27 November 2011

America's Religious Right's Wrong Track

In the American political spectrum, evangelical religiosity is closely linked to right-winged political views.  This is not to say that those in the middle or left are less spiritual or religious than those on the right; it is to say that those who are on the right and religious tend to be vocal about their beliefs in the political arena.

A thought vector in America's religious right that explains this behavior is along these lines: "The Christian God made America great.  To continue keeping America great, it is the duty of Christians to ensure that the core of the nation remains strongly Christian.  As such, evangelism, constant religious dialog, and conversion of nonbelievers is a duty and a path to salvation."

During the Soviet years, when we had a bipolar world of the two superpowers, US and USSR, the US was the most religious industrial nation in the world.  Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire." The fall of the Iron Curtain was a signal - at least to some folks on the religious right - that God was on America's side and the atheistic Soviet Union had erred on the wrong side by disavowing the supernatural.

It is now a bit more than two decades after the dissolution of USSR.  Americans on the religious right should take note that their country no longer has the "most religious" status amongst the industrialized nations.  As it turns out, that spot has been relinquished to Russia, the heart, mind, and muscle of the erstwhile "Evil Empire."

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is currently displaying a relic believed to be Virgin Mary's belt.  Russians from around the country are making a pilgrimage to this magnificent church to queue up in the cold weather for up to 24 hours to get a first-hand glimpse of this artifact, and to kiss the glass encasement in which it sits. 

This phenomenon has created some angst among the less-religious Russians.  There is a genuine surprise at the degree of latent religiosity that has become visible suddenly and many attempts to interpret what it really means.  A popular interpretation is that because Russia is on the wrong track and Russians have lost faith in their institutions, they are looking elsewhere for hope, inspiration, and perhaps a miracle.

It is curious that religiosity is seen as a sign of "losing faith" in national institutions in Russia while it is deemed as a necessary element of "keeping faith" in national institutions in America by the religious right.  Both views cannot be simultaneously right.  In any case, it can be concluded that America's religious right is on the wrong track either because it has lost it leadership or it has always been making the wrong assumptions about what made America strong.

12 November 2011

VOA's Jim Brooke on Caucasian Male Behavior in Moscow

The article is posted under Moscow News; for convenience, I have added the text below.  The text explains, at a very high-level the confluence of multiple factors that lead to bad behavior by multiple parties:
  • Repressive religious laws in the Muslim (Caucasian) portion of Russia;
  • Young men that "break free" of this repression and head to non-Muslim Russian locations, behaving badly with (at least) women in the new locations;
  • The bad behavior of the Caucasian men leading to understandable bad feelings of local Russians, but eventually leading to generalizations and hence bad behavior expressed in nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist tones.
I have witnessed similar dynamics around the world where suppressed - or simply different -  human behavior of some sort, due to religious, cultural, or legal codes, leads to apparently aberrant behavior amongst the diaspora in new lands, thereby, at a minimum, making the diaspora the butt of jokes or, in some instances, subject to violence.

This, is the unfortunate result of human psychology and social behavior patterns.  It is explainable and understandable but results are most often inexcusable.

Moscow is not a sexual Disneyland

by James Brooke at 10/11/2011 20:59

Nicole, a Moscow State Linguistics University journalism student, showed up for dinner Sunday night, a bundle of energy, ready to interview me for her thesis. I was more interested in what she had to say, so I asked if anyone had approached her on the 10 minute walk from Kievskaya metro station to the Georgian restaurant.
Although bundled up like a winter fur ball — coat, hat, scarf, mittens, boots — Nicole said she walked the usual gauntlet of leers and sexual invitations from young men from the Caucasus who hang around the metro exits. In fact, she said, it has become so common that she had not even thought about it, until I asked her specifically.
I had been pondering something very strange that I noticed Friday at the rally in Moscow of 7,000 Russian nationalists. There was a total absence of signs denouncing the United States or NATO.
Instead, the nationalists were entirely focused inward, largely on the Caucasus.
“Stop feeding the Caucasus,” seemed to be the most a popular slogan, objecting to the billions of dollars funneled south to pacify Russia’s heavily Muslim southern border region. Another was: “Stop stealing from Russian regions.” If you want to draw a nationalist crowd in Moscow this season, don’t waste your energy hyperventilating about Kosovo, missile defense, or even Georgia. Instead, appeal to the sexual politics of the city’s streets.
Margarita Simonyan, a Russian journalist of Armenian descent, is editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlinsupported television channel formerly known as Russia Today. Shielded by these impeccable establishment credentials, she broke a mainstream media taboo last week, by writing an essay that was first aired on Dozhd TV. Under the headline, “Why We Hate Each Other,” she wrote: “Last weekend, I happened to be at the Kazansky Station where I witnessed a disgusting scene: Three young men from the Caucasus were taunting female train conductors standing on the platform. ‘Hey babes, are all women in Moscow as beautiful as you are?’ they jeered. Then they joined hands and began yelling, ‘We are from the Caucasus!’”
Russians love the phrase double standard – “dvoinoi standart.” For decades, it has been directed outward, to the West.
But now, more and more Russians are directing the double standard critique inward, to their heavily Muslim South.
They object to the fact that some young men come from the Caucasus to Moscow under the impression that they have just won a ticket to a sexual Disneyland. If you just proposition 10, 20 or 50 girls on the street, the thinking goes, eventually, you will get lucky.
Earlier this year, I was down in Chechnya and its sister republic Ingushetia on reporting trips. Chechnya now lives under virtual Sharia law. Last week, a Reuters friend reported from Chechnya that security men are invading beauty salons and tearing down pictures of women modeling hairstyles. Apparently hair dressers can no longer display photos of hair styles. It sounds like Monty Python, but that is Grozny today.
Ms. Simonyan is a well-traveled, multi-lingual, 31-year-old executive, whose family roots go back to the southern Caucasus. She blames the problem on parents sending the wrong signals to their sons: “Why do some from the Caucasus behave this way in Moscow? Do they behave in the same way in their native regions? Of course not. They respect their countrymen. But they have no respect for Muscovites — or Russians in general. If those young men at the Moscow train station had dared to taunt “their own” in such a crude manner in the Caucasus, somebody certainly would have broken their jaws.”
Next month, my three sons, all American university students, will visit Moscow for the holidays with two college buddies. I will explain to all five, very clearly, in plain English, that their health insurance policies do not, in any way, cover the consequences of harassing girls on the streets of Moscow.