Vanity thought #1293. What gives right

I want to return to the topic of ISIS I thought I covered extensively about a week ago. This time I want to address the worldwide condemnation of their actions. They got back in the news for destroying artifacts in an ancient city of Nimrud, just as Taleban got in the news for destroying ancient Buddhists statues in Bamiyan some fifteen years ago.

By modern standards it’s unacceptable. Nimrud is one of the oldest cities on Earth, dating back thousands and thousands of years and it’s incomprehensible that someone would want to destroy history. Why, though?

We have been raised to have automatic respect for everything ancient. We worship places like Coliseum even though if that same ISIS started exactly the same kind of entertainment now they would be crucified by the public opinion. For a civilization that openly denounces God and treats ancient religions as mythology, our fascination with archaeological findings is somewhat puzzling.

Officially, we keep them to study history but their value goes far beyond simple pieces of evidence. We also have subconscious awe and reverence for any kind of ancient wisdom. We call ancient people ignorant idol worshipers yet we also assume that they knew something we don’t. It’s not a bad attitude to have but it’s a bit inconsistent for us.

ISIL followers obviously view history very differently. Everything that was before Muhammad has to go. They say Muhammad destroyed some idols with his own hands so it’s legit. History is a mystery for us and we want to discover it but for ISIL pre-Mohammad history might as well not exist.

They are not very unique in such views. For many Christians history before Christ isn’t worth remembering either. For those saved by Christ’s mercy dwelling in it has no practical value. Obviously, not all Christians are this dismissive but plenty are.

Our own, devotee situation is a slightly more complicated. We view history as a series of Kṛṣṇa’s interventions and that’s the only value it has for us. We can’t care less what happened between Lord Rāmacandra and Kṛṣṇa’s appearances, and that’s something like a million years. Likewise, India is full of ancient temples we would never bother visiting because they have nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa. We wouldn’t advocate destroying them, of course, but what about Taj Mahal?

It doesn’t generally bother us but we also stand against everything it represents and everything in its history, especially if it turns out to be a Hindu temple expropriated by Muslims to worship a dead girl instead. We won’t cry a lot if Hindu nationalists manage to replace a mosque that occupies the location of Kṛṣṇa’s birth either. These issues are not worth spilling people’s blood over but, in way, it would be a right thing to do.

Speaking of what is right – what gives us the right to judge ISIL? What makes our outrage anything more than a loudly expressed opinion. Who says ISIL was wrong? Who judges that?

In our world we all agree on some common values, like universal declaration of human rights. We have criminal laws which are more or less uniform across the globe and if they aren’t countries are pressured to fall in line. We have the UN, world courts, international court of justice, we have the “world policeman”, too. Even when the legal structures are absent and there’s no enforcement mechanism, we still know what is right and what is wrong and what is ought to be done to restore justice.

ISIL is fundamentally different. They rejected our value structures altogether, en masse, they don’t care what we think and what we feel because they see us as irrevocably corrupt in our rebellion against God. How can we convince them that they are wrong and we are right? I’m afraid on our terms it would be impossible.

Other Muslims have a better shot at it by arguing from the same books ISIL scholars draw their values from. Treatment of Christians and Yazidis or prisoners of war can be interpreted differently and if ISIL leadership realized that there’s a possibility that what they are doing is against the will of Allah and against the precedents set out by Muhammad they, perhaps, would not be so dead sure in their savagery.

There’s another approach to this problem, too. Perhaps we should consider that all our man made laws are simply abstracts. They reflect our subjective values and not the reality. Take the “universal” human rights, for example. If they really were so “universal” we wouldn’t have to explain them to Chinese or North Koreans again and again. What we really mean is some values and practices WE want to enforce universally, against the natives will if necessary.

We observe the physical universe and we find some truly universal laws, completely indifferent to what we think or do. We can’t legislate against the force of gravity and we can’t outlaw lighting. Can we assume that there are similar laws governing human behavior?

We, as devotees, can, it’s called the law of karma, but that is obviously not enough for the rest of the population. Unable to accept the law of karma we want to establish our own system of justice, we create our own laws and then enforce them as best as we can. We just can’t leave it to God to sort it out Himself.

Actually, even as devotees we accept human made laws – laws of Manu, for example, or rules governing vaṛnāśrama system. There’s no shortage of dharma books in Vedic literature, most of them appear to be obsolete but we are not against them in principle. We treat them as given by Kṛṣṇa but, practically, their origin is irrelevant. The authorities are supposed to punish the criminals and protect the innocent, we don’t care on what grounds, we just want the law to be there. Karma alone isn’t enough for us, too.

If we look at it from the law of karma POV, however, the ability of the criminals to commit their crimes is what makes them lawful already. The crimes would of course have consequences but no one can commit them without Kṛṣṇa’s permission, so the sanction is already there, in the reality of the act itself.

At this point we should consider that what we mean by being lawful and sanctioned is that the act won’t have negative consequences but from the karma POV it’s irrelevant. All actions have reactions and karma is unconcerned with how we feel about them, karma is above our duality.

From this POV the Buddha statues in Bamiyan had to be destroyed, their karma was up, and ancient sites in Nimrud had their time ran out, too. There was no injustice done there just as there was no injustice in any of the ISIL mass killings. Everybody always gets only what he deserves, nothing more and nothing less. Accepting this fact is very difficult even for devotees but that’s how karma works.

We should also remember that we have our own, transcendental values that we can judge actions done under the law of karma against. We accept everything favorable to Kṛṣṇa’s service and we reject everything unfavorable. Applying this criteria we often come up with very different judgments from the rest of the world.

People usually cite that Muslim suicide bombers are promised endless sex with seventy virgins up in heaven. I don’t know how true that statement is but it shows what we ourselves consider as valuable, too. As devotees, having endless sex with virgins would be a very bad karma indeed, a curse we would rather not have in our lives. Basically, we reject everything that is considered good and at best give it a secondary value, as eventually leading to devotion to the Lord if everything falls right. Otherwise there’s nothing good about vegetarianism or non-violence or acquiring knowledge or practicing yoga and meditation, what to speak of ordinary sense gratification. In fact, being deprived of enjoyment is considered good by us – we don’t need temptations and distractions from our service.

So, while we are being tempted to join the world in righteous condemnation of ISIL barbarities we should think twice if it has anything to do with us serving Kṛṣṇa at all. If not, we should skip the festivities. Defending ISIL would be a thankless task, too, better to just avoid the subject when in the company of non-devotees. They can’t understand how law of karma works and they aren’t going to accept it, most of us aren’t ready to accept it either as we keep trying to correct the world around us.

