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Christian cannibal: first the horror, then the meditation

Friday, January 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — you may not want to watch the video – read the text first, okay? ]
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Here’s what the BBC-wallah said:

The Christians were victims; now they’re on top. It’s a dangerous time to be Muslim. A charred and dismembered body is dragged through the streets. Christians have just killed a Muslim passerby. Ouandja “Mad Dog” Magloire was at the head of the mob. He was in a blind fury that day. Muslims killed his pregnant wife, his sister in law, her baby, he tells me. They broke down the door and cut the baby in half. I promised I’d get my revenge. Revenge was an act of cannibalism. First, he stabbed j\his victim. You are Muslim, Muslim, Muslim, he said. I poured petrol over him, I burned him, I ate his leg, right down to the white bone. The victim was just passing through on a bus. Most Christians are horrified, but resigned. No-one tried to help him, say these eyewitnesses. Everyone is so angry with these Muslims. No way anyone was going to intervene.

This happened at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the streets were crowded with people, just like you see today. Everyone we’ve spoken to is still at a loss to know what to make of it. Was it the act of a madman, was it somebody who’d been pushed by sectarian hatred, was it explained perhaps, by traditional beliefs in magic and sorcery. These fighters are Christians but they also believe in magic. their amulets contain soil from their ancestors’ graves. Some carry the flesh of enemies they’ve killed. These charms are a delicate subject, not often discussed with outsiders. We are bullet-proof, says the commander. Mad Dog Magloire went further. perhaps his crime resulted from his own demons, but to some Christians he’s a hero. That doesn’t bode well for this country’s future.

If you want to watch him say it, it’s powerful. Here you go:

Okay, now for the meditation: I want to rescue something out of all this horror.

**

The very first thing I want to note is this:

We are bullet-proof, says the commander.

I’ve run across this before, it’s a common motif. Remember the Lakota Ghost Dance shirts? Johnny and Luther Htoo, the cigar-smoking twins who led God’s Army in Myanmar…? Televangelist Wilde Almeda of the Jesus Miracle Crusade in the Philippines?

This is just to say that in my view, religion with spiritual bullet-proofing is different from religion without it, no matter what name you tag the religion with.

**

Next up:

Most Christians are horrified, but resigned. … perhaps his crime resulted from his own demons, but to some Christians he’s a hero.

It could be tribal. It could be magical, maybe. It could be religious, specifically Christian. It could be Mad Dog Magloire‘s “own demons”. It could be, and surely was, that he saw his pregnant wife slaughtered before his own eyes.

But he projected his thirst for vengeance not on the man — a Muslim — who had butchered them, but on a guy in a passing bus who looked like he was Muslim.

**

Some weeks back, Commander Abu Sakkar of the Farouq Brigades in Syria ate what he took to be the heart of one of his enemies. It turned out to be his enemy’s lung.

  • If you think Mad Dog Magloire doesn’t represent Christianity, maybe Abu Sakkar doesn’t represent Islam.
  • If you think Abu Sakkar is representative of Islam, maybe Magloire is representative of Christianity.
  • I think it is fair to say that any religions with in excess of a billion adherents will find the odd cannibal among them in time of war.

    **

    But then consider this, in peacetime:

    In Ireland this week, a man confessed he’d murdered his landlord over a chess game, and eaten his heart. Forensics showed it was a lung that was missing

    **

    We are, after all, human.

    Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra

    Sunday, October 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a Buddhist instance of the widespread use of sacred texts as offering sanction for religious violence, with Muslims depicted as the enemy on this occasion ]
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    Three dimensional Kalachakra mandala by Arjia Rinpoche, photo credit kalachakranet.org

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    I have commented a couple of times on texts from the Kalachakra Tantra literature about a future war between Buddhism and Islam, first in In a time of Religious Arousal and later more fully in Apocalypse Not Yet? — and today I ran across a reference to the same texts on the web page of the 969 movement in Myanmar.

