As a curious antidote to all the discussion on whether the terrorists in the Mubaki catastrophe singled out Westerners (false) in their murdureous campaign last week — which saw 170 killed and a further 230 injured — the International Herald Tribune published an article on the peaceful coexistance of Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics in the Russian republic of Tartarstan.The article doesn’t offer any apparent reason why these groups have gotten along with each other over the years. For example, Ivan the Terrible sacked the city of Kanzan in 1552, something that still rankles some inhabitants 500 years on. Yet “Muslim minarets and Russian Orthodox onion domes rise in seemingly equal proportion”. Of particular interest is the fact that their 2002 census did not record religious affiliation. Positive relations appear not to be achieved by sectarian head counts, but by the leadership of religious and political figures, supported by the actions of local people. For example, the Orthodox church’s deputy chairman responsible for external relations said, “We are intermingled: Russia is inseparable from the Islamic world, as many millions of Muslims live there, and the Islamic world is inseparable from the Russian and Orthodox world, whose members live in
so many Muslim countries.” An Orthodox church reverend said, “This is a multinational region,” he said. “It is essential to live together and be tolerant enough of each other’s values.” And local people demonstrate their friendship by assisting those from other communities in their daily lives. An example was giving of Muslim women assisting those looking for a local Catholic monastery. Perhaps a relevant comparison could be going up to someone wearing a GAA top and asking for directions to the local Orange Hall! I am intrigued about how this level of coexistence works in Tartarstan. It doesn’t appear to be from official equality policies. And it isn’t some bland secularism, as there appears to be sufficient religious practice. In my work of trying to develop social cohesion, it is important to examine where this does exist, and why. And of course, to learn the right lessons. Authoritarianism or state policies of assimilation can bring about social cohesion, but they’re hardly satisfactory recipes if one values ethnic and national diversity. Looks like I’m off to learn a little more about Tartarstan.