Vanity thought #1253. The big deal

For all this talk about blasphemy and offended sensibilities one important question that hasn’t been addressed so far is – what’s the big deal? People defending Muslim rights in this case haven’t answered it, devotees haven’t answered it, but atheists have been asking. Maybe not directly but they have been trying to find the reasons Muslims reacts so angrily and violently. So what’s the big deal?

There’s no shortage of “journalists” who jump on the opportunity to do some “investigative reporting”, read wikipedia, and then announce to the whole world the truth behind it. In this case wikipedia fails, in the sense that it doesn’t shed any real light on the matter, just gives some related facts. “Journalists” then pick up on those facts as if they provide the full explanation and leave it at that. To complete the circle of surrealism someone needs to feed those articles back into wikipedia as sources.

This is symptomatic of the modern age, the 21st centiry. Knowledge is always at your fingertips, one google/wikipedia search away. People expect it to be instant and comprehensive, but also easy to understand, and their attention span is measured in minutes – and that’s for researchers, not the readers. Even if someone decided to study the issue in depth and spend time with real Islamic scholars and historians, by the time their report is ready the news cycle would have moved on and no one would publish it anymore.

The main criteria for publishing these days is whether the topic becomes trending and generates a lot of links and clicks. If it doesn’t instantly resonate with public hive mind it gets binned in favor of something that does. “Buzzfeed” is the most appropriate name for this new kind of media – it feeds on buzz and it’s meant to generate buzz. It goes for quantity over quality every time. They have to write stuff that can compete with hive mind’s interests in selfies and pictures of their food.

I’m not a serious researcher either and I have very little interest in Islamic history but we have an advantage of looking at everything from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s perspective, perspective of Vedic knowledge. It does not always resonate with the public, most of the time it makes people quiet for a while because they are not wired to look at the world this way and internal logic and consistency leaves them short of counterarguments. In the end, those who want to argue would always find something, many would accept is “one way to look at it”, and only devotees can appreciate the beauty of Vedic wisdom.

So, why is blasphemy such a big deal for Muslims? Yesterday I talked about whether or not blasphemy would be a big deal for us. Some don’t see it that way but there are plenty of instructions in our books to treat it very seriously.

That’s what wikipedia editors implied, too – if it’s in the scriptures it should be taken seriously. Meaning the reaction depends on one’s faith, if someone cares less about his books he won’t react as strongly. Even in our own society, if it’s in the books it means we have to follow, if there are contradictory instructions it means there’s leeway and the rule is not absolute. We are proud to live by the book, and it’s great, but our books are not just words in space.

We know that Vedic sounds are intrinsically connected with reality, that properly pronounced “fire” would produce actual fire, and that is true for our philosophy, too. They don’t know that. They think that our lives are solely by the book and have no meaningful connection to reality. If there are some observable benefits to following the scriptures they can explain them differently. They would explain as hidden science what to the ancients looked like magic. They would explain it as simply practical considerations that were misappropriated by religious authorities and so on.

Kṣatriyas are obliged to kill the offenders after cutting their tongues out – explain that! They, the atheists, won’t even try but our reasoning it surprisingly simple – kṣatriyas are meant to uphold the religion, and not only in the sense of following the rules but also as maintaining the proper climate in the society so that religious worship is perceived as a “cool” thing to do.

People should be encouraged to perform their religious duties and big part of that encouragement is providing sufficient affirmation. Religious worship is not supposed to be easy and enjoyable from start to finish, everybody always has doubts, everybody has to fight off laziness, everybody has to make conscious choices between pursuing sense gratification and pursuing his dharma. What helps them greatly in their decision is strong faith in their authorities. In fact, most of our decisions are made on faith in our superiors and against our immediate desires. We do it because Prabhupāda said so, guru said so, GBC said so, temple president said so, and we have to serve them first.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as we should well know. If we see our authorities as mere human, just like us, we lose the conviction to follow their orders, it’s as simple as that.

No one in his right mind would draw a cartoon of Śrīla Prabhupāda, for example, depicting his image is naturally thought of as a sober and serious affair. Muslims go even further – they refuse to draw either God or His prophets because our efforts will never serve them well. Our depictions will always be contaminated and somewhat vulgar, we would always transfer our mundane perceptions of beauty, attraction, wisdom etc. on the Absolute. Personally, I’ve seen too many recent pictures of Kṛṣṇa that make Him “as handsome as that other guy on TV”. Even in our original ISKCON art authorized by Śrīla Prabhupāda Kṛṣṇa sometimes looks like a handsome American.

So, humanizing our authorities is not conducive to building our faith in them, and laughing at drawings of them multiplies this effect exponentially. Atheists know that very well, they often use laughter to free themselves from what they think as unwanted fear and respect. I think there was a lesson like that in Harry Potter’s books, too.

Atheists know that laughing at prophets is probably the most efficient way to destroy people’s faith. The more chuckles they elicit from Muslims looking at those cartoons the better. They might start biting at the fringes – second generation immigrants, teenagers, those not so strict about their “sādhana”, women etc. These people might not matter now but as time goes they would make their, now corrupted voices become heard in the larger community. They bring down the average, so to speak, and so the leaders will eventually have to lower their standards, too.

Religious leaders are aware of this danger perhaps even better than atheists because they are far more attuned to the spiritual health of their communities than the atheists, and I believe this spiritual health is their primary concern when speaking or legislating against blasphemy. Quotes from the books are used only to support their decisions, not guide them. I mean to say that whatever quotes from Quran or Haddith they give on wikipedia are only supporting evidence for decisions based on thorough understanding of the whole body of Islamic teachings.