    969 is the monk-led Buddhist movement which has been rioting recently against the Rohingya Muslims, and the monks concerned are Therevadins. The Kalachakra Tantra is the empowerment HH the Dalai Lama gives in the cause of peace, and the tantras are Vajrayana teachings. I think this para from the current Wikipedia article on Buddhism gives the relevant distinctions in a non-contentious form:

    Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.). Mahayana is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc.) and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). In some classifications, Vajrayana — practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia — is recognized as a third branch, while others classify it as a part of Mahayana.

    I won’t go into the theological, philosophical and ritual differences, which are considerable, complex — and somewhat contested.

    **

    To refresh your memory of the relevant details regarding the Kalachakra’s treatment of “holy war”, here are my key paragraphs on the topic from Apocalypse Not Yet?:

    Alexander Berzin has been tutored by HH the Dalai Lama and HHDLs own tutors on the interpretation of the Kalachakra Tantra, and served for some years as HHDL’s translator when HHDL was giving the Kalachakra initiation: indeed his book on the Kalachakra initiation carries a Foreword by HHDL.  His writings are thus among the most scholarly and trustworthy available in the western world on the topic of the initiation which the Dalai Lama will impart for world peace again this July.

    Berzin’s words introducing the topic of Holy Wars in relation to the Kalachakra, Buddhism and Islam, are therefore important:

    Often, when people think of the Muslim concept of jihad or holy war, they associate with it the negative connotation of a self-righteous campaign of vengeful destruction in the name of God to convert others by force. They may acknowledge that Christianity had an equivalent with the Crusades, but do not usually view Buddhism as having anything similar. After all, they say, Buddhism is a religion of peace and does not have the technical term holy war.

    A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, however, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” An unbiased study of Islam reveals the same. In both religions, leaders may exploit the external dimensions of holy war for political, economic, or personal gain, by using it to rouse their troops to battle. Historical examples regarding Islam are well known; but one must not be rosy-eyed about Buddhism and think that it has been immune to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, in both religions, the main emphasis is on the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways.

    Specifically, he writes:

    In The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, Manjushri Yashas explains that the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war, since the real battle is within the body. The fifteenth-century CE Gelug commentator Kaydrubjey elaborates that Manjushri Yashas’s words do not suggest an actual campaign to kill the followers of the non-Indic religion. The First Kalki’s intention in describing the details of the war was to provide a metaphor for the inner battle…

    **

    That, then, is the context — “the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war” but a metaphorical one. Here, by contrast, is the interpretation given to the same text by the 969 movement in an article titled Kalachakra Tantra and 969, posted on their website two months ago (Sept 1st, 2013):

    The Kalachakra is a Tibetan Buddhist doctrine on the cycles of time. In addition to being a text, meditation practice, and initiation ritual, Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam.

    Beginning in 712AD and continuing through 1030AD, India was subject to massive annual invasions from Muslims who eventually conquered and destroyed much of the cultural heritage of India. In a final desperate act to annihilate Buddhism, in 1193, Nalanda University which was home to the greatest center of learnings in the East was destroyed, with thousands of monks beheaded. The destruction of the temples, monasteries, centres of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy. Much of what modern scholarship of Buddhist studies puzzles over today was contained in the manuscripts and minds of those who were lost during this calamity. However as the Kalachakra Tantra shows, the war between Dhamma and Islam is not over, nor is it. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.

    The Dalai Lama has stated that the public exposition of this tantra is necessary in the current degenerate age. The initiation may be received simply as a blessing for the majority of those attending, however, many of the more qualified attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.

    In a phrase, “Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam”.

    That’s the opening of the article, clearly identifying the Kalachakra as a text about Buddhism vs Islam. There follows a curious incomplete sentence:

    We must be diligent in reminding the

    I’d love to know what the author wanted to remind us of, and what the rest of that paragraph — or group of paras? — had to say about the Kalachakra, but the rest of the text as printed is no longer talking about warfare, but explaining some basic notions in Buddhism:

    It is important to notice what Alexander Berzin wrote how “Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Collective karmic potentials from previous actions of a huge number of beings – including ourselves – give rise, for example, to the impulse for a universe to evolve with specific environments and life forms into which we and these beings subsequently take rebirth.” Collective karma can be seen as the actions that have generated us in our present bodies, from the decisions of our parents, ancestors, and peers that gives us the appearance of our lives (Janaka kamma or the kamma that determines birth). We are all recipients of karma beyond our control. Put in another way, our DNA contains a vast storehouse of kamma.

