saw on the billboard on Cleveland Avenue. The message did not appear on the billboard this afternoon, however.  The messages placed by the Ask a Muslim organization also list the group’s website.

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Crack in the House of Saud

President Obama flew to Saudi Arabia to patch up relations with King Abdullah at the end of last week in his first visit in five years. The alliance had been strained by Saudi anger over US negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme and Obama’s refusal to go to war in Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad last year. For its part, the US is upset by Saudi Arabia covertly supporting al-Qa’ida-type movements in Syria and elsewhere.  The US-Saudi relationship is a peculiar one in that it is between a reactionary theocratic monarchy – it is the only place in the world where women are not allowed to drive – and a republic that claims to be the chief exponent of secular democracy. The linkage is so solid that it was scarcely affected by 9/11, though al-Qa’ida and the hijackers had demonstrably close connections to Saudi Arabia.

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How U.S. courts have dealt with al-Qaeda terrorists

• “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman

Sentenced in 1996 to life in prison for planning, together with nine co-defendants, to wage a “war of urban terrorism” against the United States. Prosecutors said the plot included plans to detonate bombs on a single day at several New York City landmarks, including the United Nations building, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and the main federal office building in Manhattan. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was part of the plan, prosecutors said.

• Ramzi Yousef

Sentenced in 1998 to life in prison without parole for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and an airplane bombing in 1994. Yousef, a Pakistani, killed six people and injured 1,000 at the WTC, and killed one person on the plane.

• John Walker Lindh

Sentenced in 2002 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to aiding the Taliban against U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001. Prosecutors said he had received training at al-Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp and attended a lecture by Osama bin Laden.

• Richard Reid

Sentenced in 2003 to life in prison for trying to blow up a 2001 flight from Paris to Miami with a bomb in his shoe. Reid said in court he was a member of al-Qaeda.

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By 2015, Russia Wants To Establish A Eurasian Union To Rival The EU

Is Moscow’s proposed Eurasian Union an initiative to revitalize stagnant economies, or an attempt to re-establish a Soviet Union “lite?”  After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world suddenly had 15 more nation states, some of whom had not been sovereign territories since the 19th century.  Nevertheless, calls for a re-integration of the Eurasian region were soon heard, often led by Russia, according to (pdf) a Chatham House paper.  In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the fall of the USSR “a major geopolitical disaster of the century.”  There’s been a smattering of different attempts at unification, including the Commonwealth of Independent States security union, but a lack of commitment to creating the institutions have stalled efforts, Chatham House writes.

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Putin, Party of One: Obama ‘Leads’ Ousting from G-8, But Russia Finds New Friends

Leaders of the G-8 met at the Dutch prime minister’s residence Monday night and decided to reduce the size of their fraternity to seven.The White House was quick to paint the meeting and its outcome as the president’s idea.

In what is called The Hague Declaration, leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission, affirmed support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”

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Ukraine crisis: Russia warns West over Crimea sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued the warning in a telephone call to US Secretary of State John Kerry.  It came hours after Russian and Crimean leaders signed a treaty absorbing the peninsula into the Russian Federation following a disputed referendum.  On Wednesday there were reports an army base in Sevastopol had been stormed.  An Associated Press reporter at the scene said pro-Russian self-defence forces had broken into the building – the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy – and raised the Russian flag.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told the BBC the treaty signed on Tuesday was already in effect, and Crimea was now part of Russia.  The BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow says that although it must be approved by Russia’s constitutional court and ratified by parliament, there is no doubt MPs will give their full backing when they vote on Friday.  On Monday, the US and the EU imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow’s actions in the Black Sea peninsula.

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US rejects Crimea vote, warns Russia on new moves

WASHINGTON —President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia “would never be recognized” by the United States, as he and other top U.S. officials warned Moscow against making further military moves toward southern and eastern Ukraine.

The two leaders spoke after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in favor of the split in a referendum that the United States, European Union and others say violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and took place in the strategic peninsula under duress of Russian military intervention. Putin maintained that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination, according to the Kremlin. But the White House said Obama reminded Putin that the U.S. and its allies in Europe would impose sanctions against Russia should it annex Crimea. U.S. and EU sanctions are expected to be announced Monday.