No need, it’s perfect as it is, just leave it alone and concentrate on saṅkīrtana, that’s the only solution to everything.

Vanity thought #1286. Pseudo religion

For the past few days I’ve been writing about all the good things about ISIL, how they are honestly trying to do God’s work and everything, as if this outfit should somehow become acceptable. By the modern standards, however, their complete disregard for human lives and exceptional cruelty should rule out any compromises whatsoever. Should we care about modern standards? Not really, but that doesn’t mean that we should be any less critical about ISIL’s barbarism. Ideally, we should be able to disqualify them on religious grounds but that is not so easy.

Well meaning atheists and their supporters apply a very simple logic – ISIL kills a lot of innocent people and therefore it cannot represent religion. Those atheists who won’t give religion any credit would argue that ISIL is a perfect example that religions, and especially Islam, are evil. We, as devotees, need to find a better ground for our judgment than that, preferably with śāstric quotes, but we don’t have any about Islam.

If ISIL was an offshot of Hinduism we would have nailed them down a long time ago but ISIL are Muslims, we have no idea what goes on in that religion and how to tell its real and sincere followers from their “apa-sampradāyas”. Our basic test of sincerity, starting with four regs, is too high and so no Muslim would ever pass it. After what people like Aurangazeb did to Vṛndāvana we will never have a soft spot for that religion, too. For us his rule was like what ISIL is for Middle East now. Whatever religious arguments he might have had for his destruction of our temples we will never find them acceptable.

So, is there any real spiritual component to ISIL and their brand of “varṇāśrama”? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, they talk about God. They might not use the “best” aspects of Godhead, in a sense that their version of God is too vengeful and cold hearted, but they still talk about God. Their God’s name might not be authorized in our scriptures but they still mean the creator and the controller of the universe who is beyond the perception of the material senses and who should be the sole object of human devotion. However crippled their understanding might be, it’s still God. So, how could this God allow His followers to commit such atrocities in His name?

As I said, the common answer is that that they can’t be doing God’s work and their version of Islam is a gross deviation. When I read explanations why it’s a deviation, however, I wasn’t totally convinced. They seemed to argue about details, pretty much like we would argue about implementation of the laws of Manu. And, as I said, we don’t know Islam well enough to pass our own judgment on what is true and what is false there, so we need a different approach.

I have a little theory that all successful deviations must split from the main tree very close to the roots. I have no proof of that, it’s just a theory, it explains some cases better than alternatives and that’s all I have.

It goes like this – when a sincere follower starts to deviate from the path Kṛṣṇa, at first, doesn’t take his mistakes seriously. We all are bound to do some stupid things under the influence of the modes of nature, no big deal, api cet su-durācāro and all that (BG 9.30). When, however, the living entity expresses deeper commitment to the pursuit of deviating ideas Kṛṣṇa actually helps them deviate (BG 7.21):

    As soon as one desires to worship some demigod, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to that particular deity.

The verse says “demigod” but it’s the principle that matters. In the previous śloka Kṛṣṇa spoke about people who lost their knowledge because they have material desires, meaning deviants from the path of pure, selfless devotion. These people then surrender to other devatās, and that’s where “demigod” comes from in the just quoted verse.

The point is, when the living entity makes a conscious decision to pursue any other path but unadulterated devotion, Kṛṣṇa helps him to fulfill that desire. To succeed on that path takes time, karma doesn’t work instantly, so when we see a successful deviant we must keep that in mind. What we see at that moment is the fruit of his deviation, not its case, which we must trace further back in time, close to the roots.

Rittviks of Bangalore are now building the tallest temple in Vṛndāvana, for example (as far as I understand from the news). If their project is complete we might feel there’s something wrong with it but it won’t tell us what was wrong with rittviks in the first place. We could say “these dudes are so vain”, we could say “these dudes value money and material achievements over Vraja mood of devotion”, we could say so many things, but I bet we wouldn’t be able to figure out that they were actually rittviks just by looking at the temple.

I suppose we could conclude that vanity, pride, and desire to be better devotees than others is at the core of rittvikism and it would probably be correct because all these things are interconnected and feed off each other, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma, but my point is that to find the actual religious deviation we should look past the visible results and back into the history, close to the philosophical roots.

In case of ISIL, the success is obviously there because they achieved what no other Islamic group could achieve in hundreds and hundreds of years – start a caliphate. The last caliphate, Ottoman Empire, was a successor to the previous ones, they didn’t start it from scratch, so, perhaps, we are talking about something really unprecedented in history of modern Islam. The root of their deviation, however, is hidden from us and we don’t know Islam well enough to dig it up. I’m sure something went wrong, however.

One possible reason is that this group of Muslims is too concerned with ruling the actual world. They are too attached to varṇāśrama, so to speak, they see it as the ultimate goal rather than a first step which might not be even necessary. We have ideas like that in our movement, too, carried by the “fifty-percenters” – devotees who think that now, after building a world wide preaching movement, our next step should be building varṇāśrama, even though ideally it should be the other way around. The debate whether old rules like the ones found in laws of Manu should be followed or not, and if yes, then how, is also all too common.

There’s a similar split in the Islamic world, too, and that’s something I haven’t mentioned when I talked about recent Atlantic’s article about ISIL. Most salafist, the sect ISIL nominally belongs to, interpret Dar-al-Islam, the land of Islam, to mean spiritual place and spiritual practice, not necessarily an actual state enforcing paradise on Earth. They see the excesses of trying to establish control over the land and create this caliphate thing as being detrimental to their spiritual progress. They see this war and its associated killings as a loss of their spiritual purity, and that’s something they value more than transient control over a piece of land.

We can relate to this argument, too – we need to reject anything that is unfavorable to our service. I mean, varṇāśrama needs kṣatriyas and kṣatriyas have their own code of conduct that would be incompatible with ours. They are not vegetarians, they drink and gamble, too. We are not going to train our devotees to do any of that, no matter how dear and important varṇāśrama might appear to some of us.

So, if we were to pick up sides in this great inter-Islam struggle, we should, perhaps, pick those who say that all this brutal fighting over land and pride of being in the Caliphate are completely misplaced and detrimental to pursuit of actual spiritual progress. I could only add that it doesn’t mean siding with those who strive to make Islam compatible with comfortable lives in atheistic societies either, those Muslims are clearly wrong, too.