The same works for us, too. We make decisions based on the whole body of our knowledge, not just books but also history and examples from the lives of devotees. Random quotes that apparently go against this body of knowledge are then made to comply. Some, however, use them to rewrite our entire understanding, like in cases with female dīkṣā gurus or falling from Vaikuntha.

Anyway, my point is that blasphemy is not an isolated event influencing only the hearts of those who listened to it. Blasphemy eventually affects the whole religious society and so religious leaders need to protect their flock from it one way or another. Punishment is just one form of protection – post-factum, prevention is far better. One way to prevent blasphemy from happening again is for post-factum punishment to be seen as a strong reminder but if they can make atheist leaders legislate against blasphemy themselves there would be no need for actual punishment at all.

In a way, blasphemy is just an extreme expression of atheistic ideology. Religous leaders have the responsibility to defeat opposing ideologies and so expecting them to accept blasphemy as a fact of life is like expecting them to accept that God doesn’t exist – it’s a non-starter.

There’s a widespread call for moderate Muslims to oppose terrorists in their ranks but it misses the point that Muslims’ first obligation is to nurturing their community, not to policing it on behalf of infidels. They can probably try and accommodate these requests but I don’t think it will bring lasting success. This request is also hypocritical – atheists refuse to even try and stop their own from provoking Muslim anger but expect Muslims to control those who give in to the provocations.

I once mentioned a school kid response to Charlie Hebdo massacre – they had it coming. They have a lot more coming still.

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Vanity thought #1252. Blasphemy Part 2

Continuing from yesterday – what should devotees do if they happen to be offended by blasphemers? I’ve seen two articles on the subject, both offered unsatisfactory answers to this question, imo. On the plus side, one of them offered a rare insight into how devotees should deal with personal offenses and historical anecdotes from the early days of our society were priceless.

In general, however, both went along with the prevailing western view that blasphemy should be accepted and tolerated. One devotee argued that when different religions co-exist in the same space some sort of the blasphemous comments are unavoidable and killing people over it is impractical. In modern age it’s called multiculturalism which is incompatible with intolerance.

It’s all fine, but nowhere in the world multiculturalism means freedom to offend participating cultures! Multiculturalism means exactly the opposite and legally outlaws any kind of offensive treatment, it is meant to be build on mutual respect, not freedom to mock other people’s beliefs.

Does it need to be explained?

It’s one thing for the atheists to get carried away with their rhetoric and become totally hypocritical in their pursuit of freedom of speech, but what’s wrong with our devotees? We should be able to see it through but some of us don’t. This is disappointing.

Another article gave an example of devotees successfully challenging blasphemers in court, when one rock band superimposed cat’s head on Kṛṣṇa’s body on one of their album covers.

Great, because we won. In case of anti-Muhammad cartoons, however, the courts didn’t help and Charlie Hebdo editor was acquitted. The cartoons, in their entirety, were also far more offensive than anything done to Kṛṣṇa so far.

I don’t think any Muslim who felt strongly offended was pacified by that court decision. There’s also the question of Sharia law which Muslims put above secular legislation, especially in religious matters. Practically, there was nothing they could legally do in France but resentment meant that someone decided to take matter in their own hands.

We shouldn’t even mention our little victory as an example for Muslims to follow. Granted, humility and patience is a good advice but it’s also out of place. Yes, ISKCON devotees learned their acceptance in some of the westerns countries the hard way but our experience is incomparable to Muslims’. In France, Muslims have grown to 10% of the population and they started about the same time as Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, who are we to teach them lessons on how to behave in the society?

The point that it wasn’t just God that was the subject of blasphemy but Muhammad also went missing. I have no idea what devotees would do if Śrīla Prabhupāda was mocked in the media in the same way, it’s unthinkable. Some of those Muhammad cartoons were really gross, with 18+ rating.

Both articles discussed examples from history, Kṛṣṇa’s patience with Śiśupāla, for example, or Lord Nityānanda’a patience with Jagāi and Mādhāi. The fact that Lord Caitanya wanted to cut off their heads, however, wasn’t mentioned. Was Lord Caitanya wrong in His anger?

There were also examples of Dhruva Mahārāja and some more from Kṛṣṇa’s time, and they all ended with lessons in tolerance and forgiveness.

I just don’t understand why the immolation of Satī wasn’t mentioned at all. If there’s one prime example on devotees dealing with blasphemy it’s Satī, it has five chapters dedicated to it in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. How could devotees talk about blasphemy and avoid it altogether? I don’t believe any research on the subject would turn only examples of forgiveness. Was contradictory evidence summarily dismissed to fit with “west is the best” agenda? I don’t know what to think, I should probably swear off reading certain sources ever again.

Blasphemy also has its own category page on Vaniquotes in case one wants to find out everything Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote or said on the matter. One could immediately see that forgiveness and humility there are prescribed only in case of personal offenses but they have no place in defending honor of other devotees and our ācāryas.

There’s this very telling entry, for example:

    Humility and meekness are not appropriate when the acaryas are blasphemed

It’s from the purport to Caitanya Caritāmṛta, so a pramāṇa par excellence. The exact sentence is a bit longer but the point is the same (CC Adi.10.85):

    ..humility and meekness are appropriate when one’s own honor is insulted but not when Lord Viṣṇu or the ācāryas are blasphemed. In such cases one should not be humble and meek but must act.

