Sydney Metta Retreat, 8–15 November, 2013

Dear friends,

I’m teaching a metta retreat in Sydney in November. I’ve posted this before, but here’s a reminder. I’d love to see you there! Here’s the details:

Mettā is the unconditional loving-kindness that reaches out to encompass all beings. In mettā meditation, we learn to be free from the shackles of selfishness that constrict our emotional capacity. The practical, step-by-step approach expored in this retreat, goes beyond mere words into a direct experience of boundless, universal love.

Location

Vijayaloka Retreat Centre, Minto Heights.

The Retreat Centre is conveniently located about one hour from the heart of Sydney. It is easily accessible by public transport and provides simple, shared accommodation for approximately 40 people in a beautiful bush setting on the George’s River. Camping facilities available.

For venue details see: http://www.sydneybuddhistcentre.org.au/vijayaloka/

Cost

$295 per sperson.

The teaching is provided without charge and is by donation. The cost covers accommodation, all meals and other logistics. Healthy, home-made vegetarian meals will be provided.

To make a booking or for more information email Deepika at dpkweerakoon@yahoo.com.au or call 040 327 3152.

Download the Metta Retreat Flyer pdf, November 8–15 2013

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s selected translations are available on SuttaCentral

So, the time has come. Or at least, a time.

We have just uploaded a wide range of English sutta translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi to SuttaCentral. Not all of them, yet, but all that we are legally permitted to use. They include a substantial selection from each of the three Nikayas that he has translated: the Middle length Discourses, the Connected Discourses, and the Numerical Discourses.

You can read about crossing the flood, or the kinds of persons who have expectations, or how the Buddha got scared in his meditation!

The whole range of translations can be accessed through the relevant nikaya pages here, here, and here, with BB’s translations the first listed in the right hand column.

We give great thanks to Bhikkhu Bodhi, for having created these extraordinary translations, which are the gold standard for accuracy and readability. He has been quietly championing SuttaCentral for some time, and has a great wish to see the Suttas become more widely available. We also thank Wisdom Publications, for working on these texts with Ven Bodhi for so many years, and for kindly releasing these selections under a Creative Commons licence.

If you like the translations, buy the books! (And it wouldn’t hurt to let Wisdom know that you found these teachings via SuttaCentral…)

Interpretation of the third Precept pericope—evidence from the Agamas, by Ravichander R

I’ve had some conversations off-list with our commenter Ravichander. He had some interesting thoughts regarding the third precept, so I encouraged him to put them in a form I could publish here. So here they are. Congratulations, Ravichander, it’s not easy doing this reasearch!

Summary

Preliminary evidence from the Agama version suggests that the explanation of sexual misconduct referred to rape or at least included it in its purview. Further comparisons from the Chinese/Sanskrit fragments would add more clarity to this matter.

Interpretation of the third Precept pericope

While browsing through the translations from the Tibetan version of the Upayika at Suttacentral.net, I came across the passage that explains the precept on sexual misconduct. It was much the same as the Pali version except for one significant detail1. This led to a hunt for the Sanskrit/Agama version of the passage resulting in this study.

I give the Pali text and its translation first:

Kāmesumicchācārī kho pana hoti. Yā tā māturakkhitā piturakkhitā mātāpiturakkhitā bhāturakkhitā bhaginirakkhitā ñātirakkhitā gottarakkhitā dhammarakkhitā sassāmikā saparidaṇḍā antamaso mālāguḷaparikkhittāpi, tathārūpāsu cārittaṃ āpajjitā hoti.2

Translation 1: He is given over to misconduct in sexual desires: he has intercourse with such (women) as are protected by the mother, father, (mother and father), brother, sister, relatives, as have a husband, as entail a penalty, and also with those that are garlanded in token of betrothal.3

Translation 2: Misbehaves in sexuality, misbehaving with those protected by father, mother, mother and father, brother, sister, relations, with those with a husband, becoming liable to punishment, or even those garlanded and made to promise.4

(Italics mine)

The Pali doesn’t actually say ‘has intercourse with’ or ‘misbehaving with’. Literally it says ‘gets into action’ with them (cārittaṃ āpajjitā hoti). Of course, from the context it has been inferred that it refers to sex and hence sex with any of the types of women listed in the passage is considered a violation of the third precept.