Vanity thought #1285. Islamic varnashrama

This is what this ISIL Caliphate really is – an attempt to establish Islamic version of varṇāśrama, and not just varṇāśrama but daivī-varṇāśrama. They are not content on simply running their place by sharia law, or organizing everybody’s duties, they center their entire existence around fulfilling the will of Allah. We can, of course sneer and smirk and say that their merciless killings have nothing to do with serving God whatsoever but that’s how ISIL see it himself and, truth be told, they follow the right principles.

I first wrote about them probably half a year ago and I still think that if they weren’t so bloodthirsty they would have been praised everywhere, not just by Muslims but by all religious people around the world.

This is an important point most ISIL conversations miss completely – people do not want to put an end to ISIL, they want to put an end to their brutality, rapes, and slavery. Atheists, of course, would never accept any kind of religion based society and so ISIL would never get their approval but who cares what they think anyway.

Varṇāśrama elements in their structure are obvious but that is true for practically any society because these divisions were created by Kṛṣṇa and no one had ever been able to overcome them.

Their Caliph, for example, has to be a born and bred kṣatriya, but that is true for every society as well, even democratic ones. Blood lines are not as important in democracies, but they are not very important for caliphates either, they cannot justify having an ineffectual leader just because he was born into a right family.

The caliph is also not the supreme authority, the supreme authority in ISIL and, I guess, in every sharia based society is shura, the council of brāhmaṇas. They are the ones who set the policies and make all the important decisions, the caliph only implements them and takes all the public credit.

This could be used as a counter argument to those who do not see ISIL’s current leader as authoritative enough. He can read his statements from the paper, for all we care, he is not the one who writes them anyway, and if he oversteps his boundaries the shura would surely put him in place. It’s like Iranian presidents, I guess. They are the public face of the regime controlled by religions authorities from behind.

I don’t know what ISIL has for vaiśyas, I’ll say a few words about their economics later. I don’t know what they have for śudras but I could argue that their slaves would qualify.

There has never been slavery in India, afaik, so it seems unreasonable to compare śudras with slaves but in general their positions and duties are similar. I’m not even sure “free” śudras had significantly more rights than slaves. We mostly object to slavery for its exploitation and mistreatment of people, next wave of complaints has to do with lack of freedom of movement, but that was true about serfs in the Middle Ages, too, and things like the right to vote or freedom of speech never applied to śudras at all. Even slaves could complain, I believe, it’s just that in the west no one would listen, which brings me back to mistreatment and exploitation – our real grief with slavery.

In terms of aśramas, Islamic societies do not reinvent wheels either. There are students, there are householders, and there’s no big deal if there are no sannyāsīs because it’s Kali Yuga anyway.

People’s duties are very well established, just as it should be in varṇāśrama. Men should be doing men’s work and women should be doing women’s. This inequality between sexes is another major gripe westerners have with ISIL and Islam in general but if we tried to establish our varṇāśrama we would have come under exactly the same fire, too.

Many devotees in ISKCON want to modify traditions described in our books to better fit into the modern society but they are being firmly opposed by “conservatives”. We don’t want to trade śāstric injunctions for feminist brownies but so far we fight these battles internally.

If we tried to have varṇāśrama for real the people, media, and governments would be on us just as they are onto ISIL now. Forget the outrage over beheadings, we won’t be allowed to set up a state where women do not have the same rights as men. Arabs are getting away with this because they got their statehoods when no one cared and because they have oil.

If we managed to take over some state’s power even legitimately, through elections, we’d have American bombs falling on us out of humanitarian concerns in no time. There would always be some “coalition of the willing” to teach us how to lead our lives.

Speaking of bombings – last big outrage was about Jordanian pilot who was burned alive and video put up on the internet. There seems to be no justifications for this kind of atrocities but ISIL, surprisingly, came up with a good one. They’ve found a verse in their books that says they are free to execute the aggressor in exactly the same way he killed their people. There are other verses that say only Allah Himself can use fire as punishment but such contradictions are too common and are used mostly for the sake of arguments.

Real question is – did the pilot deserve to die? And did he deserve to die in this despicable way? In the west we stopped executing prisoners of war long time ago but ISIL does not live by modern rules, they take theirs from interpretations of Koran that were made over a thousand years ago. According to their laws, death was a just punishment.

I guess the world could have lived with that but burning him alive? In response, ISIL says that he dropped bombs which did exactly the same things to their children, so they burned him AND buried him under a pile of rubble. I’m not sure this is exactly what happened but I can understand their rationale here. They’ve also tried to negotiate, Jordan wouldn’t budge, and so blood was spilled.

It all started with executing two Japanese hostages and Jordan got involved when Japanese asked Jordanians to negotiate on their behalf but that was a serious miscalculation because, in ISIL’s eyes, Jordan has no moral standing whatsoever, they’ve sold out to “crusaders” completely.

Why did they have to execute the hostages, however? They said that Japan contributed 200 mil dollars to fighting against ISIL so they asked for the same amount in exchange for releasing hostages. This makes sense, but why punish innocent people for the actions of their governments?

This is another thing that is unacceptable to the modern men. Muslims, however, have no problem with assigning collective blame and spreading karma around to those who contributed even in the most insignificant ways. If you think about it, in democracies people elect their governments and so they SHOULD share some responsibility for how governments used this mandate. People, however, assume that election rights should carry no responsibility whatsoever.

In any case, intricacies of karma are very hard to understand and in this aspect ISIL clearly deviates from real God’s law but, otoh, if they do manage to execute innocent hostages it doesn’t mean that the law of karma was broken either.

Another aspect of this brutality is that we see only a tip of it. We react only to a handful of executions but ISIL implements them on a much large, well organized scale. First thing they do after conquering a city is to kill all those they consider irredeemable, like gays. They also crack down heavily on any kind of crime and they do not tolerate corruption. Personal integrity is considered a great virtue for ISIL leadership and they make sure they are seen as absolutely clean in this regard.

So, they run a quick shock and awe campaign to demonstrate that they are fully in charge but after that they hand over city management to the same officials who were doing it before. They try to reduce interruptions to a minimum so that ordinary folks have nothing to complain and all in all it’s seen as business as usual.

We are shocked by the brutality, true, but others say that by Middle Eastern standards ISIL are not much worse than anybody else. They do seem to enjoy the support of the general population, after they purged or converted all dissenters. It seems it’s not only the ISIL that is medieval there, the entire regions looks uncivilized.