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Russian warships pass through Istanbul’s Bosphorus sea

Two Russian warships on their way to the Black Sea have passed through Istanbul’s Bosphorus staits.  Russia’s ‘Saratov’ and ‘Yamal’ ships sailed unaccompanied through the Marmara Sea before entering the Bosphorus straits at 07:30 local time (05:30 GMT).  The two ships, which were usually based in the eastern Mediterranean to monitor developments in Syria, are now on their way to Crimea due to the latest situation there.

At the same time a Ukrainian ship called ‘Hetman Sahaidachny’ entered the straits at Canakkale (Gallipoli) on its way to the Marmara Sea.  Thousands of Russian troops have been deployed to the Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, after Russia’s Parliament passed a motion on Saturday.  Due to prior agreements, the Bosphorus straits are recognized as international waters despite cutting through the middle of Turkey’s most populated city, Istanbul.  The Bosphorus is a key strategic passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

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Watch Turkey in Crimea

If you thought that in Ukraine we finally had a global crisis sans Islam, think again. My first clue was hearing “Allah Akbars” on a Youtube of some anti-Russia protestors (not in news media). Then, a Ukrainian e-pal from Kiev wrote in, noting, “The Kirimli (Tatars) can ask for help Turks and other Muslim peoples. With Hisb-ut-Tahrir or Wahhabites. It could be a new `hot point.’ ”

The Tatars of Crimea — at least the ones who have returned to Crimea in the aftermath of Stalin’s mass deportations of nearly 200,000 Tatars in 1944, which would kill nearly half of the population  — are Muslim and speak Turkish.

According to Al Monitor, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolgu recently met in Kiev with the former speaker of the Tatar National Assembly, Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu, and declared: “If the term is appropriate, we are in ‘mobilization’ to defend the rights of our kin in Crimea by doing whatever is necessary.”

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Families push to declassify 9/11 report on Saudi involvement

WASHINGTON — Family members and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks joined three members of Congress on Wednesday in calling on the Obama administration to declassify portions of a congressional investigation that addresses allegations of possible Saudi government support of the hijackers.

The report, released by a joint panel of the House and Senate intelligence committees in December 2002, contains 28 redacted pages that family members and victims say would shed new light on the hijackings. At the time the report was released, the Bush administration classified the material, but numerous sources reported it dealt with the Saudis.

“Flight 93 was supposed to have hit the Capitol Dome,” imposing a special obligation on Congress to get to the bottom of the matter, said Alice Hoagland, whose son Mark Bingham was one of the passengers who rushed the cockpit, thwarting that part of the attack. The plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

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Ignoring West, Crimea readies vote on joining Russia

Crimea

Simferopol, Ukraine (CNN) — The pro-Russian government of Ukraine’s southeastern Crimea region declared independence Tuesday ahead of a scheduled referendum on whether to join Russia, ignoring international warnings that the vote won’t be recognized.

 

In the regional capital Simferopol, pro-Russian militiamen guarded the airport and train station, some wearing armbands that proclaimed their allegiance to “the autonomous republic of Crimea.” Flights into the region from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, were canceled Tuesday, while flights from Moscow appeared to be landing as scheduled.  A guard at the railway station told CNN that he and his comrades were looking out for weapons being shipped in from the rest of Ukraine.

 

Crimea will hold a vote Sunday on whether to remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia; in Moscow, the Russian parliament announced it would debate whether to accept Crimea as part of the country on March 21. Ukraine’s interim government, backed by the United States and European powers, has said the upcoming vote is illegitimate.

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China’s Economic Cold War on the United States

Read the recent report by Congress on China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. and you could be excused for a sense of déjà vu. It sounds like it came from the U.S.-Soviet era. One passage: “The opportunity exists for … espionage by a foreign nation-state already known to be a major perpetrator of cyber espionage.”  Many are worried that Congress has gone too far. But the truth is it hasn’t gone far enough.  Once the world admitted China to the World Trade Organization in 2001, we welcomed the country into our free-markets. We trusted the global economy would evolve toward free and fair trade. We then set our policies on cruise control, assuming the world would follow the U.S. model.

Instead, China got a hand on the steering wheel: It turned the rules of global business in its favor. We woke up to find a hijacking of our free-market system. China was manipulating its currency, subsidizing its firms, undermining nascent U.S. firms, erecting trade barriers, and stealing intellectual property. China was using its firms as instruments of state capitalism—it even coordinated them to monopolize critical resources such as steel and rare earths.

