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Trolleys come to Terror

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a western koan makes it onto German TV? ]

What Hala Jaber calls a supermarket trolley in this tweet is not what this post is about — but it sure does connect trolley and terror!


Here’s the terror side of things, in a tweet from John Horgan:

The BBC halls it an “interactive courtroom drama interactive courtroom drama centred on a fictional act of terror” and notes:

The public was asked to judge whether a military pilot who downs a hijacked passenger jet due to be crashed into a football stadium is guilty of murder.

Viewers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria gave their verdict online or by phone. The programme was also aired in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The vast majority called for the pilot, Lars Koch, to be acquitted.

Here’s the setup:

In the fictional plot, militants from an al-Qaeda offshoot hijack a Lufthansa Airbus A320 with 164 people on board and aim to crash it into a stadium packed with 70,000 people during a football match between Germany and England.

“If I don’t shoot, tens of thousands will die,” German air force Major Lars Koch says as he flouts the orders of his superiors and takes aim at an engine of the plane.

The jet crashes into a field, killing everyone on board.

So, is the pilot guilty, or not guilty?


At the very least, he has our sympathy — but how does that play out in legal proceedings?

What’s so fascinating here is the pilot’s dilemma, which resembles nothing so much as a zen koan.

Except for the Trolley Problem:

Image from Wikimedia by McGeddon under license CC-BY-SA-4.0


Substitute an Airbus for the trolley, 164 people for the lone individual on the trolley line, and 70,000 people for the cluster of five — and the pilot for the guy who can make a decision and switch the tracks.

There you have it: terror plot and trolley problem running in parallel.

To be honest, I think the full hour-plus movie is far more immersive, to use a term from game design, than the Trolley Problem stated verbally as a problem in logic — meaning that the viewer is in some sense projected, catapulted into the fighter-pilot’s hot seat — in his cockpit, facing a high speed, high risk emergency, and in court, on trial for murder.

It’s my guess that more people would vote for the deaths of 164 under this scenario than for the death of one in the case of the trolley — but that’s a guess.


The German film scenario — adapted from a play by Ferdinand von Schirach — is indeed a courtroom drama, a “case” in the sense of “case law”. And it’s suggestive that koans, too, are considered “cases” in a similar vein. Here, for instance, is a classic definition of koans :

Kung-an may be compared to the case records of the public law court. Kung, or “public”, is the single track followed by all sages and worthy men alike, the highest principle which serves as a road for the whole world. An, or “records”, are the orthodox writings which record what the sages and worthy men regard as principles [..]

This principle accords with the spiritual source, tallies with the mysterious meaning, destroys birth-and-death, and transcends the passions. It cannot be understood by logic; it cannot be transmitted in words; it cannot be explained in writing; it cannot be measured by reason. It is like a poisoned drum that kills all who hear it, or like a great fire that consumes all who come near it. [..]

The so-called venerable masters of Zen are the chief officials of the public law courts of the monastic community, as it were, and their collections of sayings are the case records of points that have been vigorously advocated.


Relevant texts:

  • John Daido Loori, Sitting with Koans
  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye
  • Brutal Times 01

    Friday, September 30th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — “You’re not haunted by the war, Dr Watson. You miss it.” Yes, this will be a series. ]



    Part of what’s interesting about the upper image above, the one of a woman (presumably) wearing a burqa and holding a gun, is the number of times it has been used by the Daily Mirror — in articles on such topics as:

    ISIS bans the BURKA after ‘veiled female assassin’ kills two terrorist commanders in Iraq
    Desperate ISIS commanders now sending female fighters to die in combat
    See US army taunt ISIS with special message in footage of coalition airstrike
    Hundreds of ISIS brides sent for COMBAT TRAINING in Libya after being ‘promoted’ from role as wives

    The legend under that last one reads “ISIS is using hundreds of women on the frontline in Libya” — which might lead one to believe the photo was taken there, in Libya. Why, then, would it also be applicable to two pieces about ISIS in Iraq?

    That image is a glorious stimulus for hatred, though, which seems to mean it bears frequent repetition. And guess what, it might have been shot with a model, a male model for that matter, in Brixton, not Libya or Afghanistan (where blue burqas are common) or Iraq…


    Um Hanadi (the cook, whom you’ll notice, lower image above, does not wear a burqa) is on Facebook, CNN reports:

    After listing all the attacks against her, and all the loved ones lost to ISIS, Um Hanadi said: “I fought them. I beheaded them. I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies.”

    She made no excuses, nor attempted to rationalize this. It was delivered as a boast, not a confession.

    “This is all documented,” she said. “You can see it on my Facebook page.”