What else? Oh, like the Taleban, ISIL bans all music and mundane entertainment. We, if we tried varṇāśrama, would have done the same, too, but at least we have kīrtanas. Being Muslims, ISIL also bans any kind of personal imagery. If Allah cannot be drawn then depicting ordinary people should not be done, too. Even faceless manikins should follow the rules – no nudity. Again – we would have done the same.

In short – it’s easy to blame ISIL for many things they do wrong but if we were in their shoes we would have done a lot of offensive stuff, too. I don’t think we would use ANY kind of violence to establish varṇāśrama, the days of Paraśurāma are long gone, but the west would find plenty of reasons to outlaw us all the same, and in that sense we can learn a lot from ISIL experience. We just need to look beyond blood and gore and concentrate on underlying momentum and reactions to it.

Vanity thought #1284. Importance of Levant

For all the bad publicity that ISIL generates, they are actually trying to do the right thing – establish a society concentrated exclusively on service to God. In that sense it’s not just varṇāśrama, it’s daivī-varṇāśrama that they are after. But let’s start at the beginning.

I can’t stress enough how important the fact that they got control of the land is. In the absence of central authority, like a Pope for Catholics, possession of the land is practically all the proof they need for their legitimacy.

Every Muslim can worship their Allah, everybody can read their Koran, everybody can argue about scriptures, everybody can display some level of purity and dedication, everybody can make sacrifices, everybody can claim having followers, but nobody controls the land in the name of Allah.

Sure, there are lots of Islamic societies and even states around the world and there are lots of individual Muslims who own land but the crucial point is that ultimately all these lands are given to Muslims by infidels and they manage these lands with infidels’ permission. No one has it as a gift from God Himself.

We, ISKCON, usually lease our properties. In best cases we own them and we have deeds to show but these deeds need to be recognized by the state, the secular government. We “own” the land only by the state authority. Theoretically, the state can nationalize it at any point and there would be nothing we could do about it. We could take our case to some international court that has jurisdiction over these matters but even that court would draw its authority from the UN – a secular organization. There’s no higher authority than that in the modern world.

I’m not saying UN represents God, because if God ultimately owns everything and appoints agents to control things on His behalf then all secular rulers must draw their ultimate power from God. There were times in history when the entire universe was ruled by demons and the UN is just a milder version of that. We might recognize its authority but we do not see UN as God’s ministry. Still, materially speaking, we depend on atheists for our survival, they are the ones who give us stuff to live on, not Kṛṣṇa, who is invisible anyway.

ISIL and their Caliphate, otoh, bypass control over the world given to atheists and own their land directly, there are no other agents between them and God, they do not need anybody’s permission and they do not answer to anyone but God and their version of paramparā. This, and the fact that they were able to find a leader with ancestry leading back to Mohammad, gives them all legitimacy they need.

Others might not recognize it, and they don’t, but the principles on which ISIL claims their power are solid. All arguments against it are just details and interpretation of the rules.

We, children of the modern world, might not realize the immense power the idea of Caliphate should have over Muslims and Muslims themselves are not ready to deal with it but eventually they will come around. I don’t think ISIL will become any more acceptable any time soon but when the weight of its claims eventually sinks through Muslim world will be shaken to its very foundation.

Caliphate, basically, is a kingdom ruled by successors of Mohammad and, by extension, Allah Himself – through the prophet and his followers. ISIL is not the first caliphate by any means, various caliphates existed for well over a thousand years. Some traced directly to the prophet, some made rival claims, some were regional outfits which had taken over governing duties from Islamic heartland in Arabian peninsula. Ottoman Empire was the last such caliphate. They wrestled the power from Egyptians at the end of 15th century and they held Islamic torch for almost five hundred years. During the WWI they made a mistake of allying with Germany, lost the war, got conquered and partitioned, and the seat of the Caliph was taken over by secularists and that was the end of it.

So this caliphate declared by ISIL resumes the tradition that was interrupted almost one hundred years ago. No other Muslim state had any rights to claim the caliphate status since then, they all drew their authority from their former colonial powers and they all had to accept all kinds of authorities beside Allah and His prophet, they didn’t even try.

The idea didn’t die, however, and one could argue that Saddam’s Baath party was an attempt at reuniting Muslim world once again. It was trying to become a secular pan-Arabic institution but it obviously failed. ISIL brought religion back into focus and capitalized on Baath experience and aspirations.

Al-Qaeda also talked about Islam conquering the whole world but, as I mentioned yesterday, there’s a gulf of difference between them. Al-Qaeda were just daydreamers comparing to ISIL. Bin Laden might have talked about Muslims taking over New York, London, and Paris but no one had any idea how any of that could have come through. Al-Qaeda couldn’t even unite Muslims in Arabian peninsula itself and no one had any idea how to bring all those Gulf monarchies under one government. And all Bin Laden’s grandiose talk was coming from some unknown cave god knows where and he couldn’t show his face in public because he always had to hide from local authorities. He was no Caliph and no ruler of anything.

ISIL, otoh, is very real, down to earth and back to roots organization. They have their core areas with really really long history and that’s what forms their heartland and that’s where they build foundations of their state. They are not after New York or Europe, their hands are busy at home. They do not care about Saudi Arabia or Arab Emirates, they care about land under their feet, land they lived on for thousands and thousands of years, and land they see as blessed by Allah through His prophet.

Unlike Al-Qaeda, they do not tell Muslims to rise against their rulers and take over their cities, they ask them to come to this historic Levant and make their living there. It’s like a dhama for them. Leaving Levant is not an option, it would be a failure.

Having said that, ISIL gradually spreads its influence but it does so in the Vedic way – by accepting pledges of allegiance from Muslims in outside lands. The biggest such place is now in Libya, that’s what Egypt bombed a week ago, and the farthest such place is Philippines.

Naturally, only terrorists submit themselves to ISIL authority and as such they are not recognized by local governments and to not represent anybody. ISIL affiliated groups were badly beaten in Afghanistan, for example, and by no one else but Taleban, but the principle still works. Some pledges are anonymous but they are still coming. It might not actually expand the Caliphate but it might serve another very important purpose – draw away the fire coming from ISIL neighboring states.

