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Downward Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a thoroughly impertinent riff on that saying of von Moltke ]

Hw many places could this sentence be applied to?

But the latest attacks, which appear to have been several months in the preparation, threaten to draw the entire population into a downward spiral of deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns by the security forces and toxic relations between local communities and the authorities.

It happens to come from an article about the Rohingya, Richard Horsey‘s Reality bites for Aung San Suu Kyi amid surging violence from the Nikkei Asian Review.

But how many other places might such a sentence apply to?

I ask this because we tend to focus on certain words in a sentence like this: attacks, preparation, threat, population, deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns, security forces, local communities, the authorities. Those are the forces in play, if you will. But their play follows the rules of a certain game, and that game is also named in the sentence.

Its name is downward spiral.


vatican-spiralSpiral staircase, the Vatican, Rome


What I want to suggests that we might learn a great deal if we shifted our attention from attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest, and thought about spiral.

Spiral is the form that the attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest — here and in those other places — takes, and as such it’s an archetype that underlies them, not just among the Rohingya, their Buddhist compatriots and Aung San Suu Kyi, but across the globe and through time itself.

Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?


If, as I suppose, von Moltke can be translated as saying, “no operating concept survives contact,” it would seem we may need to conceptualize contact, ie the complexity of relations, rather than operations, which are far more focused on us — how we “will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars” — than on conflict and wars, both of which are minimally two-party affairs.

And I’m not trying to say anything so terribly new here, just to give fresh phrasing to Paul Van Riper‘s comment:

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.


sintra-castle-spiral-credit-joe-daniel-price-740x492Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal, credit Joe Daniel Price


The sentence immediately preceding the one from the Nikkei Asia article I quoted above will hopefully illuminate hope in a pretty desperate situation:

The majority of this community and its religious leaders continue to eschew violence.


Image sources:

  • Both spiral images from the Top 10 Spiral Architecture page
  • How Buddhism gets around in Burma these days

    Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Aung San Suu Kyi and U Thein Sein dance a quick pas de deux, but what comes next? ]


    Bear in mind, though:


    It will be instructive to see whether Aung San Suu Kyi, now that the elexctions are over and her power secxured, will at last begin to show signs of Buddhist abhorrance at the way her fellow Buddhists in Myanmar are treating the Rohingya minority. Here’s the gist of Peter Popham‘s recent exploration of that question:

    Plenty of Burmese Buddhists are extremely prejudiced against Muslims. But is Aung San Suu Kyi? [ .. ]

    It is true that she has never made a clear statement in support of the Rohingya, the persecuted Muslims of western Burma, tens of thousands of whom are stateless, homeless and without rights thanks to official Burmese government policy. She has lamented the violence in Arakan state but has refused to endorse the judgements of organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which have blamed Arakan’s Buddhists for the persecution of the Muslims. [ .. ]

    Suu Kyi has been struggling to attain power in Burma for the past 28 years. She is vastly popular with her fellow countrymen, more than 90 per cent of whom are Buddhists, like her. But her enemies in the military regime have never stopped trying to blacken her name. Their favourite method was to say that she wasn’t properly Burmese because she had been married to an Englishman, had lived in the West for many years and produced two foreign sons. And by depicting her as foreign, they tried to lump her together with the Muslim minority who are also regarded by many Burmese Buddhists as aliens with no right to remain in the country.

    My hunch is that Suu Kyi feared that if she spoke up for the Rohingya, it would make it easy for her enemies to repeat this argument – and if the Burmese masses fell for it, that could erode her standing and her chances of coming to power. So she has been sitting uncomfortably on the fence for the past five years. [ .. ]

    Now she is coming to power with a solid parliamentary majority, perhaps she can relax and tell us what she really thinks.


    Buddhism and Islam: please note disclaimers

    Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — on monk Wirathu, also the trickiness of images-with-quotes on social media ]

    SPEC Wirathu

    The quote from Wirathu (upper panel, above) is a direct quote from a NYT interview with him:

    You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims.