How to act? Well, in Satī’s words (SB 4.4.17):

    If one hears an irresponsible person blaspheme the master and controller of religion, one should block his ears and go away if unable to punish him. But if one is able to kill, then one should by force cut out the blasphemer’s tongue and kill the offender, and after that one should give up his own life.

Muslim terrorist brothers did exactly that, btw. They killed the offenders and then gave up their own lives, committing “suicide by the police”, as they call it now. We should think twice before blindly condemning them.

Purport to that verse gives a few more details, like that a brāhmaṇa should block his ears and leave and not kill himself because that would be the sin of killing the brāhmaṇa. Kṣatriyas have the inherent responsibility to punish the offenders, while vaiśyas and śūdras should immediately give up their bodies.

Okay, we might not be obliged to follow this advice these days but the main point is that blasphemy should not be tolerated and should be opposed still stands. For us, there’s one particular advice from Śrīla Prabhupāda (letter):

    I have heard that in some of the airports they are making announcements telling the people not to purchase our literature. This is impeding our religion and is therefore blasphemy. This cannot be allowed. You should take this to the courts; let people know what they are doing. They cannot impede our right.

Announcements telling people not to purchase our books was considered blasphemy and Śrīla Prabhupāda demanded immediate action, through courts.

Or how about this purport (SB 4.14.32):

    One should not at any time tolerate blasphemy and insults against Lord Viṣṇu or His devotees. A devotee is generally very humble and meek, and he is reluctant to pick a quarrel with anyone. Nor does he envy anyone. However, a pure devotee immediately becomes fiery with anger when he sees that Lord Viṣṇu or His devotee is insulted. This is the duty of a devotee. Although a devotee maintains an attitude of meekness and gentleness, it is a great fault on his part if he remains silent when the Lord or His devotee is blasphemed.

There’s more to be found on the righteousness of such anger and how it constitutes legitimate devotional service, it’s how anger should be engaged for Kṛṣṇa. Is there any point in repeating it though? These things should be the first on one’s mind when contemplating devotees’ attitude to blasphemy and, as I said, I don’t think they were omitted due to ignorance, but I do not wish to criticize authors of those articles, so I better shut up. I’ve said enough, I think.

Vanity thought #1251. Blasphemy

I just checked devotees’ response to Charlie Hebdo killings and was left slightly disappointed. The Pope did it better – he said that if one insults his mother he should expect a punch.

Those who considered his response inappropriate relied on the basic premise that Pope should not punch people and violence should never be an answer. That was disappointing, too, because the Pope wasn’t talking in general, his exact words were referring to a man standing right by his side: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” How friends interact with each other should not be taken as a rule for treating strangers.

Most, though, got the gist and understood the premise – you cannot insult feelings of others and expect nothing in return. Whether people agreed or disagreed with this statement it is a different matter.

I wanted to say a few more words on the freedom of speech. First, let me repeat myself and say that freedom of speech is never under any threat, it’s provided by demigods just as air and water. Unless they block one’s ability to speak freedom of speech will be there. What the advocates really mean is two things – freedom to publicize their speech and freedom from negative reactions.

Freedom to publicize usually means freedom to use other people’s means, ie media. This freedom does not exist because the owners of publicizing platform will always, always have a say in the content of their medium. They might agree or disagree, promote or block, but they will always have some degree of control. What freedom of speech advocates really want is that this inherent censorship should not be exercised towards them but applied towards others.

There probably are some die hard libertarians who would insist on no boundaries whatsoever but these people are extremely rare, usually have no decision making powers, and they are being contrarian just for the sake of it. We are not going to see their ideas implemented in general societies in our lifetimes so we can discount them altogether.

So, for freedom of speech advocates it’s a judgment call – what should be allowed to say in public and what shouldn’t. They consider their judgment to be correct and they do not think much about judgment of others. They are right and everybody else is wrong and at no time the possibility of being mistaken enters their minds.

Second aspect of freedom of speech is freedom from negative reactions. Reactions will always be there, every word has consequences, even if spoken in private, even if it’s simply a thought in one’s head. We say that in Kali Yuga, unlike previous ages, thoughts are not considered sins but that is not the whole picture. Yes, a thought might not be punished by the law of karma but it doesn’t mean it has no effect whatsoever. One thought always leads to another or is deposited into one’s memory and then recalled – it always influences our future thinking. Thoughts also always lead to actions, especially when take in aggregation and over a long enough period of time. Thoughts give us our next bodies, after all.

So, absolute freedom from reactions is impossible, but that’s only half the issue because what the FOS promoters want is freedom from *negative* reactions.

Every time they publish something they expect some results. Sense of satisfaction, pride in their work, recognition by the public, monetary compensation etc. Those are perfectly acceptable and very welcome, they want to legalize against negatives only. If you ask them what they thought should be done about negative outcomes they would probably say that the offended party should just cease and desist, crawl in a hole and never bother them back.

Some would say that they do not mind the blowback in the form of similar mockery, they don’t mind cartoons of themselves, they don’t mind equal insults. Sounds right but the key here is “they don’t mind”. Any response is deemed acceptable as long as it doesn’t really bother them. Why do they mind being killed, for example? Would they mind being tortured? Would they mind being jailed? Would they mind being fired? Would they mind being ostracized by people they were expecting praise from? Would they mind a huge financial penalty? Would they mind a small fine?

There always is a line that they would not allow to cross and any kind of response beyond it would be unacceptable.

I think it should be obvious by now that this “free speech” idea is a childish nonsense, it has no absolute rules and depends on promoters’ personal interests. Foolishly, they want to protect themselves from the law of karma, like that is ever going to work.

