Photo: Buddha and a swastika
I bought this brass Buddha statue in a market in China. The swastika on Buddha’s chest clearly relates to the Buddhist version of the symbol, representing luck and positivity, but it is hard to see this symbol with Western eyes and not also think about the version with the ‘legs’ reversed that was used by the Nazi party during WWII.
Given the events of the weekend, I think it’s appropriate to remember how messages and symbols of peace can be turned to represent some of the worst excesses of humanity. I’m not a religious person, but I do respect people who pursue the support and well-being of others. Many religious people find encouragement in their faith to be charitable or to assist others. Many people without a religious affiliation (with non-denominational spiritual beliefs or whom are atheist) do the same. Personally I don’t mind either way, and I don’t really feel that their beliefs are any of my business.
But when beliefs are twisted to support the killing of innocents, it is hard not to wonder how those messages of peace get turned towards death. The killers were persuaded that they were performing actions with divine approval. The question is not about revenge, because it is hard to think that revenge will ever stop a cycle of death, it is instead about understanding: what message have been told that had the power to turn people into merciless killers? Most importantly, what message can we give to turn peoples’ minds away from killing once they are set on that course? What message can we share that would overrule the message to kill?
When I look at this Buddha statue, I think about the thousands of years that the swastika has existed and appeared all over the world since its first recorded appearance 12,000 years ago, and I wonder if Western eyes can ever truly re-see a symbol that was so abused and corrupted. I wonder about how Christianity has barely atoned for the blood it spilled during the Crusades and numerous over atrocities, the reverberations of those battles in the world today, and I wonder if I will live long enough to see Islam’s reputation in the West transcend the stain of extremism that lies on it at the moment.
The most terrifying thing to an extremist seems to be grey areas, where enemies don’t hate you, where forgiveness is possible, and understandings are sought. Conversations, communication, and openness… This feels strange to type. Even the idea of conversation with people who have gone so far into hatred makes me uncomfortable, but nonetheless I don’t feel like the final answer to these times will eventually be found with a gun (although I also think it seems inevitable that many steps along the way will be violent). Violence begets violence. It seems the intention of the weekend’s acts was not to subdue the people of Paris, or Europe and America, but to incite those people and nations to unthinking violence in return. To win, we need to not be that animalistic enemy.
Extreme ideologies require enemies, and it’s hard to demonise an enemy that wants to talk and to listen. Embrace Muslims, embrace Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists, and many more. If you want to feel anger, feel anger for the leaders who push their troops into battle. Feel anger for the people who tell others to pick up a gun rather than themselves talking and seeking understanding. Feel anger at the people for whom there are no grey areas, on all sides. There are educated leaders who are twisting the messages that should be peaceful, and if we show unthinking, primal hatred then we only strengthen those messages. Stay open to each other. Love each other. Forgive. Forge friendships across borders, boundaries, and beliefs. Show compassion and look for ways to help your local and global environment, don’t just wait for times when things are desperate, because then it can come too late for many.
I know it’s tiring, and we don’t always have the energy to keep the world on our shoulders, but we are fortunate in so many ways. Don’t support leaders who take us to only hatred. Yes, we will need to defend ourselves at times, but the line that is crossed there should never be stepped over lightly or without regret that it must be done, and where that line is drawn is already the hottest debate of this century. Stay aware of what you are told and don’t be led by the messages of hatred, whichever side you believe you are on.
Back to the usual kind of things on Friday, but I wanted to share these thoughts. Look after each other.