Militarily, ISIL is still in no position to defend itself and with enemies on all sides it’s only a matter of time before it collapses, so creating diversions in Libya or Sinai peninsula or Yemen gives ISIL a space to breathe and the time to build its defenses. If, through its affiliates, ISIL manages to engage Arabs and Turks in fighting elsewhere it might just get lucky.

ISIL also has its own apocalyptic story in which it is all but wiped out so they do not worry too much about their survival, and even less about conquering the West itself, so we are actually quite safe, more so than from Al-Qaeda threats.

Will it succeed? I don’t know. It grew in vacuum left after overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Neither Syria’s Assad nor Iraqi’s “what’s his name” are in the position to assert their authority over ISIL lands. Americans are not eager either, Saudis, Turks, and Jordanians haven’t decided what to do about ISIL, too. The longer they wait, the stronger ISIL would become, and, more importantly, it will become less fanatical and less murderous, it will naturally mellow out like all revolutions do. Without brutal beheadings in the news the sentiment might very fast change to “just leave them alone”.

Now, about those beheadings… It’s a big and difficult topic for us, westerners, to discuss, and I am not about to start it now.

Vanity thought #1283. Islamic mess

The Atlantic article I discussed yesterday sparked a lot of debate, lots of people appreciated it and lots of people written against it, too, which is not surprising – no one sane likes this ISIS thing and so any attempt to “whitewash” it is going to be met with opposition.

The reactions from westerners are predictable, but also probably the most sympathetic to the author. Some of us, from “scientific” background, are wired to understand things and their internal logic even if we do not approve them. We are not satisfied with simply calling ISIS a monster, we need to know what kind of monster it is, what are its strengths and what are its weaknesses. We want to know what attracts people to ISIS and how we can counteract its influence.

Majority of us, as usual, are not into such subtlety and simply want blood. More bombs, more boots on the ground, more violence – we think violence solves everything. If we can’t bribe them, kill them. We cannot comprehend the religious aspect of ISIS, we cannot comprehend that it could be so important to its followers. As Graeme Wood put it:

    ..if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.

I think this is a very astute observation of western approach to Islam, or to any religion for that matter. “They can’t be serious!” we say, but they are. I’m speaking as a westerner here, devotees obviously understand how important religion could be to people.

It’s the reactions from other Muslims that are most interesting, however. It seems ISIS has truly united Muslim world but united it against it, or maybe it’s just an official, politically correct reaction. No sane Muslim would go into mainstream media expressing his adoration and support for ISIS, it’s just not what people say in public.

There’s an Open Letter to Baghdadi, the Caliph of the new ISIS Caliphate, signed by hundreds of Muslim scholars that doesn’t mess about and apparently leaves no scope for ISIS legitimacy. It’s quite long and wants to be scholastic and I can’t force myself to read through pages and pages of Koranic arguments. I wouldn’t read that even if it was about some ISKCON controversy, but I believe the samples I looked at represent the whole paper.

I can’t possibly take sides in those arguments, there’s no way for me to know whose interpretations are right and whose are wrong, but I do know this – it won’t convince anybody but those who signed under this paper already. Well, it will probably convince those who have no idea what to believe but I’m sure ISIS would have plenty of counter arguments and will not take this paper as any kind of authority. Their very first page, the executive summary, is worded in such a way as to make it wholly unacceptable to its opponents. It lists two dozen dictums, most starting with “It is forbidden..”

They do not even try to establish the authority of their proclamations, just state things as self-evident law of God, no interpretations necessary. ISIS, obviously, doesn’t think “it is forbidden” and have an ace argument to beat them all – “We’ve got the power and we’ve done it already”.

In this sense, ISIS drives its legitimacy from its own existence as a caliphate, The Caliphate. They’ve got the land, they control it, they have their Caliph descending from a blessed family, it’s all kosher. They augment this power with their purity in interpretation of what caliphate means, and that rules out ISIS accepting advice from practically any other Islamic leader.

As I said yesterday, ISIS does not recognize any other authority but Koran and the prophet. Practically every other Muslim in the world, otoh, submits himself to secular authorities of some kind. If not the secular state then secular organizations like the UN. A true believe has no obligations to anyone but the prophet and the book, he would never submit himself to the jurisdiction of infidels.

This is remarkably close to our position as well, but I don’t think I’m ready to draw parallels just yet.

So, when somebody like king of Jordan rants against ISIS they are not going to listen. Jordan is one of the worst traitors to Islamic cause, they completely sold out to the westerners. Saudis have no legitimacy either, we’ve learned this even from Bin Laden’s speeches. Bin Laden himself is respected but is not taken seriously. His vision was too idealistic, too Utopian and he didn’t have the land to govern, meaning he wasn’t recognized by God.

We should not underestimate the strength of the “land argument”. Those who get the land and get to govern it are blessed by higher powers regardless of their current views. We, as ISKCON devotees, respect the secular governments precisely because of this – their power must have approval from higher authorities, they earned their position, and so we accept it s given. Besides, having land to rule is the prime goal of any kṣatriya, without the land there would be nothing.

In ISIS case, it’s the land of their ancestors, the land they’ve been ruling over for thousands of years, they haven’t stolen it from anybody. US puppet regime in Baghdad doesn’t count.

So, Islamic criticism of ISIS appears to be too confrontational to be taken seriously but that’s not all of it. What I see it ranting against ISIS obvious excesses – beheadings and torture, but that is only a side point. ISIS leaders do not spend days and nights plotting ever more barbaric ways of killing people, they probably do not concern themselves with such trivial things at all. Any criticism of it, therefore, would be taken in as mildly annoying and irrelevant.

What the Islamic world should challenge ISIS on instead is their core legitimacy, their dedication to their cause and the purity of their motives. To reduce criticism only to beheading would betray the same bias as I quoted from Wood’s paper above – “they can’t be serious about their ideals, can they?”

But they are. They are building God’s kingdom in God’s name and they don’t seem to have any ulterior motives, no personal interests. Muslims who dare to challenge them should display a similar kind of purity. Arab sheiks have obviously no clout there. Muslims who do not follow their regs have no right to speak either. ISIS demands pure, unadulterated devotion to Allah, Koran, and Mohammad. Those who do not possess such devotion have no right to speak, and those who make compromises with atheists in exchange for comforts of modern life have no right to speak either.

This makes challenging ISIS very difficult. We can easily condemn them in our own circles, sure, but they won’t accept our arguments for the reasons outlined above, and why should they? If we were in their place we would behave in exactly the same way, but I already said that I’m not going to draw parallels today, so I’ll leave it at that.

