How Should We Live in the 'Global Village'?

An interview of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations to the 'Mir Vsem' ('Peace for Everyone') Newspaper (No 12 (24), 2004).

The passing year has become one of the most blood-shedding one in the new history of Russia. The crimes committed in this year shock everyone with their brutality and cynicism. The events in Grozny, Moscow, Beslan continue to cause bitter pain in the hearts of the Russian citizens. The problems of the motives of terrorism, its religious side, the Christian reaction to the threat of terrorism and other topical questions of today have been discussed with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

It is no secret that acts of terrorism are committed today mostly by representatives of the Islamic world. At the same time the religious leaders of Islam unanimously blame such methods of solving problems. Can we see the reason of this contradiction between theory and practice only in a vulgar understanding of Islam by terrorists or we should speak about a wider comprehension of the problems of international terrorism which touch upon other spheres of social life, not only the religious one? In other words, how significant is the religious component in international terrorism?

Extremist movements are often based on banal political or economic interests aimed at achieving power and wealth. I believe that leaders of extremist groups often pursue quite earthly goals. However, if we consider modern terrorism as a movement, which hypocritically exploits religion in its selfish interests, we shall fall into delusion, which will hamper efficient struggle against terrorism.

Religion occupies the central place in ideologies of extremist movements based on Islam, while politics and economics are considered as means of realizing a certain religious and cultural project. The most impertinent and blood-shedding acts of terror by ready-to-die terrorists would be impossible without exploiting the energy of religious convictions of people. I raise another question: why are religious convictions transformed into a destructive force? I believe, the reason is not only the unfavourable political, economic and social living conditions of a significant part of the Islamic peoples, but also the spiritual state of mind of modern people, not in the East alone.

Under conditions of globalization people become concerned with the problem of their identity. They begin to realize their attachment to their cultural and religious traditions. These processes cause joy of religious leaders, but also worry them, since many people interpret religious tradition only in terms of appearance, clothes, way of life, and verbal formulas. The historical and spiritual experience accumulated by the world religions often remains unclaimed. For example, the uncompromising position of the advocates of extremism towards the surrounding world is often taken as the uncompromising character of God's commandments, which is aimed, first and foremost, to the struggle against human sins in the name of inner spiritual development of human personality. Often, this inconsiderate zeal of people creates fertile soil for extremists. The Orthodox Church knows this phenomenon very well from her history. It resulted in heresies and schisms aggressive to their opponents. The Church knows only one medication against distorted religious experience - satisfaction of religious thirst of people from the sources of religious tradition, which have been tested by time.

According to an opinion of geopoliticians, which is quite popular in modern society, the roots of terrorism are based on the opposition between the Muslim and the Christian worlds. Is this opinion justified?

No, I cannot agree with this opinion. When Islam was just entering the life of humanity, there were really serious clashes with the surrounding civilizations, the Christian one first of all. We cannot conceal the fact that wars between Christians and Muslims were declared sacred by both sides, while those perished in these wars were proclaimed holy martyrs.

Such wars lasted for centuries. However, by the end of the 20th century both sides realized that it was impossible to convert other peoples by force and violence. This conviction is genetically recorded in the mind of both Christians and Muslims. In the present-day world there are cases when Christians and Muslims leave peacefully together. Russia shows such a model of peaceful co-existence between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority. Until recently, such relations between the Christian minority and the Muslim majority existed in Iraq. However, after explosions in Christian churches it has become difficult to speak about further peaceful co-existence between the Muslims and the Christians in this country. Nevertheless, this case proves that the cause of clashes is the involvement of political and economic interests from outside, rather than theological differences.

What should be a Christian answer to the threat of terrorism? What methods of struggle against terrorism can be both efficient and admissible?

