If there is any structure that represents Buddhism everywhere it would be the CHEDI, stupa, or pagoda. The word stupa probably is derived from a Sanskrit word for “worship” and the word pagoda from another Sanskrit word for “a dwelling for divinities”. The word “chedi” comes from yet another Sanskrit word, but is used only in Thai or to refer to Thai forms of these mountain structures.
The purpose of a chedi is to bury holy items, particularly ashes of dead persons. But in Buddhist parlance in Thailand they might may refer to the Lord Buddha while containing some other relic, such as inscriptions of sayings of the Buddha, or the ashes of disciples of the Buddha including royalty and renowned Buddhist monks.
Chedi come in all shapes and sizes, from a single cup of sand to the immense Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom, 70 miles west of Bangkok, said to be the world’s tallest (at 120 meters). The earliest stupa were in India, and the most famous were hemispherical, attributed to King Asoka in the third century BC (third century BE) but actually proliferating in the Kanishka era, first or second century AD. In Thailand the classical form of a chedi is bell-shaped on a square base. Many chedi are positioned on bases with layers that gradually become round as they go higher, and are topped with a spire consisting of some thirty rings. Other chedi might be tall, slender, four-sided pyramids with notches holding Buddha statues. Those harkening back to the Cambodian-Khmer era are sometimes called “corn-cob” shaped, properly “prang”. Some of the oldest chedi in Thailand are from the Cambodian cultural era. To the dismay of art historians and archeologists the tendency has been, when chedi become unstable, to encase them in a larger structure of an entirely different form.
Donald Swearer quotes Adrian Snodgrass as saying, the stupa is “a network of homologous symbols, myths, rituals and doctrines that include the stupa as reliquary and memorial, cosmic mountain and navel of the universe, mandala-field from which demonic forces have been expelled, generative womb (yabbha), and an ascending pathway to liberation.” [Swearer, D. 1995. The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 2nd ed. Bangkok: Silkworm Books. P. 76]. Joseph Campbell was impressed with the dissonance between the Buddha’s pessimistic teaching about the nature of life and the figures found on the earliest stupa. Campbell reports, “…opulently carved stone gates and railings on which all of the earth and vegetation genii of the ageless folk tradition appeared in teeming abundance.” He describes, “pot-bellied dwarfs support great architraves, whereon are beasts, gods, nature sprites, and human beings adoring symbols of Buddhas, past and future. Winged lions squat like guardian dogs. Earth demons shouldering heavy clubs guard the Sun Wheel of the Law. Everywhere flowering vines and lianas pour from the mouths and navels of mythological monsters….” [Campbell, J. 1962. The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology. New York: The Viking Press. P. 299.] This effusion of color and life is still vivid in Thai Buddhist temple art. But one form has been suppressed. “…the most prominent single figure in the ornamentation of all the early Buddhist monuments, rivaling in prominence even the symbols of the Buddha and nirvana, is the lotus goddess, Shri Lakshmi. The Indus Valley goddess of the tree, giving birth to the plant world, has thus dramatically returned and she is to be known as present or represented, it would seem, in every woman in the world. She is the goddess of the Bodhi-tree – the same who, in the legend of Adam, was Eve.” [pp. 301, 302] Whereas in the case of Adam and Eve the serpent is Eve’s lover and is cursed, in the Parshvanatha myth and in the Buddhist narrative the Naga is a protector...”the goddess Lotus, Shri Lakshmi, the goddess of the life force, in serpent form.” [p. 302]. Shri Lakshmi has been minimized in Thai Buddhist temples, although the Bo tree remains a central symbol and the goddess has been re-named Mae Toranee (literally the “mother of the physical world”) seen wringing out her recently shampooed hair to create a flood to delay the demonic hoards intending to interrupt Gautama’s meditation.
Buddhist narrative infers stupa were created for the first time for the purpose of interring relics of the Lord Buddha. They were sacred reliquaries. Actually, there were burial mounds before 2000 BC, and stupa were of that type, gradually being modified to express Buddhist ideology. Swearer clarifies pre-Buddhist heritage, calling stupa Indra-kila or World Pillars, reflective of the Vedic myth of Indra’s act of creation. “Indra’s demiurgic act was to slay the demon [Vrtra] and to release the waters, while at the same time separating heaven and earth by ‘pushing them apart’ and ‘propping up the sky’ at the world’s axis, commonly visualized in India as well as other traditions as a World Tree or World Pillar … with his raising of the heavens, Indra ‘pegged’ the floating Primordial Mound to the bottom of the Cosmic Ocean, thus ‘fixing’ or ‘stabilizing’ our universe; the peg he used was the ‘Indra-kila,” metaphysically synonymous with the World pillar.” [Swearer, p. 77]. This cosmological design was quite similar to the newer of the two creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible, the very first account in the Holy Bible. There was originally water, but creation consisted in dividing the water above from the water below. A central holy mountain (later identified as Mount Zion) served as a column to hold the bubble aloft and keep the water away from the earth, unless a deluge was unleashed.