    So we checked. Among many pictures of her with her dead husbands, fighters and generals, there was a photo of her in the same black combat fatigues and headscarf holding what appeared to be a freshly severed head. Another showed two severed heads in a cooking pot. In a third photograph, she is standing among partially-burned corpses. It’s impossible to verify whether the photos are authentic or Photoshopped, but we got the point.

    Two questions for moralists / ethicists:

  • Is a woman killing ISIS militants morally or ethically any different from a man doing so?
  • Is a woman who cooks the heads of her and our deceased enemies a desirable ally?
  • **

    Hey, that Express piece about the “veiled female assassin” who killed two ISIS militants even gets to offer you this tasty view, with the accomnpanying legend “A woman wears a veil, which is now being banned in parts of northern Iraq”:


    Now, is that hot, or what?



  • Iraqi News, Veiled woman kills 2 ISIS militants in Mosul
  • CNN, The Iraqi housewife who ‘cooked the heads’ of ISIS fighters
  • Strange empathy

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — is empathy really so very strange these days? ]

    When I saw this in one of my feeds this morning ..

    strange empathy at Qaddafi death

    I was strongly reminded of a remark I’ve mentioned before, found in the Talmud, Megillah 10b.

    R. Johanan is responding to the question “does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked” and his response references the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea — “For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them” (Exodus 15.19) — as they pursued the people of Israel escaping on their way to the promised land:

    The angels of heaven wanted to sing the usual song, and the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing songs!

    I have, of course, cherry-picked this particular comment from 6,200 complex pages of Talmud, and while I’m not competent (British understatement) to offer you a rich context for this remark, I can at least offer you R. Elazar’s response:

    He Himself does not rejoice, but He makes others rejoice.

    Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles

    Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — is this the foolishness of men, or of God? ]


    Icon by Coptic artist Tony Rezk. The martyrs’ faces are the faces of Christ.


    In a CNN piece titled Coptic Christian bishop: I forgive ISIS, Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, had this to say:

    Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?

    A: Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

    Striking though that is, you might think it’s easier for a Church official to say such things in a pastoral context than it is for someone more closely involved.


    As described in a Christian Today article, a Young Iraqi girl says she hopes God will forgive ISIS — the article links to a shorter version of this video:

    She’s a child, though, and children are inocent in a way that may not survive so easily into adulthood…


    But then there’s a second Christian Today article, titled Brother of slain Coptic Christians thanks ISIS for including their words of faith in murder video. Here we have close family members of those who died, expressing the same grief, the same forgivess, the same assurance, in a second video:


    In yet a third article discussing both videos, Videos showing Christians forgiving Islamic State spread through Middle East, we read:

    Beshir Kamel, from the home village of 13 of the 21 Egyptians whom the Coptic Orthodox Church has now recognised as martyrs, prayed that God would “open the eyes” of their killers to be “saved”. Myriam, from Qaraqosh in Iraq, said “God loves everybody” including IS members, but “he wouldn’t let IS kill us”. Sitting in a half-built shopping mall which had become her family’s temporary home, she ended her interview by singing a song of joy about being made complete in Jesus to a tune her mother had written.

    Samir said: “These clips provide a counter-shock to the horrifying videos of killings that people receive on mainstream media and to their effect on viewers. Myriam’s and Beshir’s calls are a form of resistance through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the core of the Christian message and the core of the message of SAT-7 at a time when mainstream media avoids reporting on Christians.”

    This is distinctly not tit-for-tat, even at close quarters.


    I would like to close with this truly remarkable sermon, given by that same Bishop Angelaos, which sets the forgiveness we have seen above, in the context of theology, humility and witness:

    Contextualizing the beheading of Coptic Christians in Libya

    Monday, February 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in real estate it’s location, location, location — in thought space it’s context, context, context ]

    Timothy Furnish offers us context for the newly released video of Islamic State beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians (screencap in upper panel, below) with two striking images of precedents, one of which I have reproduced in part (lower panel), illustrating how the Ottomans beheaded tens of thousands of Georgian Christians:

    SPEC DQ christians beheaded

    Furnish’s post is titled ISIS Beheadings: Hotwiring the Apocalypse One Christian Martyr At A Time.


    I am saddened to say that this is indeed part of the history of Islamic relations with Christianity.

    I am happy to add, however, that it is not the whole story. In the upper panel, below, you see Muslim and Christian at a very different form of battle, as found in the Book of Games, Chess, dice and boards, 1282, in the library of the monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial:

    SPEC DQ chess and krishna

    Religious tolerance in Islam is illustrated as found today in India, in this picture of a Muslim mother in full niqab taking her son, dressed as the Hindu deity Krishna, to a festival — very probably the Janmashtami or birthday celebration of the child-god (lower panel, above).


    It will be interesting to see how President Sisi repsonds to this murderous IS attack on Egyptian citizens.

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