I think that a Christian answer should include steps directed both inside and outside the Church. First and foremost, the Church should have real possibilities for educating her members, who number millions in our country. The faithful should correctly realize what is faith and what is Orthodox worldview, otherwise the threat of radical manifestations is quite possible. While doing this, the faithful expect to have reliable allies such as the state and society as a whole. Besides, Christianity gives them moral strength to survive tragedies and find correct and efficient means of opposing the enemies of the Motherland. In their activities Christians must fulfil the commandment of love to their neighbour and fearlessly protect him. At the same time, it is necessary to evaluate the adequacy of measures taken against the threats of terrorism. The Muslim population of Russia should not feel themselves second-rate citizens due to the fact that certain groups attack our country under the banner of Islam. In order to oppose extremist ideas the Muslims of Russia, as well as the Orthodox believers, should be given an adequate theological education. They should be acquainted with the thousand-year tradition, rather than with distorted Islam.

I am sure that the Russian Orthodox Church should continue to maintain good relations and keep contacts with the communities that confess traditional Islam. The Inter-Religious Council of Russia and the Inter-Religious Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have been set up for this purpose. They allow us to maintain constant dialogue on pubic matters with Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. This dialogue is held not only because of our duty to protect good-neighbourly relations, but because of common civic views of the Orthodox and the Muslims, who are eager to see our society moral and prosperous. In the face of terrorism our society should seriously contemplate the problem of its moral condition. The ideas of violence and vice should be removed from social life. I would like to emphasize that these ideas cause animosity among certain individuals and push them to extremism.

In Russia all the responsibility for opposing terrorism is traditionally laid upon the authorities. However, in the USA, for example, citizens of all its states consider it their duty to render assistance to their country, to show vigilance, etc. Probably, that was the reason why there have been no acts of terrorism after September 11, while in our country such acts follow one another. Don't you think that our compatriots lack sufficient consciousness and Christian responsibility for the life of their neighbours?

You are right. Our society lacks organization and the feeling of mutual assistance. However, people are not supposed to double the functions of the state structures, which play the main role in the field of security. It is correct, if society should co-operate with the state in this field.

Regretfully, for recent years our people have lost an ability to act as a single organism, in which each individual is interested in the prosperity of society as a whole. Many think only of their private interests. For example, it is widely known that several acts of terrorism in Russia became possible due to the negligence and irresponsibility of certain officials. It is impossible to loosen measures of control and security for the sake of personal enrichment or selfish benefit. If any individual, wherever he works: at school, shop or airport, is vigilant and incorruptible, our society will be able to reach a higher level of security.

Terrorists exploit the vices of our society and openly laugh at them. They see that militiamen or state officials are absolutely indifferent to the interests of their people, that for a certain bribe they are ready to shut eyes to a suspicious cargo in a car or to one's identification documents. If we do not change our attitude to society as a whole, that is, to our neighbours, we could be easily taken by surprise with bare hands. No armed units will be required for that.

At the session of the Executive Council of the European Organization of Religious Leaders you said that the solution of the problem of terrorism in Europe is closely connected with the creation of such system of public values, which would not create conflicts in society. In your opinion, to what extent such perspective is real?

My position was based on the clear evaluation of terrorism, which I have already expressed. Why does terrorism attract people? As far as the countries of Asia and Africa are concerned, it can be somehow explained by economic and social difficulties. But why do the same terrorist organizations, which scheme acts of terror in Europe and in other countries, are active in prosperous Europe? As is known, emigrants from various countries, including the Muslim ones, get decent material support and freedom to live their religious life in Europe. Why are certain Muslims in Europe so susceptible to the ideas of religious terrorism?

My answer is as follows: people are protesting against the norms of immorality which have been formed in the European society, against propaganda of violence and vice, wanton life, and so on. For a religious person such way of life is unacceptable. European Christians are also displeased with it. However, they got used to express their protests in a democratic way, in public discussions, by means of applying to court or joining political parties. To my mind, if Western countries do not embark upon the way of protecting public morality and do not support public role of religious communities, they will continue to create fertile soil for terrorism. The point is that terrorists exploit the protest feelings of Muslims who remonstrate against the global offensive of liberal secularism and atheism.

