Headline and Movie Perceptions Often Mislead

There has been an on-going story on the backpages of your newspaper for years.  It rarely gets a mention on the evening or cable news programs.  The estimates of death in this struggle range from 65,000 to 100,000 but the true number will not be known now or in the future.  When we think of a Buddhist we usually conjure up some image of a Buddhist monk praying peacefully for world peace and human rights in a specific country where they are opposing a dictatorship of one form or another.  We all remember images of the monks burning themselves in protest against their perceived oppression.  The Dalai Lama comes to mind for many.  A peaceful man seeking only tranquility for all and harmony in the universe.  Those images come from the news headlines and from the figures we have seen in countless movies over the decades.  How often do you see a Buddhist portrayed in anything like a military stance?  You will have to think real hard to recall an instance of such a portrayal.

Likewise when you think of a Hindu most will think of someone like Gandhi.  You have all seen the movie  and are familar with his non-violent protest to bring change to the British Raj and have the British leave India.  Again, how often have you seen a Hindu characterized as warlike?   It just doesn’t happen.  You envision a peaceful soul who wouldn’t harm a fly, literally. 

Both of those characterizations no doubt have a kernel of truth in them.  Those public images that have been spread throughout the West don’t tell the entire story however for either of these religious groups.   They do both have their martial spirits and warriors willing to fight for the “cause”, however they define their cause for the moment.

Some of the bloodiest fighting since WWII has been between Hindus and Muslims in the border area between Pakistan and India.  The first battles erupted immediately upon the withdrawal of the British.  The initial bloodletting and ethnic cleansing was huge between these factions.  Untold hundreds of thousands were killed outright in the clashes between Muslim and Hindu or displaced by the fighting and were forced to seek shelter and new homes with their own kind.  Those battles have not stopped to this day.  Both of those powers were some of the first to develop nuclear weapons outside the West to deter the other from further provocaton and incursions into one another’s territory.    That ongoing struggle and enmity is what makes the situation in Pakistan so dangerous now.  If the secular powers lose sway in Pakistan there are those who will be more than willing to fan the flames of conflict with India in a new conflagration.  The Mumbai attacks of a couple of months ago was only a harbinger of the winds of wars blowing in that region.

Off the southeast coast of India there has been another conflict between religious groups in Sri Lanka.   That giant island is majority Hindu.  The Tamils are Buddhist.  The Tamils by all accounts have been very vicious in their attacks over the decades.   They are a declared terriorist organization by most countries in the world.  They have bombed and attacked indiscriminately throughout Sr Lanka in an effort to have an independent state.  They have attacked and killed the innocent along with their perceived enemies.  The majority has not be over concerned about collateral damage themselves in the fight against the Tamils.  Witness the current military action against them by the Sri Lankan government and the internment camps they have created to house the Tamils displaced by the fighting.   

This is a struggle between Buddhist and Hindu and it is vicious.   The bloodletting is as bad as any of the more notorious wars of the last 50 years.   When you consider the population it is probably the most deadly on a per capita basis.  I leave it to others to determine the extent of the carnage.  The war does reveal that the ability of man to destroy and fight with others of a different religion or ethnic background is universal.  No one group has a lock on that sad claim to fame.   The Buddhists and the Hindus are as capable as any other faction of the most destructive behavoir and war without regard to the sacrifice of human life. 

It does make one wonder whether diversity is a good thing as we are constantly told.  It sure makes it clear that maintaining a peace with those different from you is important.  Just  as we managed to do with the Soviets for the entire Cold War.  We didn’t mix and mingle or become bosom buddies but we accomodated one another.  If Sri Lanka had been divided originally  into two completely separate entities from the git go and had established borders one wonders if the slaughter of the last few decades would have occurred or if the two nations would have accomodated each other in a peace.  Perhaps not a peace with everyone joining hands and singing Kumbaya but at least a peace.  Separation and borders and walls are not always a bad thing.  You don’t even have to like the folks on the other side of the wall or border but you can agree to let each go about  their affairs and lives as they see fit without trying to impose on them or vice versa. 

John Poinsett was a naval officer and official and then a diplomat for the US in the early 19th century.  One of his postings was to Mexico.  In the 1830’s he came back to the states and brought with him a flowering plant that turned bright red in the leaves.  That plant became poplular especially around the holiday season as time went by.  Thus the name for what we call the Poinsettia plant you see during Christmas season.

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Filed under Culture, geography, history, military history

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