The religious situation in Ukraine is entering upon a critical stage. The situation is a three-vectored issue that involves Constantinople, Moscow, and Kyiv. The Russian Orthodox Church has always been a tool in the hands of the tsars, the commissars, and the new bare-chested star of the Kremlin. After the fall of the USSR and the ideological vacuum that this created in Russia, the Church was again pulled into an intimate relationship with the Kremlin, especially under Vladimir Putin, to offer a conservative and nationalist vision known as “the Russian world”.
Russia failed to anticipate that its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 would cost it one of its most powerful levers of influence over its neighbor: the formal authority of the Russian Orthodox Church over its Ukrainian counterpart. But it has done so, and that unintended consequence could lead to others: a decline in Russian influence within the Eastern Orthodox world, a deeper division in the Orthodox community—and even perhaps the largest schism in Christianity since 1054. The international community has a key role in determining how this unfolds and must act to ensure the worst scenarios don’t come to pass.
For now, Malaysians still lack the imagination of what sort of multi-cultural or multi-religious society Malaysia will be. The absence of such a social vision contributes in large to a rather thin common ground or common culture that could serve to bring the different ethnic, religious and regional groups together. Although efforts have been made to define a narrative that would serve as a common social vision for Malaysia in terms of religious harmony and ethnic integration, details are still somewhat sketchy for an ideal. This state of affairs impinges very much on freedom of religion and belief and its place within the national polity.
In the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain resides a centuries-old tradition of religious coexistence that might help fast-track a new paradigm of respect for the “other” in a deeply troubled region.
How would religious freedom decrease transnational terrorism, thereby decreasing the need for counterterrorism coordination? The answer, I believe, lies in a nation’s level of authoritarianism. Put another way, with more democracy will come more open theological debates on sensitive public policy issues and less resort to violence to address grievances. In turn, terrorist groups will find it more difficult to manipulate religious doctrine to persuade recruits their cause is just and sanctioned by God.
A free marketplace of religious ideology will provide the political space needed for religious scholars to openly challenge on the merits Al Qaeda, ISIS, or their progeny’s twisted interpretations of Islam.