The list itself seems to be illustrative of various kinds of single (unmarried/widowed/celibate) and non-single (married/betrothed) women.

(Some editions of the sutta apparently don’t include ‘gottarakkhita’ meaning protected by the clan/gotra and ‘dhammarakkhita’ meaning protected by dhamma usually interpreted to mean nuns. They are not included in the translations presented above)

Parallel versions I have been able to find so far:

Sanskrit Mahaparinirvana sutra

( kiṁ nu) tvayānanda śrutaṁ yās tā vṛjīnāṁ vṛjiprajāpatyo) vṛjikumārikāś) ca pitṛrakṣitā mātṛrakṣitā bhrātṛrakṣitā bhaginīrakṣitāḥ śvaśurarakṣitāḥ śvaśrurakṣitā jñātirakṣitā gotrarakṣitāḥ saparidaṇḍāḥ sasvāmikāḥ kan)yāḥ paraparigṛ(hītā antaśo) mālāguṇaparikṣiptā api tadrūpāsu) na sa (hasā cāritram āpadyante | )5

Dharmaskandha, Sarvastivada Abhidharma

DhskM 21r8. -mithyācārād vairamaṇir upāsakasya śikṣāpadam iti kāmamithyācāraḥ katamaḥ / evaṃ hy uktaṃ bhagavatā kāmamithyācārī khalv ihaiko bhavati sa yās tā bhavanti parastriyaḥ parabhāryās tadyathā mātṛrakṣitā vā pitṛrākṣitā vā //

DhskM 21r9. śvaśrūrakṣitā vā śvaśurarakṣitā vā jñātirakṣitā vā jātirakṣitā vā gotrarakṣitā vā sadaṇḍāḥ / sāvaraṇāḥ sadaṇḍāvaraṇā antato mālāguṇaparikṣiptā / api tadrūpāsu sahasā balenānupraskandya kāmeṣu cāritram āpadyaty ayam ucyate ///

Upayika version

Some who have committed sexual misconduct—these are those who have not abstained from sexual misconduct, that is, seducing a woman guarded by her mother or guarded by her father or guarded by her brother or guarded by her sister or guarded by her father-in-law or guarded by her mother-in-law or guarded by her relatives or guarded by her family or guarded by her clan or a woman who has been garlanded in token of betrothal and isunder threat of punishment and veiled, because she has been already obtained by somebody else and is thus somebody else’s woman, or having sexual intercourse with her by overwhelming her.

German Translation of a Chinese version from Mulasarvastivada Vinaya

Ananda, hast du wohl gehört und weißt du, ob die frauen und jungfrauen jenes Landes behütet werden von den Müttern, behütet werden von den Vätern oder von den Brüdern, den Schwestern, den schwiegereltern oder der verwandtschaft behütet werden; ob diese (verwandten) sie, wenn sie übertretungen begangen haben, ermahnen und strafen; ob (die Frauen und Jungfrauen,) wenn sie Frauen order Nebenfrauen eines anderen (d.h. Mannes) geworden sind und sogar durch blumenüberreichung deren Ehefrauen zu werden gestattet haben, nicht mit diesen übereilt unsittliche Dinge treiben?6

(Italics mine)

Apart from the inclusion/variations in the list of women, the material difference seems to be the addition of the Sanskrit/Pali word – sahasā.

This term has two meanings: (i) Forcibly and (ii) Hastily

That the Chinese version also contained the word ‘sahasā’ can be inferred from the German word ‘übereilt’ in the translation. It means hasty/rash.

Choice of translation

The Tibetan translators of the Upayika apparently preferred the first meaning (forcibly) while the Chinese the second (hastily). We have two sources to show that the first meaning is to be preferred.