We are now at odds with China. We are essentially in an economic cold war. The Huawei report—a notable bipartisan effort—documents as much. After hollowing out many manufacturing industries—tires, consumer electronics, auto parts, steel—China has gone after tech-heavy industries like telecommunications.

The report focuses on national-security risks posed by Huawei and ZTE: spying via backdoor software implants, cyber attacks on key networks, and inserting malicious software in security systems. These are serious allegations: Imagine if China used Huawei equipment to shut down American water and electrical systems.

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Google ordered to remove anti-Islamic film from YouTube

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday ordered Google Inc to remove from its YouTube video-sharing website an anti-Islamic film that had sparked protests across the Muslim world.

By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Google’s assertion that the removal of the film “Innocence of Muslims” amounted to a prior restraint of speech that violated the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, had objected to the film after learning that it incorporated a clip she had made for a different movie, which had been partially dubbed and in which she appeared to be asking: “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”  In a statement, Google said: “We strongly disagree with this ruling and will fight it.”  Cris Armenta, a lawyer for Garcia, said she is delighted with the decision.  ”Ordering YouTube and Google to take down the film was the right thing to do,” Armenta said in an email. “The propaganda film differs so radically from anything that Ms. Garcia could have imagined when the director told her that she was being cast in the innocent adventure film.”

The controversial film, billed as a film trailer, depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a fool and a sexual deviant. It sparked a torrent of anti-American unrest among Muslims in Egypt, Libya and other countries in 2012.  That outbreak coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. U.S. and other foreign embassies were also stormed in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is considered blasphemous.  Google had refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others, though it blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and certain other countries.

In court filings, Google argued that Garcia appeared in the film for five seconds, and that while she might have legal claims against the director, she should not win a copyright lawsuit against Google.  The film has now become an important part of public debate, Google argued, and should not be taken down.  ”Our laws permit even the vilest criticisms of governments, political leaders, and religious figures as legitimate exercises in free speech,” the company wrote.

But Garcia argued that her performance within the film was independently copyrightable and that she retained an interest in that copyright.  A lower court had refused her request that Google remove the film from YouTube. In Wednesday’s decision, however, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said Garcia was likely to prevail on her copyright claim, and having already faced “serious threats against her life,” faced irreparable harm absent an injunction.  He called it a rare and troubling case, given how Garcia had been duped. “It’s disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, that Garcia needed to sue in order to protect herself and her rights,” he wrote.  The case is Garcia vs. Google Inc et al., 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 12-57302.  (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Dan Levine in San Francisco; editing by David Gregorio, G Crosse and Dan Grebler)

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U.S. moves closer to sanctions against Russia over Ukraine crisis

KIEV, Ukraine, March 3 (UPI) — If Russia continues its military incursion into Ukraine, it will be on the “wrong side of history” and violating international law, President Obama said Monday.

Even with strong cultural and commercial ties between Russia and Ukraine, “what cannot be done is for Russia with impunity to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world,” Obama said during a media availability with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “And I think the strong condemnation that has proceeded from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history.”

Russian leaders maintain it is their right and obligation to protect Russian citizens and pro-Russian people in Ukraine where Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovych was ousted as president two weeks ago, fled Kiev and took refuge in Russia. There have been no verifiable reports of violence against Russians in Ukraine.

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Bin Laden Relative’s Terrorism Trial May Fuel Debate Over Use of Civilian Courts

In the days and weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, a Kuwaiti-born cleric, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, became a familiar figure in propaganda videos for Al Qaeda, appearing in some with Osama bin Laden, and other times alone, issuing blistering threats against the United States.  “The storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm,” he said in one speech, a federal indictment charges.  Mr. Abu Ghaith, who later married Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima, was captured last year and brought to the United States on terrorism charges. When his trial starts on Monday in Manhattan, he will be the most senior Bin Laden adviser to be tried in a civilian court since the Sept. 11 attacks, experts say.  “Abu Ghaith held a key position in Al Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime,” George Venizelos, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in New York, said last year.  Unlike Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Abu Ghaith has not been accused of having advance knowledge of the attacks or being involved in terrorist operations. But prosecutors portray him as a trusted adviser and confidant of Bin Laden’s, and they believe he was probably aware of the plot in which Richard C. Reid tried unsuccessfully to blow up an airplane on a trans-Atlantic flight by detonating explosives in his shoes.

