Monday, 16 June 2014

Call Yourself Anything You Like

In a recent post here I mentioned violence by Buddhists and some of you were unaware of this happening.

When anyone mentions violence by any religious group there are a variety of reactions. Some are shocked. Some are in disbelief. Some say "Typical." And some say "Ah, but they don't represent their religion."

Regardless of all of that, people who follow religions "of peace" can turn to violence against others based solely on the religion of the other, despite upbringing, despite education, and despite training.

Inevitably other Buddhists have pointed out that these are now ex-monks, not monks. Monks don't harm anyone.

This is a very strange way of looking at it. These "ex-monks" have had the exact same life until this point as monks. They have been taught the same ethics. Then have - ostensibly - had the same beliefs. Then one day none of that mattered, and they turned to violence. Why?

In Iraq, meanwhile, everything is going to shit. It's very easy to blame Western interference, and don't worry, I do. But it's not the whole story. If you read anything about this online, in the comments section underneath you will often see the simple remark "Death to Shiites".

I have a fairly solid grasp, academically, of the difference between Sunni and Shia. I've gone to considerable lengths to study this, and the history of the Muslim world. At one level then, I understand what the issue is, and it's nothing new. The simple version is that the government are Shia, the marginalized people are Sunni, and the story is as old as time. But I don't "get" it. I don't understand how a religion can split into two factions that hate each other so vehemently in the first place.

I cannot possibly understand this, because it has never been part of my personal reality. Furthermore, I have never lived anywhere where I ran a real risk of being killed simply because of my religious beliefs. Thankfully.

Am I capable of that level of hatred towards a religious group? Don't know, never been pushed. If I lived in a situation where feelings ran that high, maybe I could.

Some years ago I ran into a Northen Irish girl online who had been a member of the IRA. Being English and having nearly been blown up in London once by their bombs, I'm not a fan of that organization. But after getting to know her, and hearing her life story, I was able to understand, on some level, why she had joined them.

Every person who ever joined any terrorist group or organization, had a reason to do so. It's not "fun". It's not done on a whim. It's wrong, of course it is, but it's usually quite easily explained. If you are oppressed, it is clearly not hard to hate your oppressor. It becomes extremely difficult to differentiate among the group that the oppressors come from  as to who is truly responsible and who isn't, and when push comes to shove it's either inevitable or just safer to see them all as the enemy.

That doesn't make it right, but since when did humans always do what's right?

If you look at human history, tolerance/forgiveness of the oppressor is actually the more common option. Yes, really. Not just because the oppressor is the majority, and/or more powerful in some way and it's the sensible option. Humans are actually remarkably good at "moving on" and "getting over it". Wherever your ancestors are from, I guarantee they were oppressed at some point, because we are a disgusting species. We have made a habit of incredible cruelty to one another for being of the wrong group.

And when the group you hate is a different tribe, a different nationality, a different race, a different linguistic group, a different political organization, or a different class, you can justify it any way that it works for you, but it will never be right.

There's somehow something extra wrong about it when it's religious groups, because of the hypocricy. All religions claim to be religions of peace. All of them. Some more loudly than others but when asked they will quote rules of conduct prescribed by their religion that are all about peace, and love, and tolerance, and charity, yada yada yada. All of them. Despite holy books and histories full of glorious war victories. But that's different because they were on the "right" side.

They're always on the right side. It's always the side that God supports. Of course.

No, I do not have a solution. This appears to be part of human nature, and not a nice part. It saddens me and frustrates me. All any of us outside of these conflicts can ever do is refuse to take sides. Because we're not there. Because we do not really understand what's going on. Because we may not see the whole picture even if we were. Because it's always complex and chances are there is no innocent and no guilty party.

What you can do to help.

Get a grip. Don't dwell on the small injustices you believe that you are suffering, as a member of X group. Address them, by all means, but put it in perspective. If your life and liberty is not at risk as you go about your daily business simply by dint of which group you belong to, you are not persecuted.

At the same time, get rid of the antagonism you feel towards other groups. It's a feature of privileged people that they whine about not being privileged enough, while always managing to find somebody else who they feel have too many privileges.

Learn from others, e.g.:

Admit and accept that you have no idea what it's like to walk in another man's shoes, and that you may just choose the same options he has if you did.

If the oppressors in some situation, somewhere else, are part of the same larger group as you, be honest about it. You don't have to feel personally responsible, but don't try to wash your hands either. Tell it like it is, not how it "ought" to be.

Always try to see both sides of a story.

Call yourself anything you like, but make it meaningful.


  1. I would rather not call myself anything and let someone else apply a label if helps them fit me into their world view.

    As for the rest of it: I know what I'm supposed to be doing. And I'm working on it.

    1. And you won't have any problems, they'll rush to label you, and find plenty of labels to use. It amuses me greatly when they do it to me. I've been labelled many things, but what amuses me most is that I have been called BOTH a righty AND a lefty, many times. People love little boxes.

    2. I'm with you, Kitty--the labeling is a big part of the whole problem, IMHO. Thanks for saying so.

  2. Well done. You wrote,"I don't understand how a religion can split into two factions that hate each other so vehemently in the first place." Well, here in the States "Christians" certainly seem to have that division between "fundamental" and "progressive." They may not have escalated to full-out warfare with weapons, but surely, the hatred is there on the conservative end. And doesn't that always seem to be where the hate comes from. I mean, one group usually claims to have the fundamental "truth" on their side, and the others are labeled "infidels." We clearly have religious figureheads who spout hate and nonsense (Robertson, Phelps, etc.), and others who are much more "inclusive" in their love (Jim Wallis).

    But I've been nose-to-nose with a man similar to Phelps, and believe me, the hatred behind their eyes is scary. If you don't see things the way they do, you're going to Hell and they're darned well gonna tell you so.

  3. Living where I do, I know perfectly well that Buddhists are psychotically violent just about anywhere they are in a majority, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka. Frankly, any and all religion has the seeds of violence in it. All it needs are people to take that seed and grow it into a crop of blood.

  4. I will echo the words Kitty said earlier, and add the biggest 'difference' lies directly in the choices we make as well as the labels we hang on each other.

    Remember back when Madonna (the singer) was so very popular and would keep changing her look? The press would pretty much complain that she was "reinventing" herself at every turn. Whether it is to move a product, turn/earn a profit, or just feel engaged in the cocoon of our own skin, choice plays a major role in all of this. Our reactions of surprise, dismay, or reassurance are all reliant upon the choices we make, and how others see and label us.

    Religion, like any good theatre, is just another label of window dressing for the routines and ministrations we assign to it. We 'expect' those we entrust to our more spiritual designations to follow some sort of ethical standard. Ethics is a matter of making the right and proper choices--we even choose to let others get away with violent behavior until we reach a breaking point. ~ Blessings! :)