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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now we're going to travel next to Russia, where the leader of Chechnya, a region of Russia, has ordered the territory to follow a traditional form of Islam. That's a way of strengthening his own control. The leader's goal is also to undermine Muslim extremists who've been fighting to secede from Russia. NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

(Soundbite of music)

ANNE GARRELS: In Chechnya, the local government is pouring money into the construction of mosques and other Islamic institutions. Despite Russian law that declares a separation of church and state, Chechen schools must now promote Islam. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has also ordered local officials to make sure TV companies show more programs celebrating Chechnya's Islamic identity, while condemning so-called foreign Muslim trends, which he says undermine the state.

(Soundbite of song, "My Islamic Chechnya")

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

GARRELS: The culture ministry has introduced rules for Chechen artists. All performances must conform to what it decides is Chechen mentality and upbringing. Titled "My Islamic Chechnya," this is the local hit song, Islamic a la Kadyrov.

(Soundbite of song, "My Islamic Chechnya")

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. ALEXEY MALASHENKO (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): This is the politicization of Sufi Islam. He said that the mosque has to become a political center, a center of education of a young generation.

GARRELS: Alexey Malashenko is a leading expert on Russian Islam at Moscow's Carnegie Endowment.

Mr. MALASHENKO: He consolidated around him the most traditional part of the society, including a piece of young generation.

GARRELS: Chechens have long battled Moscow. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin deported the entire population to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Those who survived the harsh conditions were only allowed to return a decade later in the 1950s. When the Soviet Union broke apart, Chechen demands for independence resulted in two wars. The Kremlin all but destroyed Chechnya.

Thirty-two-year-old Kadyrov, once a separatist, switched sides, recasting himself as an Islamic leader who is also totally loyal to Moscow. At first, his injection of national pride, along with lots of money from the Moscow, soothed war-weary Chechens. And at first, the process of Islamization was voluntary. Any female student who wore a headscarf initially earned a prize of $1,000. Now, however, all females, regardless of their religious convictions, must cover their heads in schools and government offices.

He's banned the sale of European-style wedding dresses in the republic's bridal salons. Polygamy is increasing. The team around Kadyrov openly has several wives. Kadyrov has also supported honor killings.

Lipkhan Bazaeva, who runs an NGO promoting women's rights, says Chechnya is going back to the Middle Ages.

Ms. LIPKHAN BAZAEVA (Women's Rights Activist, Chechnya): (Through translator) Yes, we are a traditional, conservative society with our own values. But the government has gone overboard, declaring unacceptable limits on women, that they should sit at home, they should obey their husbands. As an individual, she has no rights, even if her husband beats her, despite Russian laws to the contrary.

GARRELS: She's afraid to speak out now.

Ms. BAZAEVA: (Through translator) If you criticize the local government, you are in danger.

GARRELS: Alexey Malashenko says Kadyrov's strong-arm tactics to unify Chechens are now dividing the society.

Mr. MALASHENKO: I spoke to young girls in Chechnya, and they don't share the idea of polygamy. They don't want to wear scarves, but they are obliged to do it. Those who are 40 years old, who were born in the Soviet Union don't want to be fanatic Muslims.

GARRELS: There's also a split between the cities and rural Chechnya, where Kadyrov's version of Islam is more popular. Kadyrov's policies are not enough for extremists, who have recently stepped up their attacks, and they are too much for some others, including some in the Kremlin who are beginning to ask what they have unleashed in this unstable region of the country.

Anne Garrels, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "My Islamic Chechnya")

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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