    This sad state of affairs is where the Kalachakra initiation takes its cue. By harnessing ritual and intention, the Kalachakra initiation at its highest level bestows a daily practice for awakening that an army of practioners around the world are also engaging in. This collective kamma has the subtle effect of making the conditions of purifying bad kamma’s and unwholesome dhamma’s into virtuous ones.

    Ultimately we feel this will have the eventual effect of producing a Dhamma centered world based on the natural laws of mind that the founders of the 969 Movement are striving to achieve.

    Whether or not warfare, as suggested in the first section of the article, is compatible with Buddhism, as expressed in the second, is a matter for Buddhist theological debate — as is the nature of “war” as envisioned in the Kalachakra itself.

    My own purpose in making this post is to point out that the 969 movement, led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, is now quoting a prophecy of war against Islam, found in the Kalachakra literature, which in turn is taught as a instrument of peace by HH the Dalai Lama. To my ears, that sets up a howl of cognitive dissonance.

    Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 1: interfaith hatred

    Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which jihadis take on Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, quite an interfaith haul for hatred ]
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    Aaron Zelin at Jihadology posted an hour-long video entitled Woolwich Attack a week or so ago, and I found it particularly interesting on two accounts: first, that it makes a multi-faith attack that includes Buddhism in its catalogue of enemies of Islam, and second, that it uses an innovative feature of modern digital typography. Here, I’ll concentrate on the first. Here’s the video’s title:

    **

    Christianity as a target is well represented in the form of Dr Justin Welby, the recently-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury:

    Notice also the lower of these two screengrabs, this one showing Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) berating a leading Muslim spokesman in the UK, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain (right), for speaking at the same event as the Archbishop. The damning subtitle suggests he’s one of those “who issue Fatwas according to the school of thought of the head of the Church of England”.

    **

    It wasn’t the attack on Christians or fellow Muslims that caught my eye, though, but the unexpected presence of the monk Wirathu, the rhetorical leader of Myanmar’s recent Buddhist rioting against Burmese Muslims. I’d seen his face on Time magazine and elsewhere, but it came as a bit of a shock here in a jihadist video — I’d filed him and his 969 movement under “Buddhism” rather than “Islam” in my mental listing of violent movements with religious underpinnings.

    Ugly, ugly.

    **

    Finally, no invitation to jihad these days is complete without its mention of the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem — and it is here that Judaism comes in for attack. Consider these two screengrabs:

    **

    The video closes, significantly, with a long shot of the Dome of the Rock through a window…

    Yesterday my friend William Benzon made a post titled On Describing a Painting which began:

    Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts bills her article thus: The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. OK. But I take a different lesson from it, one about one of my current hobby horses: description. Roberts focuses on an 18th Century painting by John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel. Her point is that the more you look at the painting, the more you notice and hence the more you can note in a written description. She asks her students to spend a full three hours with a single painting.

    Of her own experience with that painting she observes:

    It took me nine minutes to notice that the shape of the boy’s ear precisely echoes that of the ruff along the squirrel’s belly—and that Copley was making some kind of connection between the animal and the human body and the sensory capacities of each. It was 21 minutes before I registered the fact that the fingers holding the chain exactly span the diameter of the water glass beneath them. It took a good 45 minutes before I realized that the seemingly random folds and wrinkles in the background curtain are actually perfect copies of the shapes of the boy’s ear and eye, as if Copley had imagined those sensory organs distributing or imprinting themselves on the surface behind him. And so on.

    She begins her next paragraph: “What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it.”

    Looking at that final screengrab with this in mind, I see a close correlation between the golden Dome that focuses our attention on the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount, and the round, yellow-gold keffiyeh of the jihadist observing it through his window — “making some kind of connection between” them, to echo the words of Harvard’s Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities…

    It’s a skilled and meaning-filled use of the medium.

    **

    In my second post in this series, I’ll point to a significant development in graphics and technology introduced in this video.