However, there are circles that support radical ousting of religious values from modern society and its further secularization. Moreover, they are ready to use mass media and legislation in order to make religious organizations forget their moral values and get accommodated to modern liberal standards. As an example, one can mention the ballyhoo against Rocco Buttiglone, an honest faithful, who, according to his views, stated that homosexuality was a sin. Members of the European Parliament stated that such man was not entitled to be a commissioner of the European Commission. Isn't it an attempt to introduce the ban on political posts for those who stick to their religious convictions?

However, there exists another approach in Europe. It presumes an active involvement of religious organizations in public life and preservation of their identity. Fortunately, united Europe does not reject dialogue with religious communities and create necessary grounds for it. The European Union is prepared to such dialogue and intends to develop it. This position has been expressed in the European Constitution. Article 51 of this document states the necessity to set up a mechanism of dialogue between the religions and the structures of the European Union.

The Russian Orthodox Church also supports this dialogue. In 2002 the Holy Synod took a decision to set up a Representation of the Moscow Patriarchate to the European Institutions. Today the Representation exerts its efforts to monitor the development of integration in Europe and to defend interests of Orthodoxy in the European Union.

The topic of international terrorism inevitably raises a question of globalism. Today it is, probably, one of the most disputable questions, which includes economic, political, cultural, philosophic, and religious aspects of modern life. Some people support globalism, the other actively oppose it. The forms of opposition are different: from notorious pickets against personal tax numbers (INN) to fatal explosions. What are positive and negative features of globalism in your opinion?

In your question you correctly use the word 'globalism' to identify the source of vital problems, which worry people today. We often mix the words 'globalization' and 'globalism', though their meaning is different. Experts consider globalization as an objective and ideologically neutral process of increasing economic, transport and media ties between various regions of the world. Hence there is a well-known expression 'global village'. Really, the present-day world is just a small place, and information spreads as fast as between two neighbouring houses in the same village. This is the result of the development of modern technologies.

However, how should we live in the 'global village'? How should we maintain relations between religious communities, peoples and individuals under the new conditions? Evidently, a certain set of minimum common standards of behaviour in the changed conditions is necessary. There are several opinions concerning the contents of these standards and the ways of their formation. The first opinion is based on what you call 'globalism'. As a rule, economically developed countries are proponents of this opinion. They wish to spread their economic and political success all over the world. The best choice for them would be the unification of all countries and peoples on the basis of a single civilization model. They believe that this is the only condition of prosperity and happy life in the 'global village'. To achieve this goal, a system of international organizations has been set up. Decisions taken by these organizations depend solely upon the position of the developed countries. Thus, the problem of the common code of behaviour in the modern world is to be solved by imposing the principles of the one part of humanity upon the other.

I am convinced that such policy can provoke only opposition from the peoples belonging to different civilizations. And it has already resulted in the formation of the world-wide extremist 'opposition', which promotes the ideology of world domination on the basis of the Wahabbi understanding of Islam. What can be done in this case? I suppose that the way out lies in recognizing the right of each civilization to preserve its identity, as well as the right of each civilization to participate in an open discussion and exert influence upon the shaping of a new code of behaviour in the world. Each civilization should be heard and should have a chance to contribute to the formation of a new international legal basis of relations between the countries.

It is quite evident today that the world, being in the process of development, will come to globalization. What place will the Church occupy in this new global space?

The role of the Church remains the same as it has been during the whole period of her existence. It is the preaching of the Truth of Christ and witnessing to it. The Church had experience of life and witnessing during the Mediterranean civilization, which existed in the Roman Empire, and she managed to overcome the imperial pagan globalism. The Church managed to do this with the blessing of God, endowed as an answer to prayers and faithfulness to the Truth. The defense of the Truth and the strength of Faith are the necessary conditions for maintaining the prophetic ministry of the Church. Prophecy is the proclamation of the Truth of God, which is capable to transform the world. While people respond to this Truth, the evil will not be able to ruin the human generation.

Source: DECR Communication Service: