In 2004, Chechnya’s president, Ahkmad Kadyrov, the face of the Kremlin Chechenization project, was assassinated and his son Ramzan took power. Ramzan went much further than his father: human-rights groups have accused him of ordering torture, abductions, and killings, both inside Chechnya and on dissidents abroad. At the same time he has brought a brutal peace to his troubled republic, introducing morality police and strict Islamic dress codes. Kadyrov spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Anna Nemtsova at his heavily fortified residence in Gudermes:
Chechen religious figures see you as their imam, their spiritual leader. Who finances the revival of Islam in Chechnya?
Me, my friends, people we know—we all put together money. Businessmen help. Moscow gives us some money for muftis’ salaries. This is necessary for Chechnya, as without Islamic teachers we would never have managed to bring order here. Our military units would never be able to win against terror without religion.
Are you happy with [the Kremlin’s] plans to reform Islam in Russia?
In Moscow, if a woman is all covered, as a religious Muslim should be, she is immediately suspected of being a terrorist or a suicide bomber. [Police] check these women’s documents and harass them. That is wrong. The authorities should find loyal imams to conduct propagandist preaching.
You recently created a morality police to instruct people how to live according to Sharia.
It is called the Center of Spiritual and Moral Development. We hired men with higher education. They do not beat or scold anybody—they simply warn people against extremism and drug addiction.
Did you instruct your people to shoot paintballs at women who do not wear headscarves?
Many women walk around Grozny today without covering themselves with scarves! If we were beating or shooting at them, they would not be doing that. Somebody who wants to blacken my politics is behind the paintball attacks.
Do you think that the Russian state education is too liberal?
Russian Duma deputies say that children should be given condoms in school! What do we need such democracy for? We send our children to school to study. And in Russian universities children are officially allowed to smoke! I say that a university is a house of knowledge, not for showing off Dolce & Gabbana bags. Students should go to university in uniform.
What do you consider appropriate dress for Chechen women?
I always remind women what Allah said—it is simple for a woman to get to paradise: she has to cover herself, her hair and her arms, wear a long skirt, fast, pray, and be faithful to her husband. My dream is that all Chechen women should wear headscarves.
How independent are you from Moscow?
Being independent caused us nothing but trouble. I do not want Chechnya to be independent from Russia. The only thing I am asking [Moscow] for is to allow me a free hand to fight bandits. They are the enemies of people and the enemies of Islam. I want to fight them and finish the war.
What solutions do you have for Russian problems?
Alcoholism is a terrible problem in Russia. The birth rate is also very low. Imagine, China does not allow its citizens to give birth [to more than one child], while in Russia authorities pay women to have more children. Where are we heading? Show business has become the state’s culture policy. I say that [Russia] should ban alcoholism, but then I immediately hear complaints that Kadyrov wants to declare Sharia law?.?.?.?But we [in Chechnya] have the lowest crime rate in Russia, thanks to our beliefs. A good Muslim first of all thinks about tomorrow. He can steal a car, but he knows that up there [points to heaven] he will have to answer for it.
Your fans want you to run as Russia’s next president—who would you like to see as president in 2012?
My idol, [Vladimir] Putin. I want him to be the president as long as he lives. I love him very much, as a man loves a man. He is a man of his word; he brought peace to Chechnya. We were in the hands of bandits, and the alcoholic [Boris] Yeltsin bombed us. Those who criticize Putin are not human, they are my personal enemies. As long as Putin backs me up, I can do everything—Allahu akbar!