One phrase that was in my local paper illustrates it well. When a teacher in one French school tried to organize the minute of silence in memory of Charlie Hebdo victims some kids said “they had it coming.” It’s obvious even to the children but the FOS advocates are so intoxicated by their delusion that they don’t see it. Well, karma tends to work itself around such infantilism, French laws are not going to stop her.

Back to Pope – some objected to his reaction by saying it was a very unChristian thing to do, that Christians should turn the other cheek. This is totally missing the point. It’s an instruction on how to react when *your* cheek has been slapped, not somebody else’s. If you see someone hit a child you do not turn the kid over and beg the abuser to continue.

The Pope wasn’t saying he’d punch anyone who insults him, he said he’d protect his mother. Protecting those who can’t protect themselves is as Christian as it going to get. I think this point should be very obvious but it isn’t. People who understand it regarding Pope’s mother do not show the same understanding regarding Muslims’ prophet.

I’ve yet to see public recognition that Muslims reacted with such anger not due to personal offenses but due to offenses against others. If Muhammad was around they would have probably followed his cue but he isn’t. Not only he cannot personally protect himself from blasphemy, he can’t also forgive, which is an important point for Muslims because without forgiveness there’s no way of avoiding prescribed death penalty. This sounds medieval but only because the word “death” is involved, the principle itself is widely understood in Christianity and in our tradition as well.

If you offend a vaiṣṇava and have no opportunity to beg for his forgiveness you are finished. Truly. You’d have to wait until the material nature brings you together again, possibly in the next lifetime. It’s a bit easier because in Kṛṣṇa consciousness we are not so much dependent on external bodily forms but Islam has no such leeway, if Muhammad is dead it’s over, there could be no forgiveness and punishment is the only answer.

I’m not sure if you could pray to Muhammad but I’m positive that Charlie Hebdo cartoonists never considered such an option and the possibility was not entertained by their killers either.

Devotees’ response to blasphemy should be more nuanced, not because we are “better” but because we know our tradition better than we know Christianity or Islam, but I’ll probably speak about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1243. On the future

Weekends are days when I’m so engrossed with mundane matters that I can’t honestly speak on things related to Kṛṣṇa, I probably shouldn’t even try. First reaction to this is instead write about something else and then find a way to somehow turn it towards Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Is it a cheap, insincere trick? Not really, I do try to see outside world form Kṛṣṇa conscious POV, I hope that whatever I do notice does come from something related to the Lord. Since I spent much of the past week discussing geopolitics, I couldn’t help but notice how geopolitics could help us understand the world around us and, especially, our future.

Generally, we shouldn’t worry too much about it. Things will happen on their own terms, we are just powerless observers and at best we could hope to be used as Kṛṣṇa’s tools. If that happens to be the case we should appreciate Kṛṣṇa’s energy working for His pleasure, otherwise she can do whatever she wants, it has nothing to do with us. There’s a nexus, however, between our spiritual duties and natural course of events. We want to be active ingredients, we want to leave our mark on the world, we want to shape events, we commit ourselves, we invest our energy, focus our consciousness. Do we create new karma in the process? Quite possibly.

Actions in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should not result in karmic reactions but that depends on purity of our intentions. If we want to control the world, we are bound to experience the results. Dhruva Mahārāja was successful in his search for the Lord but his initial intentions caused him to be stuck without Lord’s association for thousands of years. We can guess why the Lord imposed such conditions on him but in any case we should be careful with our material desires, the Lord might compel us to see them fulfilled instead of taking us back home.

So, we want to establish worldwide varṇāśrama. We are ready to commit ourselves, we take is as our mission, we tell ourselves that establishing varṇāśrama was half of Prabhupāda’s work and so we need to continue with it. Some are not so enthusiastic about it and we view them as not respecting Prabhupāda’s wishes and lacking faith in the words of our ācāryas. Whatever pure devotee wants, Kṛṣṇa will see it happen, we say. Our choice is to be a part of it or to stand by the side and miss all the mercy.

Okay, I might return to that, but let’s look at the world around us and see where it is going and whether we have a real chance to take over.

Recently I saw a panel of pundits discussing post Charlie Hebdo situation, they raised important questions and they were cautious enough with sweeping answers, which drew my attention. However, they obviously didn’t look at it form a “geopolitical” point of view. I’ve used that word so many times it already annoys me but I haven’t fount any better yet.

So, the Muslim problem. It practically doesn’t exist in the US but causes so much trouble in France. Why? Obama, in his recent meeting with British Prime Minister, rightly stirred the debate towards the question of nationalism. American Muslims, he said, are American. French Muslims, OTOH, are not French. This puzzled the panel a bit but the answer was so painfully near I would have phoned the studio if I was into that kind of political enthusiasm.

From European point of view, which gave us the rise of nation states, the US isn’t truly a nation. European national identity is a product of geography, culture, and history. The US is just over two hundred years old but even that history is restricted to the original WASP population. Blacks have become part of that history a hundred and fifty years ago, through the civil war, and immigrants were joining in as they arrived. Great Depression, WWII, civil rights movement – save for the very recent arrivals, there’s something that can unite everybody, but not around national identity, around abstract, ethnically agnostic values. Apart from freedoms, American Dream is open to everybody, and they call it a melting pot for a reason.

French history, OTOH, goes back thousands of years. The current core values were forged around the time of the US war for independence but, unlike the US, there was no equivalent of Martin Luther King to contribute anything significant in the very recent past. If you weren’t around at the end of the 18th century you missed everything that really matters. Muslim immigrants, comprising ten percent of the population now, weren’t there. They weren’t there for the world wars either. They have no history of any significance to share, they can’t become French in true sense of French national identity. Christians, who sacrificed so much during the revolution, made their uneasy peace with secular society, Muslims didn’t have time yet.

