Last Word: Spontaneous Tolerance

Where Familiarity Breeds Respect

On a late December afternoon in central Kathmandu, children fresh from the confinement of classrooms play in a courtyard, called a chowk in Nepalese. The girls have strung rubber bands together to play an elaborate version of cat’s cradle. The surrounding buildings resonate with the sound of their giggling. The boys furiously kick a soccer ball between improvised goal markers, one of which is a small Buddhist shrine that stands in a corner of the chowk. Their shouts punctuate the girls’ laughter.

These are ordinary children playing after an ordinary day at school, but this is no ordinary chowk. Dominating it is a four-sided mound called Kathesimbhu Stupa, which is a sacred site for Buddhist pilgrims. They walk around it clockwise in representation of life’s circular nature. Most of the children probably know little about this, since Nepal is about 80 percent Hindu. But a few of the children are probably Buddhist. Does it matter? Not here, and not in most of Nepal. In fact, they may still know nothing of the sectarian conflicts that have torn the social fabric of countries all around them. To the south, animosity between Muslims and Hindus continues to fuel a deadly and futile cycle of violence...

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About the Author

Christopher Thornton teaches at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.