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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 ]
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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.

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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.

An English game

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — image and Sotheby’s cataloguing via Michael Robinson ]
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Carl Jung told his friend Sir Laurens van der Post:

One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games.

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Exempli gratia:

Pooh Stcks

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Catalog entry:

Shepard, E.H.
“FOR A LONG TIME THEY LOOKED AT THE RIVER BENEATH THEM…”

Illustration for Chapter six of ‘The House at Pooh Corner,’ the episode “in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in.” The game is ‘Poohsticks.’ Sold this morning: £314,500 (US$492,727)

Shepard, Ernest H. (10 December 1879 – 24 March 1976)
188 by 148mm, original ink drawing,
signed “EHShepard” lower left.

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For those who don’t know the game, here’s the relevant excerpt from The House at Pooh Corner:

Pooh had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river. ‘Bother,’ said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge, and he went back to get another fir-cone which had a rhyme to it. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, so he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him, and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too.

‘That’s funny,’ said Pooh. ‘I dropped it on the other side,’ said Pooh, ‘and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?’ And he went back for some more fir-cones. It did. It kept on doing it. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as they were both the same size, he didn’t know if it was the one which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one big one and one little one, and the big one came out first, which was what he had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what he had said it would do, so he had won twice … and when he went home for tea, he had won thirty-six and lost twenty-eight, which meant that he was – that he had – well, you take twenty-eight from thirty-six, and that’s what he was. Instead of the other way round.

And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.’

A Meditation In Time Of War: “precision”

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — comparing two species of precision and imprecision found in time of war, one which the camera can record, one which the heart must wait to learn — let us pray the cease-fire holds ]
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The key phrases here are “the mosque remained undamaged by the precision strike” and “how many Palestinians were killed and who exactly they were a tough one to answer with precision” — both of which are addressing issues of precision in the course of war.

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What interests me here is the notion of two kinds of precision — each of them significant, but in different ways.

The IDF wants to publicize the precision with which it takes down its targets, and showing that

the mosque remained undamaged by the precision strike

is clearly preferable to admitting that

Among the Palestinians killed in Gaza this week are the 12 members of the Daloo and Manzar families, including four small children, who died when an Israel Air Force pilot bombed their home by mistake, according to the IDF.

War is not yet perfected.

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But what of the other type of precision?

After a certain point, numbers simply numb the mind. Eighty-seven died, or ninety-six? When I, several thousand miles distant, read a statistic of this kind, the lack of precision I can tolerate is somewhere in the region of “plus or minus twenty percent”. Thus fifty deaths would differ in my mind from a hundred, but not by much, not by as much as a human life — of which the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 37a, says: —

Whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, Scripture ascribes to him as if he had preserved a complete world

as is confirmed in Qur’an 5.32:

Therefore We prescribed for the Children of Israel that whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and whoso gives life to a soul, shall be as if he ha given life to mankind altogether. Our Messengers have already come to them with the clear signs; then many of them thereafter commit excesses in the earth.

Forty-seven killed, fifty-three killed — who notices the difference?

Six “complete worlds”, six times “mankind altogether” lies within the “margin of error” I find it hard to notice.

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That, in a nutshell, is why I’m a strong Qualit advocate against the pervasive Quantification of modern life.

The eye of the camera may record how precise a given strike was, or conversely show the collateral damage — but it is the eye of the heart which must wait in an agony of suspended grief to know who, what uncle or niece, perhaps at a Sbarro pizzeria two blocks away, may have died.


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