    Nairobi tweets 1: Bulletproof?

    Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — taking a hint from the twitter stream of HSM Press and running with it ]

    Update:


    As of Monday morning 11am California time:

    I now think it’s clear that the twitter stream I was commenting on in this post and the second in the series was not an official Shabaab feed, and thus untrustworthy as to its statements — although it’s exact status (fan, mimic, troll, loosely connected?) is undetermined.

    I am leaving the post up (a) for the record, and (b) for whatever minor interest it may still have.

    Original post:

    Al-Shabaab’s “HSM Press Office” had been tweeting up a storm during the Nairobi mall “operation” — it’s been shut down at least rwice, maybe more? — and some of the claims made are worth a little exploration. Let’s start with the “bullet-proof” claim:

    **

    For some (not by any means exhaustive) historical context on that, consider this report from the Phillipines a decade ago:

    The kidnapped head of the Jesus Miracle Crusade, fiery televangelist Wilde Almeda, particularly has special powers that will protect him from bullets, said Robert Chua, a member of the group. Almeda and the 12 other members of his ministry went to the camp of the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf in southern Jolo island on Saturday to pray over 20 mostly-foreign hostages seized by the rebels from a Malaysian resort on April 23 and to convince the kidnappers to free their captives. The military says they together with a German journalist, Andreas Lorenz, are also now being held hostage by the notorious Abu Sayyaf.

    This, from Myanmar:

    Thailand said Wednesday it may give humanitarian asylum to Johnny and Luther Htoo, the twin boy leaders of a mystical rebel movement from Myanmar who have surrendered with some of their followers. Hunted and hungry, 14 members of the God’s Army group – nine of them children, including the charismatic twins – turned themselves over to Thai authorities on Tuesday after a year on the run along the Thai-Myanmar border. For more than three years, the boys fought to overthrow Myanmar’s military government, and their followers believe Johnny and Luther have magical powers that make them invincible in battle.

    Or this from the Lakota Ghost Dancers:

    The presence of the troops frightened the dancers into running for the outlying areas of the some skirmishes fought. One legend of the Ghost Shirt was born during one of these skirmishes. The Ghost Shirt was part of the special clothing worn while dancing the Ghost Dance. The Sioux were the only Indians to give the Ghost Shirt bullet proof qualities. (2-42) During one of the skirmishes with the soldiers, a lone Indian rode his pony within easy rifle range of soldiers, line and allowed them to fire on him. Whether true to the qualities of the Ghost Shirt he was wearing, or due to the poor shooting of the soldiers he escaped unscathed.

    And this, from Thomas Muentzer‘s Anabaptist deviants in Martin Luther‘s early Protestant Europe:

    They’re singing hymns. They literally are awaiting a glorious triumph. Muentzer assures them that he will catch the cannonballs in his shirthhsleeves. Of course, it turned into a slaughter. Five thousand ill-equipped peasants were slaughtered. The Peasants’ Revolt was utterly destroyed. It was one of those incredible explosions of apocalypticism that arise in history.

    **

    Just whether the individuals in the Nairobi mall or tweeting for HSM Press take that “bullet-proof” reference literally or figuratively is an open question.

    For a sense of the levels of non-scientific thinking — ie shamanism aka “witchcraft” — in today’s Kenya, see for instance this semi-skeptical account and its apocalyptic touch, or perhaps Believe it or not: Witchcraft in Kenya, with this interesting and quite relevant paragraph:

    Another friend’s sister was victim of a grenade attack at a church in Mombasa. Shattered glass went everywhere but she, standing at the window, was not injured. She said that people were muttering things about the protection afforded by genies. Interestingly, she was at church but had recently converted to Islam, not that anyone knew. Not anyone visible, anyway.

    And before we assume that all these experiments pitting prayer against guns always turn out badly for the prayerful side — it’s worth noting that “fiery televangelist Wilde Almeda” survived to tell the tale….

    **

    There’s a great deal more of interest on several levels in the HSM tweets, but I’ll break here and pick up in a following post.

    Myanmar: the Rohingya and the Buddhists

    Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

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

    **


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    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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