This article by B.C. in The Economist titled “Empire, Islam and Russia: Faith in expediency” speaks to the management and co-existence between cultures and religion. More specifically, B.C. looks at the level of tolerance that Russia, past and present, has held towards their Islamic population. Much to our surprise, it seems that Vladimir Putin has established a pragmatic display towards the co-existence between faiths.
Putin establishes himself as a proud successor of an imperial realm which would rather co-opt rather than convert the religious communities that lay in its path. The article speaks to the Imperial Russian tsars, Empress Catherine in particular, who were successful in their rule because of their tolerance and acceptance of traditional religions. For Emperor Napoleon, it was his admiration and possible conversion for the Muslim religion that he accredits founding himself in Egypt. It was such tolerance and acceptance for diverse faith that such imperial powers were able to secure loyalty from the people.
I tend to agree with the article’s main point that a stronger guarantee of peace means establishing a respectful space where all opinions are viable on a foundation of free speech. As we have seen in the past, it is the suppression of a culture that fuels rebellion. This is evident in Russia’s past as the Soviet Union, a supporter of Communist North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. Uwe Siemon-Netto speaks of the catastrophic violence spurred by Communist conquest into the South of Vietnam in his memoir, Triumph of the Absurd: A reporter’s love for the abandoned people of Vietnam. He gives insight into the complexity that colonial and imperial power have on a people and a country; be it French, British, American, Chinese or Soviet influence. Siemon-Netto’s acceptance and respect for the Vietnamese people lead to an establishment of a loyal and secure relationship. He learns Vietnamese, becomes friends with the people and tries to understand both sides of the war. It is this type of co-existence between cultures that is the most successful.