Monday, December 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Beneath Anger at West, Russia’s Orthodox Christians and Muslims Remain Deeply Divided

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 15 – Many have seen the statements of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and the official hierarchies of that country’s Muslim community as an indication that they are moving toward greater mutual understanding and cooperation, according to “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”


            But that is to misread the situation, the paper suggests in a lead article today. The two religious groups are quite happy to agree that the West and its ideas about human rights are the enemy, but they remain deeply divided on the relative role of their communities even within a new Eurasian Russia (


            “As soon as Russian foreign policy made a sharp turn to the East, the Russian Orthodox Church began to display particular sympathy to Islam,” the paper points out, with Patriarch Kirill echoing the Kremlin’s line that the Arab Spring was yet another move by the West to discredit and thus weaken the world of Islam.


            Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), echoed that position as well, saying that the West seeks to dictate its way of life to others and then refuses to take any responsibility for the consequences of doing so, including the rise of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and civil unrest.


            The ideological basis for this common approach, the paper says, was provided by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a protégé of the patriarch who is responsible for the Church’s relations with society. In a series of recent articles, he has condemned the West for its actions and praised the Islamic way of life.


            “It might seem,” the editors continue, “that between the two largest religious communities of the country harmony has at long last been achieved. But the devil as usual is in the details, and in [Russia’s] case, at the regional level.” There the two faiths continue to be at loggerheads, with the Orthodox doing what they can to limit the role of Islam.


            Moreover, if one examines the speeches of Orthodox and Muslim leaders, one quickly discovers that while each side views the West as an enemy, each also has an agenda which the other finds objectionable.


            “Even the simple co-existence of two religious cultures in Russia is far from idyllic,” let alone from a situation which one might describe as “a kind of Eurasian melting pot” in which members of the two communities would find ever more commonalities between their co-religionists and the others, the paper says.


            As long as Orthodox and Muslim leaders focus on the West as their common enemy and as “’a godless civilization’” with its “’pseudo-humanism,’” the two will appear to be allies.  As soon as they begin to focus on anything else, they will be opposed to one another, however much the Russian government hopes otherwise.

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