Underground metro springs a leak in hit Russian film

Updated 09 March 2013
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Underground metro springs a leak in hit Russian film

As Moscow’s legendary chandeliered underground fills with water, thousands of terrified commuters flee through flooded tunnels in a disaster movie that has topped Russia’s box office.
The film, titled simply “Metro”, depicts what might happen if Moscow’s Stalin-era underground system, which last year carried more than two billion passengers, sprung a leak from the Moscow River flowing above it and a speeding train crashed into a wall of water.
Filmed in a genuine metro system — albeit in the Volga city of Samara, not Moscow — the film looks disturbingly realistic, from the boxy blue carriages to the clunky monitoring equipment that simply loses all contact with the train. “Can you imagine what’s going on down there?” asks one petrified employee.
The film topped Russia’s box office in its first weekend, comprehensively beating action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback movie “The Last Stand”. It has now earned $ 9.7 million, according to preliminary figures released by local magazine.
The film’s budget totaled $ 13 million, including a $ 6 million grant from a state fund designed to promote national cinema.
The real Moscow metro is rich with legend, from the giant cockroaches that allegedly roam its tunnels to secret lines said to lead from the Kremlin. Its ornate decor includes talismans such as the bronze dog at the central Revolution Square station whose nose has been rubbed bright by constant pats for luck.
Muscovites associate recent genuine horrors with the metro, including deadly bombings in 2004 and 2010 as well as a harrowing accident in 2006 in which a pile being driven into the ground for an advertising hoarding pierced through a shallow tunnel.
Well-heeled Muscovites make a point of never descending into the metro — even though that means sitting in traffic jams for hours on end.
The film plays on latent fears about the crumbling network, but the director dismissed the idea that it could upset survivors of militant bombings. “You see, if you argue like that, we couldn’t make World War II movies, we couldn’t make any films because they will always somehow touch people who had the experience,” said director Anton Megerdichev at a press conference.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Moscow metro’s management was not keen on the film, banning the crew from filming in its stations. Undeterred, production was moved to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, only for a deadly metro bombing to strike there in April 2011 as the crew was due to start filming.
Finally they went to Samara, around 1,050 kilometers (652 miles) south of Moscow, whose little-used metro system proved only too authentic. “The most interesting thing is that it’s wet. It drips everywhere, we didn’t need to add any computer graphics. They constantly mop and wipe those stations, so basically it was perfect for us,” the director said jokingly.


Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

Updated 16 July 2018
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Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

LINXIA: Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Makkah,” but they have undergone a profound change — no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.
In what locals said they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned minors under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.
China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uighurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Qur’an or even growing a beard.
Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.
“The winds have shifted” in the past year, explained a senior imam who requested anonymity, adding: “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”
Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of students over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.
They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” — with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighboring county.
“They want to secularize Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party.”
More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Qur’anic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.
His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.
Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Qur’anic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework.
But most are utterly panicked.
“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.
Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.
Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.
Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. He dreams of being an imam, but his schoolteachers have encouraged him to make money and become a Communist cadre, she said.
The Hui number nearly 10 million, half of the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.
In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and center their lives around their faith.
Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-paneled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea,” a local specialty including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.
But in January, local officials signed a decree — obtained by AFP — pledging to ensure that no individual or organization would “support, permit, organize or guide minors toward entering mosques for Qur’anic study or religious activities,” or push them toward religious beliefs.
Imams there were all asked to comply in writing, and just one refused, earning fury from officials and embarrassment from colleagues, who have since shunned him.
“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he explained.
“It feels like we are slowly moving back toward the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds, he said.
Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practice or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.
“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” said one imam.
Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls from AFP seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.
The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.
Beijing is targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs,” charged William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.
Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.
The government believes that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts — so they want to secularize us,” he explained.
But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uighurs.
“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.
Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang explained that his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Qur’an with a freedom not possible in his hometown.
“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”