A Lesson for Obscurantists


Garry Kasparov speaks out against critics of the punk band Pussy Riot who claim that a fit punishment for the arrested group members would be to perform in a mosque or synagogue and experience the backlash from Jewish and Muslim communities.

A Lesson for Obscurantists
By Garry Kasparov
August 16, 2012

Right now, before the announcement of the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial, we can say that this punk group’s seemingly insignificant performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior has become the most powerful political démarche in Putin’s Russia. The Kremlin’s clumsy reaction was undoubtedly brought on by the audacious attack on the sacred symbols of absolutist power. Putin’s thugs and the bigwigs in the Russian Orthodox Church are united by their common roots in the security services, and have always professed the belief that any kind of dissent needs to be nipped in the bud in the cruelest possible way.

To demonstrate the nation’s approval of our thoroughly corrupt government and of a church that shamelessly violates the Gospel, the two carried out a wide mobilization of Russian citizens who suffer, as one blogger aptly put it, from “left-hemisphere Orthodoxy.” To paraphrase a classic, the religious question has ruined even decent people (although, the apartment question worked out nicely for the Chief Inspector of Russian spiritual purity). The main ideological argument of the home-grown defenders of our age-old values to justify the inquisitional case against Pussy Riot is, oddly enough, to refer to the severity and politicization of religious institutions in other countries.

Let us try and explain how religion and politics work together in the modern world. We shall start with the United States of America, which Russia’s high leadership loves to point to when passing its own draconian laws.

America is, without a doubt, a deeply religious country. This religiosity has deep historical roots, as opposed to the newly-announced Orthodoxy zeal that has captivated a marked portion of Russian society. There is no question about religious identification on the American census form, so information about the number of different confessions is only approximate. But sociological surveys still provide a rather accurate picture of the religious preferences of Americans: 78-79% are Christian, within which 52-53% are Protestant, 23-24% are Catholic, and around 2% are Mormon; about 1.5% are other Christian confessions, including Orthodox.

The level of religiosity in the country is best of all reflected by how many people go to church on a weekly basis: the average is 41.6%, ranging from 63% in traditional bulwark of southern conservatism of Mississippi to 23% in the liberal, secular, northeastern state of Vermont.

This type of demographic spread throughout society makes priests and pastors extremely influential political players. But the American constitution, in principle, does not give preference to any particular religion. Therefore, the expression of political convictions in church is not unusual and takes place in a fully civilized way. One parish could support the Republicans, and the one next door could agitate just as strongly for the Democrats.

Although, on the whole, it is not surprising that the majority of American religious organizations are conservative. And nevertheless, even with the high level of politicization in many Christian communities, religious confession has virtually no effect on the preferences of the average voter. Among the two pairs of Republicans and Democrats fighting for the presidency this year, only one was a Protestant – Barack Obama. And many Americans doubt his Protestant roots. Mitt Romney, as is well-known, is a Mormon, and Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are both Catholics. This is the first time in history that the election included no representatives of the white Anglo-Saxton Protestants who laid down the foundations of American society four centuries ago.

The US Supreme Court, as opposed to Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin’s “What would you like?” policy, is the highest judicial body in the country, and all of its verdicts are binding. The contested 2000 presidential election, for instance, was resolved by the Supreme Court. And just how many Protestants are there today in this highest of judicial bodies, standing watch over American law? The answer will stupefy you: not a single one! There are six Catholics and three Jews. And somehow not a single American sees this as an attack on traditional values.

But the representatives Russia’s population of sputtering low-lifes gets particularly excited when they try to imagine what kind of retribution Pussy Riot would face if they performed in a synagogue or a mosque.

However, you will not find agreement on political issues in different synagogues throughout the world, and in Israel itself it is impossible to imagine the main rabbi publicly supporting one political force or another. This is different than the main rabbi or the main mufti in Russia, who both play second violin in Patriarch Kirill’s orchestra.

Conversely, in the Islamic world, religion has long been a dominant political factor. Virtually across the board, imams and mullahs determine the attitude of their flock, and in some countries even stand at the helm of state power. The battle for influence between representatives of different types of Islam often takes the most radical forms. And mosques have ceased to be simply sacred houses of prayer. They have turned into arenas for political battle where religious fanatics often settle their scores with one another.

These local versions of Pussy Riot, who choose mosques as their place to express political protest, are typically anonymous. And after their loud performances, nobody present ever files lawsuits about moral damages. Because it is not microphones or musical instruments that they carry under their hijabs into the mosque, but belts strapped with explosives…

Translation by Kasparov.com.


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