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Obama warns Moscow of ‘costs’ if Russia intervenes in Ukraine

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia, Feb. 28 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama Friday cautioned Russia “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”  In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said his administration is in daily communication with Russian officials, “and we’ve made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.”  ”However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” he said. “Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea, but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.”

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Report: Saudi Arabia Wants Uranium-Enrichment Capacity

Intelligence officials and issue analysts report signs that Saudi Arabia wants to develop a capacity to enrich uranium, despite proliferation concerns.  Riyadh is understood to be worried that world powers will agree to allow Iran to maintain some limited uranium-enrichment capability in a potential lasting deal on its nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has an established interest in developing an atomic-energy program, but its concerns about Iran could be causing the Persian Gulf kingdom to consider a more expansive domestic nuclear capability, the Daily Beast reported on Friday.  Institute for Science and International Security President David Albright told the news website he had learned from an unidentified European intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia’s pursuit in recent years of the scientific and engineering expertise necessary to carry out activities in all parts of the nuclear fuel chain.  The full cycle for producing atomic fuel includes uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel — two processes that could be used to create both more fuel for civil energy needs and fissile material suitable for powering warheads.  Albright said Riyadh was employing technical experts capable of constructing the centrifuge cascades required to enrich uranium.  ”They view the developments in Iran very negatively,” he said. “They have money, they can buy talent, they can buy training.”

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Moscow and the Mosque

RUSSIA-POLITICS-PUTINIf Russians were holding their breath in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, it was with good reason. A Black Sea spa town long favored by Kremlin apparatchiks, Sochi occupies a perilous position on Russia’s southern frontier, just 50 miles west of the North Caucasus Federal District, a cauldron of ethnic strife, nationalist separatism, and state repression since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last two years alone, violence in this vast mountainous region, including car bombings, assassinations, and clashes between Muslim fighters and Russian security forces, has killed or injured more than 1,500 people.

Islamist militants in the North Caucasus have been making more frequent appeals to Russia’s other Muslims to rise up and join their cause. Last summer, Doku Umarov, an underground commander who claims control over a phantom Caucasus emirate, called on mujahideen in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan — two faraway autonomous republics about 400 miles and 700 miles east of Moscow, respectively — to “spoil” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to stage the Olympics in Sochi atop “the bones of our ancestors.”

But Umarov’s attempts to provoke a Muslim uprising across Russia against Putin’s government have accomplished little. The Caucasus remains an outlier among Russia’s Muslim-majority territories, which, rather than radical redoubts, are stable, well-integrated, and relatively prosperous regions. Most Muslims in the bulk of the Russian Federation hardly ever express sympathy for their brethren in the restive North Caucasus, and historically, they have shown more interest in accommodating the state than resisting it.

The key question today, however, is how the Kremlin will continue to manage its varied Muslim population and whether it can maintain the allegiances of such a diverse group. The Putin government has worked especially hard to co-opt Muslims for its own political goals, both foreign and domestic. Finding an end to the war in the North Caucasus is one piece of the puzzle. In other regions, stability will depend more on whether Moscow keeps trying to control how Russia’s Muslim citizens interpret Islamic tradition by mandating which religious authorities and practices are sufficiently patriotic and compatible with the state.

Muslims in Russia have increasingly embraced different and competing religious orientations. Government interference in the debates among disparate Muslim communities runs the risk of alienating those who opt for ways of being Muslim that, although perfectly peaceful, conflict with official understandings of Islam. Putting a straitjacket on Islamic interpretation, even if done with the support of one camp of Muslim authorities over another, will not resolve the many policy challenges related to Islam that Russia faces. Instead, the Kremlin will have to accommodate greater pluralism in an ever-changing Islamic landscape.

CONTESTING THE CENSUS

Russia’s Muslims defy easy categorization. Even their demographic profile is the subject of intense dispute. Today, the government, journalists, and civil rights organizations estimate the total population to be some 20 million, or 14 percent of Russia’s overall population of 143 million. That figure would make Russian Muslims not just the second-largest religious group in the country but also the largest Muslim population in all of Europe. Yet the most recent census, in 2010, which asked only for “nationality,” not religious affiliation, suggested that the country has closer to 13 million Muslims, or roughly nine percent of the population.