Or look at the UK – Muslims arrived there around the same time as they did in France, the are all post-colonial immigrants. They do not share in legends of the King Arthur, Magna Carta means nothing to them, and neither does eternal rivalry with Germany or suspicion of everything continental. British national identity is shaped by victories in wars that Muslims didn’t fight in. Even if they happily identify themselves as British Muslims, terms like “English Muslim” or “Scottish Muslims” are unthinkable. Good thing that the UK is a union, French are not so lucky.

Now take Germany – they national history also goes back at least a thousand years but recently their national identity has been influenced not by victories but by defeats. They were forced to redefine themselves around values brought to them by winners. Victorious nations like US and UK could say “whatever we do, is right, just, and moral” while Germans were forced to think “whatever we did was wrong, whatever we want to do, we should run it by Americans first”. When Muslims arrived in Germany during this period of soul searching they joined in almost immediately, it has become part of the shared history and part of their national identity as “German Muslims”.

I am not sure about numbers but what I heard on TV is that 60% of German Muslims consent to gay marriage vs 0% of Muslims in the UK. I hope these numbers are right and so perfectly illustrate power of history and geography over people’s thinking. If they are wrong, I’ve seen some others that might not be as striking but confirm the same point in a slightly different way – differences between Muslim opinions in Europe follow differences between white people opinions. They do not live in isolation, the world around them influences them perhaps more than their interpretations of Koran.

The same is true about us, too. We want varṇāśrama, right? Well, there would be no gay marriage and women’s rights there. Our proposals would be completely unacceptable to the modern society. What will happen then? Does anyone really think we’ll have it easier than Muslims? Does anyone think we will be allowed to build our own communities based around traditional “subjugation” of women? If we do manage to create some sort of a country or a real political entity with our cow based economy, it wouldn’t be allowed to survive. It wouldn’t be allowed to be born in the first place.

First thing that would happen is that atheists would start practicing their freedoms – half naked, bra-less women frolicking the streets, unrestricted, in your face criticism of the devotees and the scriptures, and lots of other things that would not allow vaiṣṇava culture to survive on any scale.

What would happed if we insist on enforcing our rules? War. Forcing us to accept their ways and forcing them to accept ours will quickly escalate into violent confrontation – just look at what happens to Muslims, it’s a perfect blueprint for trying to establish our own way of life.

Fact of the matter is, varṇāśrama is impossible in the current, west dominated world. Perhaps Muslims should slug it out first, let them and the atheists destroy each other, perhaps the world would emerge far more tolerant after that. Then we might have a real chance.

Luckily, our own numbers are so small that we can fly under the radar for a long time to come, and our numbers are probably big enough to sustain ourselves. It means that all my speculations about future do not change anything, except, perhaps, subdue our appetite for worldwide varṇāśrama revolution. Let’s start small first.

Vanity thought #1240. Thankfully, not alone

For a while now I have been pessimistic about future of our world. Intractable problems pop up everywhere and there seems to be no way out of it. Some have been predicting the end of the world for years now but if it’s a train wreck in motion, it’s a very slow one.

2008 economic crisis didn’t kill us and unconventional post-crisis actions also didn’t have as devastating effect as predicted. Dollar didn’t crush, the US didn’t lose her crown, Chinese are slowing down, Islam didn’t take over the world, the West didn’t die, the status quo is practically the same. People all around me do not see things going to dogs at all, life is hard but still full of hope. Things will work out, sanity will prevail, and world peace is just around the corner.

So I suspected that I gave in to old age, or got enclosed in my own bubble, hearing only echoes of my own thoughts, or that I invested myself too much into these views and won’t let them go against all evidence. In any case, it’s bad. Not just because it makes me look foolish and repetitive but because my intelligence seems to be affected, and we can’t get anywhere with weak intelligence in our spiritual lives.

Some have good, reliable hearts, I’m not one of them. Some have tons of determination, that’s not me either. Some have good association and full support of the community, not me really. It so happens that I have to rely on my own intelligence to stay afloat in my spiritual attempts. I have to personally discriminate between what is favorable and what is unfavorable for my service, I have to discriminate between various sources of inspiration, too. I need my wits around me, they are my only tool to stay connected to Lord Caitanya’s mercy. One foolish move, one careless offense, and I’ll be buried in illusion forever, I have not time to get lost and climb back, life is too short to make mistakes.

So I naturally worry that my intelligence might be failing me. If it fails in one area, it can fail anywhere else, too, I need a validation to go on. Luckily, I found it, in another geopolitical analysis of the recent Charlie Hebdo‘s massacre by George Friedman.

He makes a lot of interesting points and connections between history and modern day but details are not important. What I liked about his piece is that he admitted he doesn’t see a way out. There are choices to be made but none of them is good, it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Islam and Christianity, or rather its spiritual successor – secularism, are coming head to head and it seems nothing can stop the inevitable collision.

He starts by saying that Charlie Hebdo galvanized the world and galvanized public is dangerous. Last Sunday French held massive demonstrations in support of free speech and free thinking. I wouldn’t dare to say anything against that crowd, their slogans not-withstanding. The examples of danger of disagreeing with proponents of free thinking came right away.