Vanity thought #1282. To war or not to war?

That is the question which has occupied media space for about a week already, since US president Barak Obama publicly refused to fight a war with Islam and refused to address ISIS as Islamists. Unfortunately for him, The Atlantic published a long, informative, and, apparently, very influential write up on ISIS that made Obama’s position indefensible, and that was in addition to president’s usual enemies from Republican party.

What does it have to do with us? Not much, really, but if we want to see ISKCON as a relevant part of the world society then ISIS offers an invaluable case study. Even if we’d prefer to withdraw from worldly affairs there’s something for us in ISIS story, too.

I’m not sure that Graeme Wood’s description of ISIS is accurate or complete. It looks like he concentrated on the ideological aspect of that organization and overlooked the role played in it by old Saddam Hussein’s cadres. They were the ones who turned ISIL, as it was known then, from one of the average terrorists groups into a formidable military machine. They were released from Iraqi jails (thanks Obama!) in 2010 and, through knowledge and experience, quickly reorganized all aspects of ISIL management – command structures, supply chains, coordination, governance of the occupied territories etc.

Military victories gave legitimacy to the ideologists and so the caliphate was born. Saddam’s Baath party was, by contrast, secular and ISIL top military commander wouldn’t even grow a beard like a Muslim should, he had to be persuaded to fall in line. Ideologists recruited more fighters and by now it’s not clear how much actual weight old Baathists carry there, it’s all about Islam now.

So, assuming Atlantic’s article is correct in that aspect, Obama’s denial of war with Islam looks out of place. Sure, the sentiment is nice enough and might go down well with regular Muslims but regular Muslims are not eager to run off to Syria. He is preaching to the choir in that sense. Those who do want to join the jihad would only laugh in Obama’s face, as far as Twitter allows, of course. As a non-Muslim born to a Muslim father he has no right to lecture Muslims on Islam and no right to declare jihadists non-Islamic. He is an apostate who needs to be put down if he doesn’t correct his ways.

Wood’s research shows that ISIL is as Islamic as it gets, these people take the scriptures very seriously and its ideologists are very learned and scholarly. If one assumes their premises they appear to be very rational and persuasive and defeating them on their own ground would be practically impossible. I mean defeating them intellectually here.

The premises are rather simple – Koran is absolutely correct, everything that is said there is true, and it’s a duty of every Muslim to work towards its goals. All Muslims must live in one Caliphate under Sharia law, for example. It looks like every Muslim knows that but not many are serious about it.

That’s why declaration of the Caliphate was such a big deal – when there’s no caliphate to pledge allegiance to individual Muslims could mind their own business but now it’s not an option anymore. That’s why lots of ISIL victims are fellow Muslims – anyone refusing to live by Caliphate rules is considered an apostate and needs to be put to death, it’s as simple as that.

ISIL is no fan of al-Qaeda, they consider al-Qaeda as deviants who were not true to Islam. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIL followers do not embrace western way of life and, importantly for us, are not concerned with world politics – Israel, Palestine etc. They are not out to punish the Great Satan, either, not at this time anyway. Caliphate needs to grow where it is, not stage terrorists attacks thousands and thousands of miles away. People who return home from ISIL are seen as failures, not as jihadis on the mission. They are not going to be used as terrorists, not by ISIL command anyway. If one day ISIL and al-Qaeda make peace, however, it will be bad, really bad.

Likewise, ISIL reject Afghani Taleban for their acceptance of the present world order, exchanging ambassadors with various countries etc. ISIL is not planning on joining community of nations and it is not going to recognize UN. Caliphate has no other authority than Koran and the prophet.

Caliphate does not believe in borders either – it supposed to grow until it overtakes the whole world. It can’t live in peace with its neighbors, it’s theologically impossible because everyone must be subjugated to its authority. They can have temporary peace treaties that can be renewed but Caliphate MUST wage a war at least on one of the neighbors every year.

Interestingly, ISIL appear to be more gentle in dealing with Christians. They only require their official submission and they can live free whereas deviating Muslims must be killed without mercy. ISIL are also big on slavery, every infidel is a potential candidate.

The horrific execution videos, I understand, are meant for a shock and awe effect to deter enemies from challenging Caliphate’s orders. That’s the justification its ideologists gave to Wood. Once the enemy stop resisting life should become easier. Everybody is free to convert to Islam anyway so from ISIL perspective it’s their choice to die rather than to submit to the authority of the Caliph.

On the plus side, things like social welfare are not a policy choice subject to a debate, like in the West, but an obligation of the Caliphate towards its citizens. Health care must be absolutely free, for example, no two opinions about this.

Once a caliphate is in place and there’s a caliph everything must move according to absolute rules and without any compromises. It should be automatic and very predictable.

Another interesting thins is that while the caliphate is supposed to take over the world they also have certain predictions in their books and they end with the Apocalypse. There are certain key battles to be fought, caliphate would be on the verge of being wiped out completely, and then Jesus would return to Earth and lead Muslims to victory.

I’m not sure how uniform these predictions are but it is also a fact that ISIL recruits often go there to fight and die, not to seek an easy life. Until apocalypse comes there will be nothing easy about it.

There are different ways to react to this ISIL thing. Policy makers have their priorities. Obama might calibrate his statements more carefully, Fox News commentators might concentrate on existential threat that ISIL poses to modern civilization. Ordinary Muslims must somehow come to grips with its existence and with their commitment to their faith. We can look at it as an example of what happens when a religion gets a chance to implement the pure way of life.

I think I should leave that for another day, though, it’s enough information for one day.

Vanity thought #1118. Muslim problem part 2

This post is not about a Muslim problem yet but it comes second in a series that will eventually address the position of Islam in a modern world. I started it yesterday with an overview of the sudden emergence of ISIL, a new Islamic state that was established in less than a week. Of course it’s not really a state and it’s not established in any sense, but they gained control over a lot of ground in the Middle East and are not giving it up.

Their barbarism apparently exceeds that of Taleban, though I wouldn’t arguing this point too hard. In a past week they uploaded two videos of beheading hostages and that shook the world back into “we must do something” mode.

No one knows what, however. US president publicly admitted that he doesn’t have a strategy and so all options probably are on the table. No one openly talks about a third invasion of Iraq yet but there are talks about “coalition of the willing” already, in reference to the 2003 international force that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. For now it’s just occasional bombing and arming Kurds, with proposals to bomb ISIL forces in Syria, too.