This smaller figure is the product of only counting members of ethnic groups that have historically identified with Islam, such as the Azeris, the Bashkirs, the Chechens, the Kazakhs, and the Tatars, and listing them all as Muslims. Many Muslim leaders claim that the lower count represents an effort to undermine their political clout, since it fails to reflect Russians’ actual religious affiliations. Despite the official census numbers, even Russian politicians close to Putin, and others from the ethnic republics, regularly invoke the higher figure of 20 million. They do so to make Russia’s claim on membership in the Islamic world look more credible and to pander to their bases in order to secure Muslim electoral support.

Russia’s federal system, inherited from the Soviets, compounds the uncertainty by giving local ethnicities an incentive to overcount their numbers. Take Tatarstan. In the early Soviet period, Lenin and Stalin (an ethnic Georgian) created it and other similar republics as a concession to ethnic nationalism and to rebuff ethnic Russian domination. Today, elites there and elsewhere cling to power by claiming to represent the interests of their self-described nations. But in Tatarstan and other republics, it has always been hard to maintain indigenous majorities, given the large Russian populations and constant emigration; Tatars today officially make up only 53 percent of a population of 3.8 million. Muslim activists and local elites have been accused of pressuring pollsters to manipulate the census and increase the count of Muslim groups.

A similar tussle takes place in Moscow, which is officially home to 300,000 Muslims of varied ethnicities, out of a total population of between 12 million and 17 million people. Yet the census tells only part of the story. Another two million Muslims live there without registration papers, and some observers claim that two million more Muslim migrants work in the city. Most of these Muslims have come to Moscow to escape woeful economic conditions in their home countries, such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. But their temporary and often undocumented status makes them vulnerable to police harassment, exploitation, and racist violence — all factors that undermine the government’s attempts to project tolerance.

The distorted census figures, police intimidation, and bigotry lump all of Russia’s Muslims together into a single group, even though they are in fact a varied lot spread across the country. In places such as Tatarstan, Muslims make up the elites, but in Moscow, most occupy the lowest ranks of the labor force. Although the Russian federal system gives Russian Muslims considerable political influence, government policies, including well-documented cases of police harassment and raids of homes and businesses, marginalize Muslim immigrants, who remain invisible to census takers yet appear highly visible to Muscovites anxious about Muslim immigration.

BEYOND CHECHNYA

This anxiety is fed by Moscow’s long confrontation with Chechen separatists, a conflict that, as it has spread throughout the North Caucasus as a wider Islamist-led insurgency, has fused radicalism and Islam in the minds of the Russian public. As the Volgograd bombings last December showed, militants from the North Caucasus have taken their fight against the government to Russian territory beyond their home region. Yet the government has also capitalized on this fear.

Russia’s security agencies fabricate militants where none exist and accuse local Muslims of extremist ties on the basis of evidence that often hardly goes beyond one’s style of beard or dress. Frequently aided by Muslim clerics close to the state, officials like to blame violence on “Wahhabis,” Muslims who have ostensibly adopted Saudi Arabia’s controversial version of Islam. But the government, the media, and the courts tend to apply the label liberally. They call nonconformists Wahhabis to reinforce the authority of state-backed Muslim clerics, who oppose religious styles that the government deems alien to Russian Islam. Such stigmatized groups include Tablighi Jamaat, the world’s largest Muslim proselytizing organization, which has an underground presence in various Russian cities today, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamic organization that seeks to create a transnational caliphate.

At times, the security agencies have contributed to the extremist threat in more direct ways. Both Putin during his first term as president and his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, used the wars that began in Chechnya in the late 1990s to boost their popularity and to justify an array of authoritarian security measures. As a result of their manipulations, many Russians suspect, with good reason, that the Federal Security Service had a hand in a number of major terrorist attacks that rocked Russia a decade ago, including a series of apartment bombings across the country in 1999 and the Dubrovka Theater crisis in 2002 (in which 40 Chechen militants and some 130 hostages were killed).

Moscow likes to portray violence in the North Caucasus as linked to Islamic insurgencies outside Russia. After the Kremlin launched the second war in Chechnya, in 1999, some Muslim fighters did start to wage a campaign to create a pan-Islamic emirate on Russian soil. But such utopian schemers were responsible for only some of the region’s overall instability. For the most part, armed groups in the Caucasus were engaging in highly localized struggles for power, in which religion was only one of several motivating forces. Often, so-called extremist fighters have been more interested in criminal profit or revenge against government brutality than in Islamist causes.

