Too often countries that have gained independence from either colonial governments, or have simply broken away from a much larger country (as was the case of Kazakhstan declaring independence from Russia in 1991), find themselves with internal problems of their own, as various ethnic groups formerly repressed seek to assert themselves. These ethnic revival movements have a distinctly religious overtone, especially in the case of the many huge chunks of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. It seems that once the repression of religion enforced by the communists disappeared, the governments of these newly-independent countries discovered that religion would be a valuable method of reintegrating their people and helping them rediscover their nationality. However, with their new-found embrace of democratic principles (including freedom of religion), some alien and subversive elements have also crept in, perfectly aware that their efforts are apt to be viewed as hostile attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of a foreign nation.
Kazakhstan is a prime example, since most of its people are Muslims and like many of its neighbors in the Middle East, it possesses vast petroleum-based natural resources. What distinguishes this country is its desire to embrace Western values: it is not for nothing that Kazakhstan will be the 2010 Chair for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. This is a great victory for a country whose highly educated people were targeted by Stalin in the 1930’s in an effort to suppress Kazakh identity and culture. Needless to say, promoting higher education of both men and women is part of the democratic process, despite the accompanying resurgence of interest in religion as an ethnic unifier of its people. Advancing the education of women is particularly important for the future of its people, particularly in areas where it was once deemed unfit. Freeing women from the ignorant and self-serving opportunism of the men in their families and communities is a continuing saga in much of the developing world.
It was therefore quite surprising to me to read about the brouhaha over the April 2006 incident in Kazakhstan in which a small Hare Krishna (ISKCON) community claimed that their property was confiscated due to their being a “nontraditional religious community.” As far as I can tell, the group failed to obtain the necessary housing permits and that was all. Moreover, if a Hindu temple had been established to accommodate the small community of non-resident Indians living in Kazakhstan, it is doubtful that any trouble would have erupted at all. It is also obvious that most Muslim-majority countries take a dim view of the practices of other religions in their borders, but here the case is entirely different: the Hare Krishna movement is actively seeking converts to its version of Hinduism from the people of Kazakhstan. Imagine if this were the case in India itself, where Muslims and Indians have lived side by side, even after the partition of India into Hindustan and Pakistan. It is simply a well-established fact that Hindus do not seek converts from non-Indians, despite the Western embrace of Yoga or meditation. Moreover, as the many highly educated Indians--both men and women--have shown, their religious identity as Hindus has not impeded their remarkable aptitude and advancement in the sciences. The problem with the ISKCON cult is that its core beliefs include the notion that the Vedas are a compendium of all of the knowledge necessary for human advancement, including the ridiculous notion that its so-called knowledge base is "scientific." In addition, it seeks to re-establish the caste system, which is a curse Hindus are battling to this day. In sum, if the government of Kazakhstan is concerned about a cult operating in their midst that embraces the idea that women are half as intelligent as men and are nine times as lustful, and advocates their marriage at age 14, who can blame them? I wonder what they would think if they knew that the children in this cult, instead of learning the basics of geography and science, are taught that man never went to the moon and that the earth is a disk supported by four elephants in space? Impossible? Amazing? Insupportibly funny? No, don't doubt any of it: it's all the truth. No wonder extremists are drawn to such cult and fringe groups: instead of living in reality, the inquisitive and misguided become the pawns of people who try to make them something they are not and ruin their chances for advancing as the rational creatures--both men and women--that God created them to be. Enlightenment cannot consist of the embrace of delusive and irrational beliefs. See my website in a few days for a primer I will be writing that should be given to all ISKCON newcomers as a summary statement of their core beliefs.
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