Vasala sutta in the Suttanipata(uraga vagga) uses the term ‘sahasā’ contrasting it with ‘sampiyena’ clearly referring to forced vs consensual sex. The commentary also confirms this.

‘‘Yo ñātīnaṃ sakhīnaṃ vā, dāresu paṭidissati;

Sāhasā [sahasā (sī. syā.)] sampiyena vā, taṃ jaññā vasalo iti.

Commentary: sāhasāti balakkārena

The Dharmaskandha version quoted above glosses the word with ‘balenānupraskandya’ ie having entered by force.

Construing the sentence with sahasā

The English translation of the Upayika adds ‘or’ to the last phrase. But the Sanskrit sources do not seem to contain it and neither does the Pali.

The last type of woman listed is ‘even those garlanded and made to promise’ ie betrothed. The addition of ‘api’(even) shows that the list has come to an end.

Then comes the phrase ‘tathārūpāsu’ which can be translated as with such women as these; The commentary confirms this by saying ‘evarūpāsu itthīsu’. This would imply that the list is only illustrative(showing the range of single/non-single women) and not exhaustive.

Now, including the word ‘sahasā’ following the Northern sources we have ‘sahasā cārittam āpajjitā hoti’. This translates to ‘gets into forcible action with’.

Therefore, the passage ends with ‘(he) gets into forcible action with women such as these’. In the absence of words like or/and (vā/ca), I feel the whole pericope refers exclusively to rape. I can’t see how else to construe the passage.

This point can be clarified only by collecting and comparing all parallel versions of this passage.( I hope Sāmaṇerī Dhammadinnā can re-confirm if the Tibetan Upayika indeed contains ‘or’ in the final phrase).

For discussion (not a conclusion!)

The question remains whether the word ‘sahasā’ was dropped from the Pali version or added to the Sanskrit version. Even if it was added by the Sarvastivadins, it would imply that they added it as a clarificatory gloss. This further implies that they considered the pericope as referring to rape even without the word.

However, it might just be possible that the word was dropped inadvertently or advertently from the Pali.

Inadvertantly because the sentence makes easier sense with the word – ‘acts forcibly’ instead of just ‘acts’.

Advertantly perhaps to widen the meaning to include consensual sex with the non-single women listed.

Only when more translations of the Agama versions are made available, can we draw any definite conclusions.

Irrespective of the meaning of the pericope, it is generally agreed that every precept has a primary meaning and then a wider one – as evidenced by many canonical passages. Thus the first precept primarily refers to killing but the wider meaning includes cruelty of any kind. The fourth precept primarily refers to false testimony but in a wider sense to any kind of harmful lies/slander. Similarly the third precept might primarily refer to rape but certainly includes adultery in its wider sense as evidenced, for example, by the Veludvara sutta in the Samyutta nikaya.


1 Includes the phrase “or having sexual intercourse with her by overwhelming her”. (http://suttacentral.net/up4.081/en/)

2 Saleyyaka Sutta MN41 (http://suttacentral.net/mn41/pi/)

3 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.041.nymo.html

4 http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima1/041-saleyyaka-sutta-e1.html

5 http://www.dsbcproject.org/node/5977; Text probably based on the work of Ernst Waldschmidt

6 Researches in Indian and Buddhist Philosophy: Essays in honour of Professor Alex Wayman; Pg 13.(translation by Ernst Waldschmidt)

A Sanskrit problem

Update: Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion. This translations is now live on SuttaCentral! We have released a large number of texts, and a few translations. Some of these have never before been released in digital forms. You can see the list of texts here. Original texts are the highlighted links in the left-most column; translations are on the right. Enjoy.

I’ve been dabbling in a little Sanskrit translation, and there are some points where you just go, “What the!?” I thought I’d try crowdsourcing, and see whether any of you can help with an occasional knotty turn of phrase. Here goes.