I don’t know what to do about ISIL either, they are the kind of people you just don’t want as neighbors. It’s not said publicly by diplomats and officials but there’s a tacit agreement that ISIL is the kind of fighters that needs to be exterminated, negotiations and co-existence being absolutely unacceptable. No one just knows how to achieve that efficiently.

Since there’s no solution, why not ask whether we can avoid the problem? Why can’t the world allow ISIL to exist and control parts of Iraq and Syria? Why not just protect whatever we still control, including Kurds, and leave ISIL to its own devices? It’s not like Iraq and Syria’s sovereignty is unviolable, Iraq was invaded twice and removal of Syrian current government is West’s publicly stated objective.

There are two answers to this question. First is that it’s not easy to protect Middle Eastern desert and so it would not be easy to stop ISIL expansion and incursions into neighboring territories. Their appetite is enormous, they want their caliphate to cover the entire Middle East, and if left alone they would just gather strength and resources for future fight.

Second reason is ideological – modern world should not have space for beheadings, no space for “terrorists”. We just can’t allow it.

This is an interesting stance, btw. We usually assume that extreme violence is the domain of radial Islam but I just read an article by a western “jihadi” who in his youth almost joined fighting in Chechnya, the then hotspot of Islamic fundamentalism. What makes it remarkable is that his decision to fight the Russians there wasn’t a religious one but cultural. In his own words:

    It wasn’t a verse I’d read in our Qur’an study circles that made me want to fight, but rather my American values. I had grown up in the Reagan ’80s. I learned from G.I. Joe cartoons to (in the words of the theme song) “fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.” I assumed that individuals had the right — and the duty — to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice and equality.

This is the moment that it should be noted that the two recent beheadings of two western hostages were carried out by a western jihadi, not an Arab one. Brits already have a possible name, narrowing his origins down to a few blocks of London.

It very well could turn out that the perception of injustice was installed into him by Islamic fundamentalists but the decision to actually cut people’s heads off came from his western upbringing where he was taught that correcting injustices is his god given right.

It could very well turn out that ISIL’s western recruits are much more violent and senseless than the locals because they’ve been taught that nothing can stand in the way of the righteous cause, except that now we disagree with them on what the right cause is. And now we use the same kind of justification to wipe them all out from the face of the Earth, the irony.

Anyway, I wanted to entertain the idea that we could actually try giving ISIL a chance. If they stopped sending us videos of white people beheadings we could all happily forget about them and go on with bashing Russia or something. We don’t really care who rules northern Iraq, ISIL or that other dude who won the elections in Baghdad.

Our first reaction to creation of ISIL was to let them sort it out themselves, it’s their lands, their history, their relationships, their culture. They have to settle it between themselves first, we can’t force them to live in peace with each other. That was a sensible idea but then beheadings followed and no one remembers it anymore.

Yesterday I compared ISIL to Taleban, the original barbaric fundamentalists. We lived with them in charge of Afghanistan for years. It wasn’t easy but we survived. There was law and order in that country, our only problem was that their kind of law and order was unacceptable in the modern world. Public executions at the football stadiums, sometimes by stoning – we can’t have that.

This is the moment where we should note that there’s no “we” here. We, as followers of the Vedic culture and laws of Manu, would appear just as barbaric as Taleban. I’m not aware of beheadings but westerners who came to India five hundreds years ago were horrified of the practice of execution by elephants, which was sanctioned by Manu.

Likewise, “we” as westerners are terrified by practice of cutting off hands of thieves whereas “we” as devotees accept that once it was a common practice, prescribed by Manu, too.

We say that we want to restore the original varṇāśrama and the Vedic culture but we have not given a thought how it would look to the modern men. Or do we hope to restore only the acceptable parts of it and ignore the rest? I’m not sure it would work.

Varṇāśrama is meant for pleasing Viṣṇu, not the atheists, why should we run by infidels what we should or shouldn’t do? Would partial varṇāśrama even work without the prescribed deterrents for the deviants? Can we keep our women chaste if there is not punishment for adultery, as in the modern world?

For adultery, Manu prescribes death (Article 359). I didn’t read the entire document through, hopefully it’s not an absolute rule or, better yet, not real Manu smṛti, but we should prepare for accepting some “cruel and unusual punishment” for what is not even considered crimes anymore.

Normally, we say that laws of Manu are not meant for Kali yuga. A good point, but varṇāśrama isn’t meant for Kali yuga either, we want to make an exception for our “Golden Age”. How far that exception should go? No one knows, to my knowledge no one thought it through yet.

Personally, I would argue that it’s not that the laws of Manu are unjust but that applying them in the modern world would not bring desirable effect. They would not work, for many reasons, but it doesn’t mean that adulterers do not deserve capital punishment and thieves do not deserve their hands cut off.

“We”, as modern people, find it unacceptable but “we” as devotees should go the other way – accept it as axiomatic and then try to figure out why these laws are correct.

“We”, as modern people, think of the results in terms of current life. Death for us is permanent, and so is losing a limb, but in the Vedic society it’s as temporary condition as imprisonment. Manu smṛti I referred above states that a properly punished thief goes to heaven (Article 318) and in Vedic society that overrules all other concerns. Everyone should be ready to give up his life at a moment’s notice for the promise of heaven. “We”, as devotees, want to establish daivī-varṇāśrama and death for us is reunion with Kṛṣṇa, so we’ll do even one better on Manu in case we are sentenced to death.

Shouldn’t our attitude to Manu smṛti follow the same principle we apply elsewhere in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – “love me love my dog”? Shouldn’t unconditional surrender mean unconditional acceptance of all Vedic laws regardless of how they look to the modern men? Shouldn’t rejection of some of these laws mean giving priority to our mundane considerations over absolute faith in Kṛṣṇa, that everything He does or tells us to do is absolutely perfect?

Or to put it simple – are we objecting to Manu only because we are not devoted enough? That’s a serious question, who cares about ISIL and Muslims here, we need to clear the air between ourselves and Kṛṣna first, only then we can think about solving other people’s problems.

Vanity thought #1117. The Muslim problem

The whole world is looking at developments in Iraq with great concern. This week ISIL rebels there broadcast the second beheading of a captured westerner, enough to assume it’s a new trend there, and there was the third victim shown who will most likely feature in the next installment. It’s horrifying.