French comedian of Muslim extraction has been detained for a post on his Facebook page. Long live freedom of speech! Poor dude said something about one of the terrorists that went against the prevailing mood and was immediately sanctioned for it. Some said something in his defense but the Prime Minister and Le Monde immediately got on his case and said that freedom of speech should not be confused with anti-Semitism, racism and Holocaust denial, that it was limited by French law, and did not extend to incitement to hatred or racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Muslims are okay, though, by French standards they are like Ubermensch for Nazis, insulting them is a noble thing to do.

It was the same thing with that movie The Interview about assassination of North Korean Kin Jong Un. Presidents and world leaders get killed in the movies all the time but they are always fictional characters, not actual people. There was only one movie where G.W.Bush was assassinated and this is what Hillary Clinton had to say about it: “I think it’s despicable. I think it’s absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.” (Source) That chubby Asian dictator is a fair game, though, it’s perfectly okay to profit from him, he is not really human, right? Right?

Anyway, the new issue of Charlie Hebdo is out and they sure put Muhammad on the cover again. French might be clear about it but the rest of the world is not. In Europe the cover cartoon was widely reprinted but that was not he case anywhere else. Danish newspaper who started the whole affair with anti-Muhammad cartoons in 2006 didn’t print it. In the UK only one major daily printed it, BBC didn’t show it, others either cropped Muhammad out or put a big disclaimer. Same story was in the US with NYTimes, for example, providing only a link to the site where people could view the original, not the cartoon itself.

Muslim leaders in Europe came forward to ask for peace, understanding and tolerance. I don’t know what effect it would have, perhaps some would call them sellouts, perhaps some would understand their message as a call to a long-term struggle against the infidels. Time will tell.

ATM, no one knows what to do with Muslims in Europe. There are millions of them, should they all be held responsible, as Rupert Murdoch said in his widely discussed tweets? Murdock owns a media empire controlling much of the public discussion in both the US and the UK, in case you don’t know. Lots of people mocked him for that statement but polls showed that supporters of this idea and its opponents are split almost equally.

What will happen to Muslims now? One choice is to leave things as they are and simply tolerate occasional sparks of terrorist violence, another choice is to go hard after them. Neither is acceptable. So far people demand moderate Muslims to speak up against terrorism, and many oblige, but what would be the practical effect of this? There already are voices saying that they are apologizing for things they have nothing to do with. They won’t continue in this vein for much longer.

Trying to separate bad Muslims from good ones is also impossible. They are calling for war on radical Islam but no one knows what exactly it looks like. They are not wearing uniforms, you know. Policemen walking the streets and making judgment calls will most certainly get it wrong and real terrorists will strike randomly and without anyone stopping them, so the society will likely to be forced to deal with violence after the fact.

Muslims themselves, of course, should be able to tell who in their ranks is likely to resort to violence and there are calls for Muslims to police themselves, but what if they don’t? They most likely won’t, except, perhaps, paying the idea a lip service.

Another problem is European multiculturalism which in this case means that Muslims stay together and refuse to share traditional French values, and French themselves do not see them as “Europeans”, too. Muslims came to France for money, not to become French, and national identity in Europe is closely connected to one’s birthplace, one’s ethnicity, one’s people’s history, and therefore Muslims will never become part of French identity, they will always be different. It’s easier in the US because of the ethnically agnostic “American Dream”. EU was supposed to be an equivalent of that but Muslims are not buying it so far.

Now it’s too late to do anything about it, public’s insistence on ridiculing their faith is not going to endear French to Muslim hearts, and the same thing repeats itself across Europe.

And so bit by bit, step by step, the world is heading for an imminent disaster. Russians and the new Cold War, Iran and its nukes, ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and now Muslim extremism in Europe, Palestinian problem going nowhere – people are increasingly drawn into incompatible and very combative camps. World peace is not an option.

I might still be wrong about this but at least I have a company now, so my mind isn’t really failing me yet, which is a good news. Now, knowing that the world is heading for a confrontation between two equally bad sides, it should be easier to chart my own course. A short talk with practically anybody can reveal which way that persons leans to and the beauty of this situation is that all views and values behind them are to be rejected. It should be easier to stop myself from sympathizing and keep my nose clean.

It’s actually a very practical advice – just recently I heard a devotee deliver a long anti-American diatribe, which is not uncommon in ISKCON at all. Now I know where these people are coming from and I know to stay clear, it should help, otherwise I just wasted 1500 words on nothing, which isn’t unusual but still unwelcome.

Vanity thought #1237. Pens, swords, and death

Charlie Hebdo massacre revitalized debates about liberty, freedom of speech, responsibility, civility, protections etc. One good question to start from – why did these two brothers choose their course of action? Why weren’t they satisfied with legal recourse available to French citizens?

Apparently, in France they had none. One way or another, when it comes to ridiculing people’s faith, Muslims always draw a short straw there. Perhaps they could have explored legal avenues to address their grievances but it seems the system is designed in such a way as to discourage such litigation. Society was firmly on cartoonists side and, coupled with perceived injustice and image of victim-hood, I think it’s understandable that these two decided to take matter into their own hands.

Now we see them as monsters, but does it mean that the massacre couldn’t have been prevented? That they always had been monsters, it’s just that no one realized how bad they were? At this point it looks like French society is not going to assume any responsibility for driving disaffected Muslims to extremism. This reaction is totally understandable, too. People on all sides act according to their nature and thousands and millions of words said on the matter don’t really change anything.

Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of the more prominent liberal values forced on the public. Let’s start with old Voltaire’s declaration that he might disagree with someone but would fight to death for that person’s right to speak his mind. It forms the cornerstone of any discussion on freedom of speech – the right to say whatever you want must be upheld at all cost, and whatever inconveniences occasional hate speech might cause must be tolerated.