There is a Sanskrit version of the “Nagara Sutta”, which tells how the Buddha rediscovered the Dhamma, like coming across an ancient city. It is part of the Nidana samyukta, and is one of those dependent origination texts that does not complete the full 12 links, but goes as far as the mutual dependence of viññāṇa and nāmarūpa. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Ven Bodhi’s book on the Mahanidana Sutta is the best!)

Here, the Sanskrit has a peculiar phrase:

tasya mama vijñānātpratyudāvartate mānasaṃ nātaḥ pareṇa vyativartate

The Pali parallel is this:

Tassa mayhaṃ, bhikkhave, etadahosi– paccudāvattati kho idaṃ viññāṇaṃ nāmarūpamhā na paraṃ gacchati.

Which we would translate:

Monks, it occurred to me: this consciousness turns back from name and form, it does not go beyond.

There are a number of peculiar features of the Sanskrit. First, the opening phrase appears truncated, and probably should be read, “tasya mamaitad abhavat“.

vijñānātpratyudāvartate is straightforward, and directly parallels the Pali.

But where the Pali has nāmarūpa, the Sanskrit has mānasa. Mānasa just means “mind”, but it is a rare term, normally reserved for poetry (cf. Metta Sutta: mānasambhāvaye aparimāṇaṁ) It’s appearance here in dependent origination is just weird.

Then there’s the word nātaḥ, for which the only meaning I can find is “dancer”(!) The whole phrase looks to me as if it’s just dropped in there.

Finally we have pareṇa vyativartate, which looks to me like a misreading for: pare na vyativartate.

I have tentatively translated the phrase as:

“Then it occurred to me: ‘Consciousness turns back at the mind (mānasa), it does not go beyond.’

But I have to admit this is more a reconstruction based on what I think it probably means, rather than a direct translation.

Anyone care to offer some help?

A good day for fans of the Suttas

Two great pieces of news for all of you sutta fans out there.

First, the first part the long-awaited translation of the Madhyama Agama has been released. This translation was sponsored by the Numata Foundation, with principle translators Ven Analayo and Rod Bucknell, and also Marcus Bingenheimer. It consists of the first 71 suttas (out of 222). This is a historic event, and constitutes the first ever translation of a major early Buddhist collection from Chinese into English.

Moreover, the translation has been done by a highly qualified team, and I have no doubt it will serve to establish a “canonical” method of translation of early Buddhist texts from Chinese, much as the work of Venerables Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi has with the Pali texts.

As a monk I am not supposed to tell people what to do with their money, but I can drop hints. So here’s a hint: go here and buy this book. Is that subtle enough? We’ve ordered some copies for Bodhinyana, and can’t wait to see them. So far the book is released in hard copy only; but this is one book you will want to have on your shelves. Numata does a nice hardback, clean and well-produced. Typically they release their translations in pdf form a few years after the original publication.

The second great news: Wisdom Publications has launched their new website. This includes selections from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations. You can access them through here. If you haven’t started with the suttas yet, this is your best introduction.

No Early Buddhism course 2014

Dear friends,

We had a great response to our early Buddhism course last year, and we were really looking forward to doing something similar next year. We had a number of discussions about it, and there were some excellent ideas.

However, after discussion, Ajahn Brahmali and myself have decided not to run the course or a similar course next year. Not out of lack of interest, but simply out of lack of time. I will be almost constantly travelling from the end of the vassa until March, while Ajahn Brahmali will be starting building new kutis at Bodhinyana. In addition, I am wanting to put my main
energies for the next year or so into SuttaCentral; and as part of that, Ven Brahmali has undertaken a complete revision of the translation of the Pali Vinaya.

Hopefully we will be able to do something the following year, 2015.

I know that many of your were looking forward to the course, so please accept our apologies!

Walk in the Dhamma—a cool Dhamma song!

Many years ago I was asked to write a Buddhist national anthem for Australia. I came up with the following set of lyrics, to the tune of Waltzing Matilda (which should totally be our real national anthem!). I forgot about these for years, until recently Dana Murty asked for a copy (thanks, Dana!). I though I’d post them here for your enjoyment.

Once a jolly Buddha camped by a running stream
Under the shade of a Bodhi tree
And he sat and meditated ’till his mind was free
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And he sat and meditated ’till his mind was free
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

He walked that dusty road down to Benares
To see the five monks staying in the Deer Park
And he taught the four noble truths, the Dhamma he himself had seen:
Suffering, its origin, cessation, the path.

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And he taught the four noble truths, the Dhamma he himself had seen
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

When Kondannya heard about the middle way
The noble eightfold path that leads to peace of mind
The vision of the Dhamma arose within him clear to see
And so the Buddha said: ‘Kondannya understands!’

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
The vision of the Dhamma arose within him clear to see
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

And now the Buddha’s teaching has come to this big empty land
With waratah and wallabies and scribbly-bark trees
And the ghost of the Buddha may be heard inside the monasteries:
‘Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?’

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And the ghost of the Buddha may be heard inside the monasteries:
‘Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?’

Buddhism sprouts in Africa

It’s been pretty gloomy here recently, so here’s some good news! From TheBuddhism.net.

Bhikkhu Bodhiraja who is a Congo citizen ordained only just five years ago, yet he has been a huge service to the order of Buddhism in Congo. He was able to build four Buddhist temples in main cities of Kongo due to his dedicated work. Bhikkhu Bodhiraja is acting with the guidance of Ilukpitiye Pannashekara thero who is currently residing in Tanzania.

Bhikkhu Bodhiraja could gain considerable amount of attention of the Cong people and many who seek spiritual development have become devoted Buddhists already. A Bodhi tree also has been planted in Congo , which is a branch of the bodhi tree in Tanzania planted in 1920.

We wish all the blessings of triple gems, the protection of Devas, physical and mental happiness to be with Bhikkhu Bodhiraja to spread the peace message of the Gauthama Buddha to as much as intelligent living beings.

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Do not go to war

The Syrian government has, to all appearances, launched a major gas attack on its own people. It seems the death toll is around 300, with 1000 more suffering severe symptoms of poison gas. This is a monstrosity, and any government that commits such an act has no right to rule.

This act crossed the “red line” that the US has drawn in the sand about intervention in Syria. The attack is inevitable, and only days away. Australia will support the US, as always.

I’m here to say no. Someone has to.

I think it’s likely that the weapons were in fact used by the Syrian government. Maybe we’re just being lied to, like we were with Iraq. But then, the US really wanted to go to war and needed to invent an excuse. Now I don’t think anyone actually wants war. So let’s assume that we’re being told the truth (for once).

The US and allies will decide on a course of action in a few days. This will, in all probability, involve a limited strike with cruise missiles and the like. It’s unlikely that troops will be landed.

So why not go to war?

  • Killing is wrong.
  • Syria has not attacked the US or anyone else, so this action is not self-defense.
  • It will accomplish nothing except killing and destruction. The Syrian government has withstood a long, vicious civil war, and will not be seriously impacted by a few bombs. In fact, fear of an external enemy may have the effect of uniting Syrians.
  • It will breed a new generation of terrorists and haters of the west.
  • The guilty will not suffer. Anonymous workers at the sites attacked will suffer and die.
  • While chemical weapons are abhorrent, they are no more abhorrent than anything else that kills and maims. Over a million people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guns and bombs are the real weapons of mass destruction.
  • There is no strategic outcome. The US is not looking effect regime change, as there is no regime candidate that is remotely acceptable.
  • No-one knows who ordered the gas attack. In the chaos of Syria, it could be a rogue officer or an official policy. The US and allies want to punish without knowing who is guilty.
  • Any attack, even a limited one, will cost billions of dollars, and will send the message, once again, that the world’s most “advanced” nations endorse violence.

So what to do? Just sit there and do nothing? Actually, in some cases that is all we can do. No-one, no country, no army, is omnipotent. A wise person chooses where their action can be used most effectively. Of course, we should condemn the use of chemical weapons. And we should see if anything can be done that is peaceful, that will not result in anyone getting killed, and that has an likelihood of accomplishing something worthwhile. If not, then we simply have to admit that there are limits to our power, and that we are not responsible for things we have no control over. Ultimately, the Syrians will be masters of their own fate.

Less blame, more responsibility

We’ve all heard some pretty terrible things from the mouths of so-called religious teachers, but this is a new low. Sheikh Sharif Hussein, an Islamic preacher and imam, used his platform during Friday prayers at the then Allenby Gardens headquarters on March 22 to call for the death of all Buddhists and Hindus, as well as issuing vile, hate-filled diatribes against the Jews, Australian soldiers, and others. The speech was published in an edited form by the US thinktank, MEMRI TV. Please watch this if you haven’t already. Among other despicable rantings, Hussein said this:

Oh Allah, count the Buddhists and the Hindus one by one. Oh Allah, count them and kill them to the very last one.

He has issued a call for the death of all Buddhists and Hindus. Hate speech does not get any worse than this. It is time for the Islamic community in Australia to stop apologizing for such people, blaming media bias and the West, and start accepting responsibility for the actions of their community.

The Adelaide press has reported the matter, and there have been responses from several community representatives, including the Federation of Australian Buddhist Council through its president, Kim Hollows.

The man is deranged. No surprise there; there are always crazy people in our world. What makes him more than just a loon waving a placard is that he has people backing him, and people listening to him. He has a platform, and that platform is supported by an institutional and community basis. This is why the most disturbing aspect of the event is not that such speech exists—which is disturbing enough—but that it is defended and apologized for by institutions in the Islamic community. The center where he gave the talk, the Islamic Da’wah Centre of South Australia (IDCSA) has, unbelievably, issued an actual defense of the speech. The Islamic society of South Australia has not gone so far, but has avoided making any real condemnation.

Imagine if I were to give a speech in the Dhammaloka Buddhist Center, calling for “Death to all Muslims and Christians!” What would happen? Well, firstly, the audience would not believe their ears. That a spiritual leader could say such a thing is so outside their sphere of comprehension, it would take a few moments to sink in. But when it did sink in, there would be an uproar. People would get up, leave, call out in protest. Quickly, the PA would be shut down and I would be firmly asked to leave the premises, and if I didn’t the police would be called. I would be immediately banned from the place, expelled from membership, and the BSWA would issue a statement condemning my statement and totally dissociating themselves from me and my views.

Well, that is what Hussein did, and none of this happened. The audience sat there, apparently quiet and acquiescent during the talk. No-one called out or protested. He was not cut off, but allowed to continue. The talk was recorded by the IDCSA and published by them on their Youtube channel. (The IDCSA still has a video of Hussein giving a talk at their center. Apparently lacking any irony, the talk is on “forgiveness”. Unfortunately the video is private so we can’t see what Hussein thinks about that highly relevant topic.) Again, presumably without any special comment or discussion in their community, this has been current since March. Their community has done nothing about this, but continues to receive “teachings” from this man. Only when MEMRI.TV published the edited clip did anyone say anything.

Now the IDCSA has issued a response. What exactly do they say? Here’s some points:

IDCSA do not necessarily hold the same views/positions of the video

Not necessarily hold the same views?! So they might possibly hold the same views, but maybe not. Well that clears that up then. It’s good to know that the people running this pillar of society do not necessarily wish death on a couple billion innocent people. As inadequate as these weasel words are, they are only the start. They go on to say:

we believe that the Sheikh’s words were clearly taken out of context and put together in a suggestive manner

Let me state this as plainly as I can: there is no context that can justify a call for the murder of billions of innocent people. To even suggest that this statement could be contextualized is nonsense. The man called for genocide. The only moral response is to condemn it.

But it gets worse. What is the context they allege is lacking?

The sheikh presented in his speech some of the war crimes directed against Muslims around the world, something that was completely ignored in the video. While addressing the mass rape cases in Iraq, the Sheikh was emotional and used strong words in addressing those who committed these crimes.

If you have seen the video, you know that this is simply false. The video, while obviously edited from a longer talk (who wants to listen to more of this stuff?), clearly presents Hussein’s allegations about mass rape and the like. The alleged missing context is right there in the video. This means that the IDCSA has either not watched the video (unlikely), or they are lying. Since they are defending a call to genocide, lying seems a good bet. Do they imagine we are all so stupid?

And the statement goes on:

some media organisations are trying to present this video as hate speech while ignoring the fact that denouncing a criminal act is a social right which falls under the general category of ‘freedom of speech’.

Yes, I know, the irony of fundamentalists relying on the free speech argument. Once again, it seems there is a need to spell out something very simple: denouncing what you think is wrong is not hate speech. Calling for the death of billions of innocents is hate speech.

This is obvious, but underlying it is something deeper. There is, concealed in this statement, a basic misunderstanding of what free speech means in a liberal society. Truly free speech is courageous and open. It does not hide behind closed doors, and resort to blame and hypocrisy when it is criticized.

Free speech happens in connection, in a multitude of voices contending, dissenting, arguing. So it only has meaning if there is someone listening. It is not free speech if you just rant and never listen to other points of view. Really listen, with compassion and understanding.

Free speech always tends towards reason and moderation, which is why fundamentalists cannot meaningfully take part in any broader dialogue in society. They can only imagine themselves as the outsiders, as the oppressed. If they actually listened to a voice of reason, they might learn something. Perhaps they might be able to contribute. Perhaps they might be able to join with the very many Australians who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and who turned out in their hundreds of thousands to peacefully protest the war.

And the statement from the IDCSA continues with more lies:

no part of that clip contain any call towards violence and/or friction between the non-Muslims and Muslims or multicultural communities in Australia. The lectures were delivered in relation to the Burmese Buddhist massacre of the Rohingya minority Muslims

No doubt the massacre of Rohingyas in Burma was one of the reasons the Buddhists got called in here. But the video is quite clearly calling for death to all Buddhists.

I remember a little story from when I was in grade 7 at Aquinas College in Perth. Our teacher, Brother McMahon, taught us all a particular way of ruling a page. He asked that we rule all out pages like that in future. The next day he was checking our homework, and saw that one of the students, James Toop, had not complied. He grabbed Toop, pulled him up to the front of class, and started whacking him with his strap. Toop started crying, and tried to talk, but couldn’t get a word in. When it was finished, he explained that he had been absent because sick the day before. Even while sick, he had called a friend to get the homework, and had done it all, but he didn’t know about the page ruling thing.

Terrible, right? So, we all thought Brother McMahon was a dickhead. But we knew well enough that this didn’t mean that all other teachers were dickheads. In primary school, we had learnt the basic moral lesson that if someone does something wrong, they are to blame for that, not everyone who is similar to them in some way.

But when hate burns like a wildfire, when reason exits and dogma reigns unchallenged, such elementary moral distinctions evaporate. Hussein and the IDCSA exhibit a moral consciousness that is more primitive than that of a primary school child. Thus the fact that some people who are Buddhists in Burma have done some dreadful things provokes a call for the death of all Buddhists (and Hindus and Jews and whoever else).

Finally, the inevitable blaming of media bias:

we would like to bring into question the reliability, independence and veracity of a media organisation like MEMRI TV, which has served as a mouthpiece for islamophobes

The IDCSA conveniently supply some links to back their claims up. I followed the links, and here is what they say.

The first link is to a page of the American radical political scholar Norman Finkelstein. The article says that MEMRI doctored a video interview to give the impression Finkelstein was a holocaust denier. A transcript is given, which shows which parts of the interview were kept and which were deleted. Check for yourself, but I can’t find anything in the deleted portions that would somehow construe Finkelstein as a holocaust denier. In fact, in the portion that was not deleted, he clearly says, “my parents passed through the Nazi holocaust. Every member of their families was exterminated during the war and I felt it was important to accurately represent what happened to them during the Nazi holocaust.”

Next there is an intelligent article in the Guardian, which discusses the political bias of MEMRI. The suggestion is essentially that MEMRI does not represent the full spectrum of political discourse in Arab countries, and should not be relied on as a sole source of information for Arab political discourse. There is no allegation that the videos themselves are untrustworthy; in fact at the bottom of the article they say that in the case in point—an allegation that Saddam Hussein cut the ears off deserters—there was independent confirmation.

Then there is a page on Sourcewatch. While repeating the criticism of biased selection, and various other specific criticisms, this also shows that MEMRI’s videos are widely cited.

The next link points to the Wikipedia page for MEMRI’s founder, Yigal Carmon. I am not sure what this aims to prove. Perhaps the fact that he is a Jew who has criticized jihadi extremists is, in the eyes of the IDCSA, sufficient to prove he cannot be trusted.

Next is a page on Counterpunch, where the author says regarding MEMRI: “Thus I specifically retract my allegation that the organization’s translations are questionable, and I apologize for my error.” He repeats the accusation of selective quoting. However, it seems even their critics acknowledge that the translations are correct. (The translation of the talk in Adelaide was independently confirmed by the Adelaide Advertiser.)

Thus of all the sources referred to by the IDCSA, none of them substantially show that MEMRI’s output is inaccurate. For an organization that disseminates information on such a controversial topic, some criticism is to be expected, and no doubt some is warranted. To leap from an accusation of selective quoting to try to argue away the incitement to genocide that was, quite clearly, spoken by Hussein in Adelaide, is utterly disingenuous.

So what is to be done? The shameful truth is that the answer to this is, not much. A principled and meaningful response by the Muslim community simply requires a consistent rejection of this kind of speech.

It seems that Hussein was kicked out of his former base, the Marion Mosque, because of his hate speech. Good on them. The IDCSA should follow this example. And if their leaders do not, the members should call a Special General Meeting, and have the sheikh and his supporters kicked out. This is what any Buddhist community in Australia would do. It is not too much to ask. If they do not do so, they should have their charitable status revoked, and to the fullest extent permissible by law, the SA and Federal Governments should shut them down.

And good on the principled Muslims like Director of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who clearly and unambiguously slammed Hussein, saying

“The Sheikh has done his Muslim brothers and sisters no favours by preaching hate. Extremism in all of its forms is the natural enemy of truth – so every time this kind of extreme preaching makes headlines it obscures the reality of the strong, ethical, law-abiding, engaged and contributing Muslim Australians who are our neighbours and work colleagues, our class mates and friends. There are extreme groups across all religions and cultures and there are individuals who advocate violence and aggression for their own agendas. What people must remember is that just as Geert Wilders is not representative of all Dutch people or the Army of God does not speak for all Christians, so the extreme rants of one Sheikh do not reflect the views of all Muslims.”

Sadly, though, this voice is isolated. I have tried to find articulate responses from the more progressive of Australia’s Islamic community, and there is nothing here, here, here , here, or here. Perhaps I have missed things; if so, please let me know in the comments.

It is not hard to be honest. We must simply admit that some things done by people who adhere to our religion are bad. Here’s how to do it. There was a Buddhist mob in Burma a few days ago that attacked a police station and went on a rampage, led by three monks. They alleged that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman. Their response was wrong. They should have supported the rule of law. The monks who led the mob should be disrobed, and criminal charges should be laid against them. In addition, the Burmese Sangha needs to give a clear and consistent message of harmony and understanding of difference.

See? Not that hard. I can do it, and so can the voices of the Islamic community. Bloggers, Imams, teachers, leaders, activists, scholars, humans with a voice: where is there someone who has the guts to stop blaming non-Muslims, and start taking responsibility for the acts of Muslims?