Rounding up gays in Chechnya

It's all about Islam, folks.

Four years ago, when the perpetrators of the Boston bombing were identified as two brothers from Chechnya, the American media, as Daniel Greenfield wrote at the time, went “into ‘Palestinian’ mode insisting that we need to talk about the conflict in Chechnya.”

Yes, Greenfield agreed, we could talk about that conflict. But he added:

There is a conflict in Chechnya and Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Thailand and Nigeria and the Philippines and India and Israel and France and a hundred other countries.

Where there is a sizable Muslim majority or even sizable minority, there is conflict.

Indeed. And Chechnya, which is a “semi-autonomous republic” within Russia, happens to be 95% Muslim. Its president, Ramnaz Kadyrov, has defended honor killings on the grounds that wives are their husbands’ property. He’s told Chechen women that their primary reason for existing is to bear children. He’s encouraged Chechen men to practice polygamy, even though it’s against Russian law. He’s required all females in Chechnya to wear headscarves in schools and other public buildings. And he’s left no doubt that his fanatical support for all of these positions is rooted in his faith. “No one can tell us not to be Muslims,” he has said. “If anyone says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy.”

It was Chechen Muslims who committed two of the most appalling terrorist acts since 911. The first, in 2002, was the gruesome armed seizure of that Moscow movie theater, in which about 130 hostages died. Remember? It’s hardly ever mentioned anymore, and rarely cited when people are making lists of major acts of jihadist terrorism.

The second, and even worse, atrocity was the 2004 school siege in Beslan, in which 330 hostages, including no fewer than 186 children, were murdered. For all the horror of that incident, you don’t hear much about it these days, either.

As with the Boston Marathon bombings, the American media were quick to link both of these actions to the cause of Chechen separatism. But the Moscow atrocity was, in fact, committed by three groups of Chechen jihadists: the Riyad-us Saliheen Brigade of Martyrs (formerly known as the Islamic Brigade of Shaheeds), the Islamic International Brigade, and the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment. The Beslan massacre was committed solely by the first-named of these organizations.

Now Chechnya is again making headlines in the West. In recent weeks, hundreds of gay Chechen men have been rounded up and placed in newly built concentration camps constructed precisely for the detention of homosexuals. Most of these men have been – and are still being – cruelly tortured; some (it’s not yet clear how many) have been killed. Igor Kochetkov, a gay-rights activist based in St. Petersburg, Russia, told the Guardian that the scale of this action is “unprecedented not only in Russia but in recent world history.” Near the top of its long, grimly detailed, and deeply disturbing piece, the Guardian informed its readers – and it repeated these points later, too – that Chechnya is an “ultra-conservative Russian republic” and that “Chechen society is extremely conservative and homophobic.” What the Guardian mentioned only en passant, many paragraphs into the article – in fact, the detail was tucked away as expertly as possible – was that Chechnya is Islamic.

And as with the massacres at the Boston Marathon and the Beslan school and the Moscow theater, that’s the key fact here: Islam. Yes, gay rights in the rest of Russia are nothing to write home about, either. They’ve been the subject of international outrage, and rightly so. But the very fact that there are gay activists like Kochetkov operating openly in St. Petersburg, and that the members of the pro-gay protest group Pussy Riot are still alive and on the loose, shows that there’s a real difference between Chechnya and the rest of Russia when it comes to gay rights. In Russia proper, homosexuality is legal, even though it’s widely viewed as highly unacceptable and police, in particularly, tend not to be too gay-friendly; in Chechnya, however – as under sharia law – being gay is officially punishable by death, period.

Those familiar with Islamic societies will not be surprised by some of the details reported by the Guardian – for instance, that “some gay men” in Chechnya “may have been killed by their families after being outed by authorities.” After police had their way with one young gay man, they released him to his parents, saying (according to him): “Your son is a faggot. Do what you need to with him.” The kid was savvy enough to get out of Dodge pronto. That’s Islam, folks. And then there’s President Kadyrov’s own public statement about the whole matter, which recalled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s famous remark that there are no gays in Iran: no gays, insisted Kadyrov, had been harassed by officials in Chechnya, because “[y]ou cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic.” And if there were gays in Chechnya, he maintained, “the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

A report by the Daily Mail takes the dark picture painted by the Guardian and makes it even darker. According to the Mail, Chechnyans are actually “being ordered to murder their gay relatives after they are released” from the concentration camps. One survivor of the camps, who was lucky enough to escape to Europe immediately after his release, told the Mail about a not-so-lucky friend, aged 20 or 21, who was let go from one of the camps “on the condition that his family would kill him.” They did. Another gay man, who so far has avoided incarceration, told the Mail that gay acquaintances of his who were taken to the camps “were half dead after the beatings” they suffered there “and were returned to relatives like a bag with bones.” Whether their parents were devout enough Muslims to finish them off was unclear.