Well, Voltaire said this two and a half centuries ago, the West has fully democratized itself since, and yet this particular freedom is still restricted by all kinds of defamation or straight-forward blasphemy laws, or at least by severe social sanctions. Proponents, however, tend to ignore that and assert this dictum as self evident truth. It isn’t, and it should be challenged.

Consider what it means practically. No one, save for controlling demigods, can take away your right of speech. Anyone can say anything they want at any time. This right is never under threat, what FOS people mean is the guaranteed absence of negative reactions. What they mean is “I should be able to say anything and nothing bad would happen to me”. This is impossible, of course. We don’t even need to bring up the law of karma to demonstrate that it would never work. Go ahead, try it on your wife or your boss. Words always have consequences, it’s a law of any interpersonal relationships.

FOS people realize this, of course, and so they imply that there’s limited application to Voltaire’s statement – it’s meant for public debates where all sides must agree to a certain code of conduct. Whatever is said in such forums should not be subjected to sanctions. I don’t know if exact rules are defined anywhere, some might not even realize they exist, but there’s an interesting extension to the modern day internet discussions – no doxing, which means no disclosing of personally identifiable information beyond what is presented by users themselves. Internet wars are not to be taken outside of their context, everybody realizes that things can turn very ugly very fast if people get persecuted in their real lives for their virtual reality comments. Point is, Voltaire’s freedom of speech stance was meant for certain context only, not for EVERY kind of communication.

What’s get lost on FOS brigade is that Muslims and religious people in general are not interested in that kind of debates whatsoever. As I said yesterday, blasphemy, for example, is not up for discussion, and neither is existence of God. There are forums where religious people volunteer to discuss these topics but they are very limited in scope and number. Rest assured, a magazine appearing on your newsstand is not part of those forums. Muslims or any other religious people will not treat it the same way they would treat a speaker in televised debate or even in an online forum where everyone must first tick user agreement and thus give their consent to everything that falls within stated rules. No one asked Muslims if there were ready to see anti-Muhammad cartoons, they appeared completely uninvited and without any disclaimers.

Historically, FOS people accept media as part of public forums covered by FOS rules but Muslims do not see it that way, and there is a historical reason for this – French Revolution itself. Muslims weren’t there, whatever came as a result of it was simply forced on them as a matter of fact. French fought long and hard to define the role of mass media in their society, Muslims, however, are new arrivals with their own ideas and expectations. This naturally leads to demands that they must accept rules and customs of the French society if they choose to immigrate there.

I don’t know the answer to that dilemma. Demands are demands, the world doesn’t move by demands alone, perhaps a renegotiation of the social contract is in order. Perhaps it can be done peacefully, perhaps it needs another bloody revolution.

Speaking of blood – another thing that FOS people miss is that Voltaire lived BEFORE the revolution. He didn’t get to live through the Reign of Terror, he died some fifteen years earlier. During Reign of Terror tens of thousands of people were executed in public squares in the name of freedom and liberty, and, in a way, for the right of the victors to say whatever they wanted without fear of retribution. Jacobins, who perpetrated it, obviously thought that guillotine was mightier than any pens.

I’m sure there are other ways to look at it but this particular perspective is useful to highlight the hypocrisy of FOS team. Jacobins were not contemplating giving their lives for FOS rights, they were taking lives of their opponents instead, and these theme continued through the next two hundred years. More people are being killed to give them democracy than by all terrorist attacks combined.

The underlying reason for this is simple – atheists are all for freedom of thought as long as these thoughts are atheist. They cannot contemplate the possibility that their world view might be incorrect, and they won’t accept the right of religions to exist. They, of course, will deny having such extreme views, but their denial is valid only in the sphere of the afore-mentioned public discourse. Religious views are tolerated only for their academic value, there’s no way atheists would allow actual society operate according to religious philosophy.

They unquestionably assume that society must be secular and rational as opposed to religious and based on faith. They cannot contemplate the possibility of them being wrong and religions being right, nor can they allow religious societies their right to exist outside hypothetical arguments, for real. In their view, all Islamic countries must eventually become secular, just like the West. There should be no freedom to practice any other way of development.

This contradiction between demand for freedom of speech and denial of freedom to live does not go unnoticed by Muslims and even by Christians. All governments everywhere must pay homage to liberal democracy. Usually they do it in exchange for a temporary reprieve, hoping that they are not next in line for a “regime change” and that they do not come in liberal democrats’ cross-hairs. They would plead special circumstances and beg for a special friend status or give promises of democratic reforms. I would argue that there isn’t a single religious government in the world that feels completely safe. With falling oil prices even Gulf states will soon discover how vulnerable they actually are.

The best strategy for all religious governments everywhere is to fly under the radar and hope Uncle Sam doesn’t look your way, that is just simple geopolitical reality these days.

It all leads to the need to think carefully about future co-existence between secular democratic and “tyrannical” religious states and their peoples. Sadly, the world seems to be pushed towards an angry confrontation instead. Kali Yuga rules, and there’s nothing we can do about it but to escape it altogether. The world WILL go down the drain, we just have to make sure we do not get trapped in it.

As with any other such discussion, the result should be the conclusion that intelligent thing to do would be to bail and seriously take to chanting. I think we should rethink our mission, too – are we here to change the course of Kali Yuga and therefore strive to create a better world, or are we here to take as many people as possible on the chanting train and let the world go wherever it is it’s heading, even if it’s to its doom.

