Boris Yeltsin's funeral and
Nikita Khrushchev, who also led a failed campaign to humanise communism, provided the only exception to that rule. Although his reformist movement proved rather premature, he too was a reformer that has to stand next to Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin.
Another remarkable contrast with previous Soviet leaders was that the whole life of the country did not come to a standstill at his death, and his coffin was not carried on the shoulders of grim-faced communist leaders, lacking any warmth and sincere emotions. In the case of Yeltsin, although there was a great deal of frustration with his failed economic policies that created a dozen oligarchs and billionaires at the cost of the poverty of millions of ordinary citizens, there was a genuine sense of grief among some Russians who were happy to be free. The funeral lacked either any sense of false hero worship or strong resentment. The Russians treated their deceased leader as an ordinary citizen, attributing to him many strong points, but also many failings.
However, to me the most remarkable aspect of Yeltsin's funeral was that for the first time since 1903, the funeral of a Russian leader was held in the city's main cathedral, which had been destroyed by the communists in 1931and was rebuilt on Yeltsin's orders in the 1990s. It was very apt that he should be mourned in a cathedral that he had rebuilt, although he was not a devout Christian. The Russian Orthodox patriarchs who were proudly conducting the funeral of a Russian leader for the first time in over a century seemed to proclaim a vindication of the resurrection of Christianity after 70 years of communist rule.
Vladimir Putin, brought up under communism, looked ill at ease at the endless chanting of prayers and the burning of incense, but there he was in a rebuilt Christian cathedral paying homage to the triumph of Christianity.
One of the regular programmes on the nation-wide Russian Radio during the Soviet era celebrated the merits of "scientific atheism". The programme went out of its way to ridicule religious beliefs, describing them as pre-scientific superstitions, and celebrating the inevitable triumph of scientific atheism. The programme equally dealt with the backwardness of Christian beliefs, medieval practices, the otherworldly and anti-social views and practices of monks and nuns, as well as with the obscurantist views of Muslim clerics.
Religious clerics were described as cheats and charlatans who were uttering mumbo jumbo in order to dull the minds of their followers. On the other hand, scientific atheism had freed man from addiction to "the opium of the masses" and was moving them towards a communist utopia. Yet the communist system did not produce the promised utopia. It did not result in human happiness, freedom, enlightenment and salvation. It enslaved millions of people and sent an untold number of thinkers, writers and artists into gulags. Just like Nazism and Maoism, it was responsible for some of the most barbaric slaughters that history has ever known.
This article is not about
the merits or demerits of religion versus communism. It simply aims to point out
that with the fall of the Soviet Union there has been a religious revival in
nearly all the countries formerly ruled by
The same thing happened in
Central Asian countries and in the
Stalin contemptuously asked
how many divisions the Pope had, yet those seemingly powerless people had the
Pope John Paul II's funeral provided an amazing sign of his popularity not only among former communists, but among 'secular' Europeans. It was called the greatest funeral in history. No one could have predicted the extraordinary way in which his funeral dominated the attention of the whole world. Not only did millions of the Catholic faithful – including many young men and women – pour through St Peter’s Square, but billions watched it globally on television. Over 200 of the world’s leading statesmen, including George W Bush and two former American presidents, dropped everything to attend the Pope’s internment. Prince Charles altered his wedding date in deference to the leader of the Catholic Church.
The same was true about
Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral in
It seems that there has
been a revival of religion world-wide. Even in the
Many earlier Enlightenment
scholars must be turning in their graves at what is happening in the world.
After all, many European intellectuals had proclaimed the 'death of God' and the
end of religion. Rather like the communists, the famous nineteenth century
philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was very contemptuous of Christianity. Even more
strongly than the great British historian Edward Gibbon, the author of The
History of the Decline and Fall of the
However, maybe the reason for religion's longevity, despite all the criticisms of its detractors, lies in what Nietzsche wrote about man's worthlessness. This great enemy of God and religion had a pretty low opinion of man's life. He wrote: “How poor is man after all, how ugly, how wheezing, how full of hidden shame!” Is it not because of this hedonistic and materialistic view of man that religion seems attractive by lifting man's gaze towards the heavens, raising man above the angels and teaching about immortality and eternity?
Religion seems to provide
answers to some questions that science is incapable of answering. In the words
"Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind… It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion. The arena of these endless contests is called Metaphysic."
The contemporary world suffers from two forms of 'fundamentalisms', religious fundamentalism and secular fundamentalism. Secular fundamentalism is as dangerous and misguided as religious fundamentalism. While the West is relaxed with the resurgence of Christianity, it is very uncomfortable with the rise of Islam among the Muslims, associating Islam with the antics of the terrorists. We have conveniently forgotten that many of today's fundamentalists and terrorists were of our own creation. Their rise to power had everything to do with politics and little with religion.
At the end of 1979 Soviet
Yet, subsequently, we
learned that there was more to that invasion than meets the eye. Zbigniew
Brzesinksi, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in a 1998
interview with Le Nouvel Observateur openly admitted that the official story
Brzesinksi was asked if he
regretted this decision: "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent
idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you
want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I
wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the
After the Soviet invasion,
Brzezinski wrote to President Carter: "This will require a review of our policy
Clearly, it was 'morally
acceptable' to sacrifice millions of Afghans for the
Robert Gates, the present
defence secretary and the then director of the US Central Intelligence Agency,
wrote in a State Department report in 1979, months before the Soviets rolled
across the border to support the Taraki-Amin regime: "Beginning early in 1979,
the United States government began considering providing covert support to the
potential opposition in the mujahideen in Afghanistan and, beginning in July,
actually the president authorised the kind of support…. The
President Najibullah, the
last Afghan president before the Mujahedin came to power, made the following
prophetic statement to reporters: "If fundamentalism comes to
May be the lesson that we should learn from all this is that we should review our 'war on terror'. Trying to fight against a religion with military means is futile and only results in greater fanaticism and militancy. The present 'war on terror', far from isolating and defeating the terrorists, has isolated moderate Muslims and strengthened the extremists and the terrorists. We need to change direction.
We need the help of moderate Muslims in order to defeat Islamic extremism, but this cannot be achieved so long as we lump them all together, attack their countries and ridicule their beliefs. In the same way that moderate Christianity provides some answers to the needs of millions of Christians, moderate Islam can play the same role for Muslims. We should not fear Islam, but we should fear Islamic and secular fundamentalism.
In the words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
About the author:
Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the
... Payvand News - 4/27/07 ... --