The truth is, despite the government’s hype and provocations, most Russian Muslims remain firmly attached to their country and its institutions. Elements of transnational Islam may be growing in appeal — Russian Muslims can now shop for the latest international Islamic fashions at specialized stores and attend the annual Moscow Halal Expo — but that does not betray a fundamental shift in loyalty or outlook.

And most Russian Muslims remain indifferent to the blandishments of foreign missionaries. Like other communities in Russia, Muslims have used the freedoms they have won since the demise of communism and atheism to rediscover their religion. But they have mostly rejected offers made by Turkish missionaries, the Saudi government, or other foreigners to replace the Communist Party of the Soviet era with new religious tutors from abroad (notwithstanding Russian Salafists, a deeply conservative cohort that has intellectual ties to Saudi Arabia and that advocates living lives strictly modeled on those of the early companions of the Prophet Muhammad). Outside the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, which has the closest ties to Arab educational institutions, Russian Muslims have focused on establishing their own religious schools. And in this effort, at least, Muslims have enjoyed the firm support of the state, which has accorded Islam the privileged status of a “traditional” Russian faith. Although formally a secular state, Russia favors the Orthodox Church, but officials also pledge to protect Islam, Buddhism, and even Judaism from foreign influence. In practice, this means lending support to those religious authorities who are willing to work closely with the state to promote patriotism among the faithful.

CATHERINE THE GREAT’S EXAMPLE

The state’s backing of a version of Islam it finds palatable was on display last October, when Russian officials and Islamic scholars in Ufa, the capital of the republic of Bashkortostan, celebrated the 225th anniversary of the Central Ecclesiastical Administration of the Muslims of Russia, an institution created under Catherine the Great to bring Islam under the direction of the state. During Catherine’s rule (1762–96), Russian Muslims gained official recognition for their clerics and mosques. Her government even endorsed Islamic laws in relation to marriage, the family, and public morality. Mullahs and mosque community members frequently turned to the tsarist police to denounce neighbors who committed adultery or failed to attend prayers. Islam became a pillar of a conservative imperial order.

In exchange, Islamic authorities were expected to teach their followers that being a good Muslim meant being loyal to the state — then as now, official tolerance came with strings attached. As in the past, today many Muslim clerics also preach against social ills, although now they include alcohol and narcotics. A number of them also focus on foreign policy, echoing the Kremlin’s vision of an alliance among Muslim countries and of Russia as a counterweight to a hegemonic United States.

At the ceremony in Ufa, Putin declared Islam to be “a striking element of the Russian cultural code, an inalienable, organic part of Russian history” and praised the institution for having helped make Muslims “true patriots of our country.” But he warned that “certain political forces” were seeking “to use Islam or, more precisely, its radical currents” to weaken the state. Russian Muslims, Putin added, “have always been united in serving society and their state, defending it from external enemies as well as from any manifestations of extremism.” He called on the assembled clerics to be “louder” in forging unity and harmony within Russia and in the Muslim world at large, to help integrate migrant laborers, and to strengthen Islamic institutions with a distinctively Russian Muslim theology so as to marginalize “informal leaders” whose spurious teachings threaten the country.

Putin’s remarks underscored how Muslims and Russian officialdom have always been engaged in a dialogue about how to police Islam, albeit one in which the state has ultimately had the final say. And sure enough, Talgat Tadzhuddin, the 65-year-old leader of the Central Ecclesiastical Administration, responded enthusiastically to Putin’s instructions. Reiterating Putin’s reference to Muslims’ historic service in defense of the state, the senior mufti noted that his institution was doing everything possible to preserve “traditional Islam” by blocking “the prop­aganda of totalitarian sects and radical currents in our communities.”

PUTIN’S GAMBLE

Although such exchanges represent an attempt by Putin to maintain the state’s tradition of control, they also highlight a dilemma for him, since Russian Muslims do not speak with one voice. Tadzhuddin may have stressed cooperation, but he has a rival: Ravil Gainutdin, the 54-year-old head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, a body of clerics that has competed with the Central Ecclesiastical Administration to act as Russia’s authoritative representative of Islam. Gainutdin did not relish Tadzhuddin’s time in the spotlight with Putin and only made a fleeting appearance at the ceremonies in Ufa. The two Muslim leaders have been battling for years over control of Russia’s Muslim institutions, including numerous regional clerical bodies and schools, in a struggle for prestige, financial resources, and access to state patronage.

Tadzhuddin interpreted the anniversary celebration as an endorsement of his call to unite some 80 regional Islamic organizations in the country under his authority. Gainutdin, for his part, faults Tadzhuddin for supporting a local court’s decision to ban a new translation of the Koran, a ruling that has outraged many Muslim campaigners for civil rights. The danger for Putin is that tapping Tadzhuddin as the official voice of Russian Islam may not only compromise Tadzhuddin’s standing in the eyes of his followers. It could also endanger the Kremlin’s friendly relationship with Gainutdin’s organization and lend weight to those Muslim critics who see persecution as being on the rise. In Tadzhuddin, Putin may be betting on a lame horse.

Such power struggles are playing out throughout Russia today, with mosque leaders challenging one another for supremacy, hurling charges of extremism and heresy, and appealing to state censors and the police to intervene. In a recent case, Seidzhagfar Lutfullin, an imam from Tatarstan who organized a boycott of an Elton John concert in the republic’s capital city late last year, raised the alarm that two of his opponents were disseminating “extremist” views associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir. They were promptly convicted and sentenced to jail.

Such polemic labels mask more subtle and profound debates about what it means to be a Muslim in Russia today. For the past two decades, the quest for an authentic Islam in a post-Soviet world has yielded multiple answers — and deep disagreements. Many Tatars, for example, have embraced the view that they practice an Islam that is a kind of ethnic inheritance, complete with religious leaders whose authority should be reinforced by the government. They see this interpretation as inseparable from their distinctive Tatar identity. But this school of thought quickly brands those who question its precepts as Wahhabis or extremists.

More secular Tatar intellectuals look west to argue that Islam calls for reform along the lines of what is practiced in Europe. Islam, they say, should be compatible with contemporary notions of progress and women’s rights. In their view, Muslims should have broad leeway in deciding which Islamic legal norms have outlived their time.

But both the Tatars’ ethnic and government-sanctioned conceptions of Islam and their more secular, cosmopolitan beliefs are anathema to Russia’s Salafists, who renounce such mainstream interpretations. Largely apolitical and distributed in small pockets throughout the country, the Salafists stand out the most among Russia’s Muslims, not only with their distinctive beards and dress but also because they pose such a bold intellectual challenge to the status quo.

Despite the recent rise of the Salafists, who have drawn inspiration from Saudi Arabian and other sources, it would be misguided to see them as the future of Russian Islam. In Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and elsewhere across Russia, all kinds of Sunni and Shiite groups are mixing in new ways, often through immigration from former Soviet republics to the south. For example, even though Salafists reject Sufis (who hold a more mystical interpretation of Islam) and their veneration of saints and shrines, the two groups still meet on the job at construction sites and markets and in Moscow’s overflowing mosques. And both groups pray alongside the sycophants of the state-backed Islamic hierarchies and alongside those who call for civil society, not the state, to organize Muslim affairs.

For all the emerging pluralism, dissent, and rediscovery of Islam in Russia, it would be a mistake to either exaggerate the scale of this religious revival or equate it with militancy. A 2010 poll by the respected Russian Public Opinion Research Center found Muslims to be generally less enthusiastic about religious holidays, literature, and rites than Orthodox Christians are. In Tatarstan, a 2012 survey revealed that only six percent of Muslims there identified themselves as “deeply religious,” with another 17 percent admitting to being “doubtful,” if still Muslim at all. Although Muslim women in Tatarstan have practiced various kinds of veiling since the early 1990s, only seven percent of them wear the hijab.

If militancy is bred in war zones such as the Caucasus, Tatarstan has little reason to worry. With its lucrative oil industry, solid agricultural base, and strong manufacturing sector, Tatarstan ranked fourth among Russian regions for quality of life in a recent poll, after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the greater Moscow area. Respondents who expressed the most fervent religious devotion were not the angry young men that Russian and Western journalists tend to caricature: they were instead female pensioners in the countryside. A starker contrast could not be drawn with the war-scarred republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, where, in addition to there being ubiquitous violence, at least one-third of the population is unemployed and despair and anxiety reign.