ISIL, or ISIS, the world can’t yet decide on the uniform abbreviation, grabbed headlines earlier this summer when they overrun Iraqi military and took control of large swath of the country, they also control a huge chunk of Syria and are not going to stop there. Conventional wisdom goes that they are Sunni opportunists who took advantage of marginalization and weak state control by Shia Muslims while others argue that they are as much a CIA creation as was Taleban in the 80s.

Everyone agrees that they are a product of ill fated war in Iraq and so blame Americans for it. Americans themselves accepted responsibility of confronting ISIL but so far used only limited aerial bombardments against them. At the ongoing NATO summit in Wales, however, there’s a talk about forming a new “coalition of the willing” so we might see western troops on the ground in Iraq again.

Will it solve the problem, though? That is the question.

Pointing fingers at the US or the CIA or G.W Bush is pointless, pardon the fun. Something needs to be done there regardless of who is responsible, but what? A third invasion? ISIL is not Saddam Hussein, it’s more like Taleban, you squeeze them in one place they move to another, and almost a decade and half of fighting them in Afghanistan hasn’t brought any lasting success. There’s little hope it would work in Iraq, too.

I’m not a military strategist and military solutions do not interest me, what I want to discuss instead is public reaction. Public reaction is pretty standard – these barbarians do not deserve to live. Despite all the PC that is prevalent in modern media, practically everyone who thinks about it for a while decides that there could be no reasoning with these people, they need to be hunted down and killed. I tend to agree – negotiations here are useless.

Does it mean that thousands of people need to be culled like chickens during bird flue epidemic? What about all their supporters who in time will take their place? Do we need to set up industrial scale genocide machine not seen since the Holocaust? That doesn’t sound like a solution even if that was possible. We need a different approach.

What if they didn’t cut people’s heads off? Would be acceptable to the world community? If yes, then it’s a kind of goal that can be achieved without excessive violence. We have an example of pre-2001 Taleban already, it was bad but the world lived with it. Can we arrange something similar for ISIL, perhaps slightly more civilized that Taleban, and get on with our lives? I believe it’s possible, at least theoretically, but there are other insurmountable problems to get us there so practical chance is zero. Still, it’s worth considering, and it would involve us as devotees, too.

Not that anybody would ask us what to do but rather we should form our own view on the subject, we can’t just go along with atheist policy makers. Our goals, our vision of the perfect world is too different from the west to blindly follow whatever NATO leaders decide as good for everyone else.

I mentioned NATO deliberately – ostensibly it’s a defensive North Atlantic organization but these days it feels compelled to enforce democracy practically anywhere in the world. If not officially, same NATO countries, NATO official partners and their allies can decide to interfere anywhere they want. They formed the core of the military force that oversaw independence in East Timor, for example, that is over ten thousand kilometers away from Europe. I mentioned Afghanistan already, another recent official NATO involvement was in the Gulf of Eden, some three thousand kilometers from Europe. Their reach is truly global. It could be said that the US is the driving force behind all NATO ambitions but it’s a NATO summit now, so I’ll pin it on them rather than singling out Americans.

It’s this idea that western countries have the right and the authority to determine how people should live thousands and thousands kilometers from their borders that makes any negotiated settlement with ISIL impossible. We simply can’t allow them to live the way they want. We can’t stand their mere existence, beheadings or not.

Taleban didn’t cut people’s heads off like ISIL does, afaik, but public executions were common there, that’s what they mainly used their football stadiums for. They shot people, stoned them to death, and cut off hands of thieves, hanging amputated limbs from goalposts for everyone to see. It was all decidedly medieval but it was a functioning society with law and order, however brutal. We lived with it and tolerated it until 9/11 happened.

By law and order I mean that people in general knew what to expect, what punishment would be meted for what crime. We can disagree with their laws but their spectators would beg to disagree with us. To them it was perfectly acceptable and I think even criminals there didn’t complain of unfair treatment. They had their own judicial system and it’s unavoidable that their system made horrific mistakes and convicted a fair share of innocents but it happens in our society, too.

In that aspect they did their best, our main gripe is with the laws themselves, not with their protection or execution. Western style jury trials wouldn’t have changed much.

Another thing – when I said medieval I meant that we know this level of barbarity, we had it ourselves only a few centuries ago, so what we actually condemn is that Taleban is not evolved enough, that they are stuck in some kind of time warp and can’t get out.

This understanding offers us a ray of hope, however – we just need to bring Taleban and ISIL up to speed. Maybe only a couple hundred years up the evolutionary ladder. Obviously it won’t take as much in real life, we’ve seen this kind of transformation in numerous countries happen in just a few decades already, it just that no one started from the level as low as Taleban.

I remember once reading about justice system in Thailand, then Siam, probably less than a hundred years ago. Every member of society was assigned a value. Nobility, slaves, traders, prostitutes, farmers, craftsmen – everybody was worth something. When any dispute arose the judgment was passed according to this weight. Plaintiff could bring his witnesses and defendants could bring theirs, sums were totaled and verdicts reached in a matter of minutes. Really simple, though I’m not sure this is how it really worked.

Cynics could say that they haven’t progress much but, in general, in a space of few decades they have completely rebuilt their justice system and put “fair” ahead of “VIP” at least on paper.

Anyway, to convey to Taleban or ISIL that beaheadings are so passé shouldn’t take long, we just need to impress this point on their leaders and so we might see a more human justice system in just a few years.

That would leave amputations, though. Barbaric, huh? What if I told you that I heard our ISKCON leaders of the years past praising that system, even if only in jest? I don’t know if statistics was solid but the claim was that it works, it prevents theft better than anything else.

Well, not anything else, because crime levels do not depend on punishment, only to a small degree. Education or overall prosperity can reduce such petty crime as theft to an absolute minimum, but, given the same conditions, amputations are allegedly the best deterrent.

This is where we have to look at it from a completely different platform, as devotees, and this is where we have to admit that we ourselves haven’t evolved much on the western scale. Capital punishment is a must in the Vedic culture but the world has “evolved” past it already, bar the US and a couple of other countries.

We shouldn’t take this kind of evolution as absolute and we should find a way to stick to our values in the world that has rejected them.

This is the devotional aspect of ISIL saga that I wanted to talk about, and there’s another side to it, too – ISIL are “devoted Muslims”, they believe in God above anything else. Surely it must make us scratch our heads trying to reconcile their brutality with their faith. They are not making a good case for religionists anywhere.

Obviously I’m not going to discuss these topics today, the introduction above is enough, there’s still a lot to ponder there so I’ll stop now.