''Situation with Andrey Nikitin is a living personification of stories of the ''little man'' who appeared in the Russian classic literature many times''

Muslim journalist Aisha-Galina Babich’s column about the phenomenon of the decent truck driver from Bashkiria defamed by the media

''Situation with Andrey Nikitin is a living personification of stories of the ''little man'' who appeared in the Russian classic literature many times'' Photo: fontanka.ru

The terrorist attack in the Petersburg underground became a tragedy for many people. Ilyas (Andrey) Nikitin – a Muslim who was ''in the wrong place and at the wrong time'' – became one of the victims. An information attack hit him first – the photo of the ''suicide bomber in a hat'' reached many media. The man and his relatives have been bothered by reporters who even dared to pursue him on his way home and kept vigil near his house in Kumertau on last days. His fate touched many people including famous Muslim journalist Aisha-Galina Babich who talks about Nikitin's phenomenon in an op-ed column written for Realnoe Vremya.

Human target thanks to media

Andrey (Ilyas) Nikitin is a truck driver from Bashkiria whose photo of the 'alleged terrorist'' spread in the media during the first hours of the terrorist attack on the Saint Petersburg metro on 3 April. The accusations were mistaken, Andrey went to the police himself to give testimony that he was not implicated in the blast. But only problems have accompanied him since then: several police arrests, inappropriate reaction of plane passengers, threat of dismissal and unlucky journalists keeping vigil near his house.

The situation around Andrey Nikitin is somehow metaphoric. Andrey is a living personification of stories of the ''little man'' who appeared in the Russian classic literature many times; an unnoticeable person who modestly lives in a small town and suddenly reaches the summit of ill fame; person whose human attitude caused a keen response and sympathy when people were united by common pain and seemed to be more sensitive to hatred and repulsion ideas.

We observed the transformation of a person into a human target thanks to the media. Cynicism and irresponsibility of unprincipled journalists in the hunt for a sensation. Corruption of police workers who leaked information without thinking of consequences. Supremacy of emotions over mind when fates are broken and myths are created. Media age, replete and rapid, and the media space is like a minefield: life is the price for a mistake.

''It is a process of slow coping with the stigmatisation and stereotypes towards Muslims, towards ''people with beard'', people with ''Eastern appearance'', different people.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

We are still a big clumsy heart

The target was hit, it became a victim, and thousands of sympathising people aspire to it to stop the hunt, prevent horrible consequences, do their duty in front of their own conscience. And this process is the model of that civil society we have been breeding for recent decades. It is a process of slow coping with the stigmatisation and stereotypes towards Muslims, towards ''people with beard'', people with ''Eastern appearance'', different people, in a word, others.

Hundreds of comments with words of support and users indignant about the unfairness appeared below articles and posts about Andrey Nikitin's trials. The awareness and depth of these words are an illustrative example of how sound mind and true humanism started to gather momentum in the society infected with Islamophobia. Attempts to kindle the fire of hatred and incite one part of the society against the other where the society doesn't want to be implicated in these cheap manipulations anymore look silly, stupid and inappropriate.

We have not learnt to react instrumentally yet, we are an emotional and inspired country, we are still a big clumsy heart that lacks arms and a head. Even on difficult mourning and grief days, urges to apply law, defend rights are heard, justice and social majority have a higher potential. It educates our media and makes them bow under the pressure of the social majority. It gives hope everyone who was defamed and maligned by the soulless machine of pseudo-journalism.

''Yes, muftis and imams are not heard in the hum of voices of deputies, actors and TV presenters. Yes, Muslim users still need to learn to have discussions and express their opinion correctly in social networks. But lawyers are already working, rights defenders and media are cooperating, the activity of Muslim bloggers leads to material, perceivable, real results.'' Photo: prav.tatarstan.ru

Andrey is we

Another truth in this story. Today the Muslim community in Russia acts, it doesn't keep silence, it is visible. Yes, Islamic newspapers are not present in supermarkets, Muslim sites are not in the first lines of browsers. Yes, muftis and imams are not heard in the hum of voices of deputies, actors and TV presenters. Yes, Muslim users still need to learn to have discussions and express their opinion correctly in social networks. But lawyers are already working, rights defenders and media are cooperating, the activity of Muslim bloggers leads to material, perceivable, real results.

Several interviews with Andrey that appeared in the media revealed an image of a brave, honest and peaceful person in front of readers. Nowadays non-Muslims are creating a petition to support Muslim Andrey Nikitin. People of different ethnicities and religions sign it urging to stop the hunt. Andrey's friends publish his account number, so that not indifferent people across the country will be able to help a person they don't know, who just recently was considered a murderer, 'suicide bomber'' and ''Islamic extremist''.

We are seeing functionaries and statesmen who have heard the people. They are looking for truth and want to give it to people. Investigative Committee in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District denies its implication in the illegal demands, and head administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is investigating the circumstances of the information leakage and the human rights ombudsman is dealing with human rights – a system that has started to work properly.

Andrey Nikitin's phenomenon is a ''phenomenon of a decent Muslim'', there are hundreds and thousands of Muslims like him in Russia; we can and should talk about Andrey not because he is a hero or a victim but because he is we. He is each of us; everyone who walks on the street and was caught on camera. We need to manage to say the most important thing, and Andrey did it.

By Aisha-Galina Babich