Vanity thought #1236. Jesus, Charlie!

For a second there I thought that’s what “Je suis Charlie” means in English. Obviously, I was wrong, both factually and in terms of the message. TBH, I’m still not very clear with it. Everyone says that it’s just an expression of solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo magazine shooting, and it means “I am Charlie”. There was no Charlie among the victims, though, the magazine isn’t named after its chief editor or anything, it’s named after a Peanuts character Charlie Brown (the comic appeared in “Charlie Monthly”) so they started “Charlie Weekly”, as an inside joke about Charles de Gaulle that caused the ban of the original publication by the same editorial team. God, they DO know how to insult people!

For a second there I thought that “I’m Charlie” could be the last words by the magazine editor when terrorists appeared at the office and started calling the names from their list. I was obviously wrong but I still believe it would make a compelling message to the terrorists – people are not afraid of them and millions would stand up next to this “Charlie” in solidarity.

On the second thought – would they? It’s one thing to plaster you tweets with #jesuischarlie hashtag, it’s quite another to stand up to a masked man pointing a gun in your face. I know my bravery wouldn’t last that long but, perhaps, it’s a staple twitter heroism.

Regardless, eight magazine employees, including their leading cartoonists, were killed, and the total tally is well over a dozen now if we add all the aftermath killings. Terrorists themselves had their last stand and it ended predictably, with seventy virgins in heaven… Not.

The whole story is a testament to the sorry state of the world. In a flurry of comments I probably won’t add any actually new perspectives but, in general, the opinion on this has become split and polarized. There’s massive expression of solidarity and powerful drive for even more free speech. Next issue of Charlie Hebdo will be published on time, with a million more copies and, not unthinkable, even nastier cartoons about Muslims and Muhammad. This group insists on refusing to learn anything and adjusting their behavior to accommodate Muslim sensitivities.

The other group forms “blame the victim” brigade and they, generally, say that Charlie Hebdo had it coming. In its essence, this is just an actual observation, Charlie Hebdo wasn’t selected randomly and they had been attacked for these same cartoons before, and so if terrorists decided to teach any French publication a lesson, Charlie Hebdo would top their list. I don’t see any controversy in stating this but somehow it fills eyes of the first group red with rage, and it’s this first group that really worries me.

Personally, I hope, general public would take note and tone the fervor of their attacks on Islam down but this first group insists on carrying their mission of forcing Muslims to take insults submissively and vows to increase the level of their offense. For them it’s a matter of principle, they cannot live in the world where Muslims, or any other religious people, dare to reply to insults with anything other than words.

I don’t think they thought this through, though. In their drive for Freedom Of Speech, arguably the French invention, they forget another slogan born around the same time and on the same topic – “pen is mightier than sword”. It wasn’t just a play of words, it was also born our of observation – well articulated ideology is more persuasive than violence. It also implies that in struggle for control both methods are comparable.

Well, terrorists’s Kalashnikovs proved mightier than pencils at Charlie Hebdo but the idea would, of course, live on and each broken pencil will be sharpened into two new ones. Your move, terrorists! They will, of course, make their move and more people will die and that’s where FOS brigade will not take any responsibility neither for inciting nor for inviting the violence.

Their actual slogan is “my way or highway” and they won’t stop until all Muslims get into their heads that they have to surrender to FOS unconditionally. It might happen, it is already happening – with lots of Muslims joining in the outrage against Charlie Hebdo attacks, but I seriously doubt it would be a comprehensive victory. The remaining holdouts, say five percent, would still form a group millions and millions strong and even more determined to stand their ground against blasphemy.

Let’s not forget the Islamic world where blasphemy is outlawed and will stay outlawed for a long time to come. There will be no FOS there ever, regime changes won’t help anything because legitimizing blasphemy is simply not under discussion in Islam. Atheists insist on arguing for it again and again but they argue with themselves. No Muslim would ever accept it, period.

Right now a blogger in Saudi Arabia is being canned for blasphemy, his 1000 strikes being spread over twenty weeks. Medieval? Yes, but also perfectly legal and lawful there.

And it’s not only Islamic countries, of course. Half the Europe has some sort of an anti-blasphemy law on their books. Sometimes they don’t call these laws “anti-blasphemy” but their legislation acts in the same way.

There’s one crucial divergence from Sharia but it makes no practical difference. Religious laws, especially in Christianity, are meant for correcting the blasphemy and for clearing the sins of the offenders. Secular laws are meant to prevent it from happening and address not offenses against God and His prophets but wounded feelings of regular believers. As I said, as long as offenses are not being committed, there’s no practical difference.

Blasphemy laws in Europe are rarely enforced, Denmark has one and it was the birthplace of anti-Muhammad cartoons, for example, but there still is a general understanding in the societies that it simply should not be done. Note how many mainstream media outlets refrained from publishing those cartoons. BBC didn’t, and NYT editor went on record that they are just too offensive to be printed. I hope that this understanding will only strengthen after Charlie Hebdo massacre and hotheads pushing envelopes would be seen as outliers, but that’s not what FOS brigade wants to see.

I hope sanity will prevail but I’m afraid that radicalized atheists and intolerant Muslims will clash again and again and so more and more people will die. I’m afraid it’s just starting. Well it started long time ago and Charlie Hebdo killings didn’t come out of the blue, but what we see is a serious escalation, taking angry Muslim responses to the entirely next level – machine gun and RPG attacks in the hearts of European cities. I’m afraid this will become the new normal.

There’s more left to say about this whole situation but I’ll stop for now.