    The image was posted on a FaceBook page which is either his or named for him, but appears to have been taken from a National Geographic contest. The photographer’s note reads:

    At the annual Ananda Harvest Festival in Bagan, Myanmar, thousands of monks from all over Myanmar came to receive alms. While walking around the vast temple grounds, I chanced upon this boy monk who was playing with his toy gun. Even though it was only a toy gun, I found this image a disturbing juxtaposition of the peace that Buddhism embodies and the violence that guns symbolise.

    So the gun is a toy gun, and the monk a boy monk, not Wirathu.

    FWIW, I searched for “wirathu hoax” and didn’t find this image listed, but did find a hoax photo attributed to a Wirathu FB page: Fake image being circulated by monk Wirathu to incite anti-Muslim violence in Burma (Warning: Graphic Content).

    Figuring out what’s genuine, what’s propaganda. and what’s fake or a hoax is getting harder and harder these days, and we need more and more skeptical spectacles when taking in both texts and images.

    The text from the Parajika (lower panel, above) is genuine.


    Edited to add:

    Lion’s Roard, the Buddhist site, had a great piece which intro’d me to the Wirathu quote with image, Facebook using Buddhist tools to fight hate speech in Burma. Extract:

    As Burma is emerging from fifty years of military dictatorship, its citizens are thronging to social media, particularly Facebook, and anti-Muslim extremists are too. Facebook is addressing the problem of Buddhist anti-Muslim activists promoting violence on Facebook with a new set of features.

    When Facebook users flag content they “don’t like,” a box pops up asking “Why don’t you want to see this?” The user can select options like “it’s annoying” or “it promotes violence.” In Burma, Facebook now also includes the options “it’s a rumor or has false information,” and “it disturbs social harmony.” According to readwrite.com, the second option was chosen specifically for its resonance with Buddhist precepts.

    “We wouldn’t normally use this language in the U.S.,” Said Kelly Winters, whose Facebook’s title is “Product Manager for Compassion.” Facebook employs language that resonates with the local market, which, in Burma’s case, is largely Buddhist-influenced.

    Comparative safety: NSA and Burma

    Thursday, December 18th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — clear proof that blasphemy is more provocative than ironic protest ]

    It is apparently safer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation to put headphones on the US bald eagle as featured in the seal of the National Security Agency

    SPEC DQ Buddha earphones

    … than it is for a Kiwi bar-keeper to put headphones on the Buddha while advertising an event at his bar in Rangoon, Burma.

    A little something to chew on.


    It seems plausible that the Buddha, had he wished to wear headphones, would have chosen the noise-canceling kind.

    Myanmar: the Rohingya and the Buddhists

    Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — one person’s shrine is another person’s ex-shrine ]

    I was struck by this sentence in a blog post on Myanmar today:

    As for the Muslims, they have been force-converted, their places of worship, as in the case of mosques, transformed into Buddhist temples, and they have been attacked during their religious festivities.

    Buddhists? Just like the rest of us? Okay…



    You know how some Muslims must feel when they see a Christian cathedral sprouting right out of the heart of their beautiful Mezquita mosque in Cordoba (above)? Or some Christians, when they see the huge Islamic decals hanging in what was once the great cathedral of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia (below) — now a museum?



    I believe we’re all pretty happy that Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer under house arrest, but even she hasn’t felt at easy commenting on the Rohingya / Muslims in her native Myanmar:

    The issue of the Rohingya is so delicate that even Myanmar’s leading defender of human rights and democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been oblique and evasive about the situation. Asked at a news conference on Thursday whether the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar should be given citizenship, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was equivocal. “We have to be very clear about what the laws of citizenship are and who are entitled to them,” she said in Geneva, which she was visiting as part of a European tour. “All those who are entitled to citizenship should be treated as full citizens deserving all the rights that must be given to them.”

    Since I doubt I could ever be as brave as she has been already, I can’t complain… but maybe, all the same, wish?


    To backtrack a little, here’s the full paragraph from which that first quote was taken. It’s a two-fisted paragraph, a mind-blower:

    To provide another case of discrimination and persecution of minorities and non-Buddhists, probably even less known than the Rohingya, I can mention the Christians amongst the Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin ethnic groups. As for the Muslims, they have been force-converted, their places of worship, as in the case of mosques, transformed into Buddhist temples, and they have been attacked during their religious festivities.

    Unless, of course, your mind is already blown. Which, given the complexities of the world around us, it probably should be by now.

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