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Tolerance by Accident, Trust by Design

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  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    India does have a history of tragic waves of religious violence. But it also possesses centuries-old traditions of tolerance as well; its communities provide a haven for many groups fleeing religious persecution elsewhere, including Jewish, Parsi, and Muslim communities. Even within a single state, like the rich coastal state of Gujarat, this contradiction was apparent. Despite witnessing appalling religious violence in 2002, Gujarat was also the homeland of Gandhi and was a region with storied traditions of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence.

    I wanted to understand when and why some Indian communities developed “good” rules—institutions that support long histories of tolerance—and why others remained powder kegs for violence.


    So, where do institutions of tolerance emerge? Combining the historical accounts, the fieldwork, and the data, it became clear that such institutions develop in very specific places, where two conditions were satisfied. First, Hindus and Muslims needed to have incentives to work together: for example, engaging in business relationships that complemented each other, rather than competed against one another. Second, this complementarity had to be robust: it had to be difficult for one group to replicate or simply steal the source of the others’ complementarity.

    One important set of examples of these were ports—like Mahatma Gandhi’s own hometown, Porbandar—that had traded to the distant Middle East during the medieval period. For one month a year, for close to a thousand years, Mecca had been one of the largest markets in the world during the Hajj—and one had to be Muslim to go to Mecca. This gave Muslims in ports—in India, but also on the African coasts, the Malay peninsula, and beyond—a strong advantage in overseas trade and shipping. And, yet, this advantage nonetheless benefited the communities they connected by sail.


    Ports emerged at natural harbors along India’s medieval coasts to accommodate these trading relationships. These ports also witnessed not just the emergence of rules but also beliefs and organizations that supported trade, inter-group trust, and religious tolerance. So much so, that even three centuries later—after Muslim trade advantages had ended due to European colonial interventions, and many of the ports themselves had silted up and become inaccessible to trade—this legacy of beliefs, norms, and organizations continued to shape the way people interacted with one another. The institutions of peace and tolerance outlived the economic incentives that had once sustained them.


    These patterns were reflected in the data. Despite being, on average, somewhat poorer and more religiously mixed, I found that erstwhile medieval ports had five times fewer religious riots than otherwise similar towns through the colonial era, and were “oases of peace,” even during the widespread rioting in Gujarat in 2002.

    Further, even into the 21st century, the Hindu-Muslim wealth gap was smaller in these port towns than elsewhere. And, even though they were more religiously engaged, Muslims in these towns were also more likely to vaccinate their sons against polio. This was an important measure of societal trust, since then, like now, vaccination was viewed with fear by many.