The chedi in the temple on Doi Sutape just west of Chiang Mai (within walking distance, as countless pilgrims and university freshmen can attest) is indisputably the most prominent chedi in Chiang Mai and one of the ten most important in the country. Doi Sutape Temple has been designated a Phra That พระธาตุ indicating that the item interred within the chedi is a relic of the Lord Buddha. Furthermore, it is a validation of Lanna royalty. It takes facile thinking to accomplish this, inasmuch as the Lanna kingdom began in the 14th century AD and Buddha relics had long been identified and claimed before that. Swearer describes how this all was covered in The Legend of Phra That Sutape. In essence, as it relates to how a Buddha relic came to be on Sutape Mountain in the historical past, the story is that in the “Universal Past” the Lord Buddha walked through the Northern Thai region which was the kingdom of a pair of giants who had a son who was enlightened by the Buddha. To preserve the immediacy of the Buddha’s presence, which was likely to fade over time, the Buddha gave the giant’s son a hair from the back of his hand and instructions about how to enshrine this relic. By the time of the founding of the Lanna kingdom that shrine had collapsed and just a spiny plant was left to mark its location. 1875 years after the Buddha departed, through a series of dreams involving the Kings of Sukothai and Lanna the shrine and relic were located and sent to Chiang Mai. To fulfill a prophecy the relic was to be sent onward to an unknown place on the back of a sacred elephant. When it came time for the departure it was found that the relic had miraculously divided into two, so one part was sent on the journey and another retained in the city of Chiang Mai. The elephant took off toward Doi Sutape and paused at the base before continuing on toward the summit where a hermit resided. The elephant recognized the hermit and the sacred spot on which he sat. The elephant ended its journey, kneeling reverently before the hermit after making three circuits and trumpeting loudly. So the location of the temple was identified and construction began. [See Swearer, D., Sommai Premchit, and Phaithoom Dokbuakaew, 2004. Sacred Mountains of Northern Thailand and Their Legends. Bangkok: Silkworm Books, pp. 72-83]. Through dreams and miracles the particular and physical aspects of the Lord Buddha multiply and travel enabling the Buddha to become immediate and universal not only symbolically but super-physically.
Not all chedis are entitled to be designated Phra That. Some contain relics that only indirectly relate to the Buddha in person. In fact not all temples are entitled to have a chedi. But it is instructive how a temple acquires one. A few years ago Wat Ta Pong, in the village next to our village, began construction of a chedi. The construction commenced with digging nine holes for nine pillars to hold up the chedi. On the auspicious day and hour, hundreds of faithful lined up to drop their personal astrological charts on copper, silver and gold sheets, money, sacred objects, and cursed objects (to be thus sanctified) into the holes which were filled with concrete. The solid pre-fabricated chedi was put in place layer by layer. And finally a “heart” was installed in a hole near the top. This object was provided from the sacred trove prepared for such use by the headquarters of the Supreme Patriarch in Bangkok. It was a lineal descendant of a relic of the Lord Buddha, rendered so by arcane rites.
I learned more about such “hearts” while attending a festival in the village of Jom Jaeng just across the valley from our house. The festival lasted for two days and consisted of removing the “heart” from Wat Jom Jaeng and itinerating it through the village. On the second afternoon a large parade escorted the “heart” back home. The occasion was used for presenting other offerings including a pair of “lions” (actually mythological beasts called chinthe by the Burmese who donated the art form to North Thailand) to guard the entrance to the temple proper. I was told at that festival that sometimes the “heart” takes it upon itself to go for visits, and at other times is visited. Many people report having seen these visitations in the form of bright balls of light that float and propel themselves from place to place. This morning (as I type this), five women from our village testified that they have seen just such balls of light. Only one person in the group denied having personally seen such a phenomenon.
What this says is that a chedi is more than a mausoleum for retaining relics of the dead. Like Buddha images (certain ones, at least, see: www.kendobson.asia/blog/awakening-buddha), chedi are more than the physical material from which they are constructed and more than reminders of abstract principles. There is something supernatural about them, something real but hard to describe. Still, it is real, by common agreement.
There are four faith domains in Thailand: religion (Buddhism in this case), personal spirituality that promotes growth and insight, veneration of super-social persons and institutions, and recognition of supernatural forces. Here in North Thailand it seems clear that all these aspects of faith are served by chedi. Moreover, no one domain predominates. Chedi are what they are, and by implication Northern Thai Buddhism is what it is, by virtue of the fact that these domains overlap and converge. Chedi are objects for pilgrimage to make merit and to gain additional faith and insight (spiritual growth). They are validators of the land and its lords as well as reliquaries of historical data (veneration). Chedi contain and control supernatural forces. And, of course, they serve their primary purpose of recalling the Lord Buddha, his teaching and his disciples. In a way that is completely impervious to dispute, the Lord Buddha is not simply symbolized in a chedi, he is present.
The other day some folks in Thailand discovered a set of footprints of the Buddha. This reminded me of an artistic rendering of a footprint and handprint of the Buddha we received as a gift. My first encounter with Buddha’s footprints was during my first year here in Chiang Mai in about 1965 when the Rev. Pisanu Arkkapinya, who was teaching with me at the Thailand Theological Seminary, took a group of students to see historic temples in Lampang. One temple had a shrine dedicated to a highly venerated pair of footprints about two meters long. As I remember it, the footprints were said to commemorate a visit by the Lord Buddha to that place, which was a historic impossibility, except in some symbolic or metaphorical sense. I was impressed that the indentations in the footprints in Lampang had much in common with the markings on the soles of the feet of the 40 meter-long reclining Buddha in Wat Po, just behind the Grand Palace in Bangkok. More recently, in 2007 when I was residing in Bangkok, a shrine in front of the Asia Hotel was dedicated with solemn rites that, to all appearances, featured a modest piece of rock not much larger than a basketball said to contain a fragment of a footprint of the Buddha, verified by a very arcane process.
Regretfully, I neglected to collect a picture of the rock in front of the Asia Hotel, but together with the picture of the recently rediscovered footprints in the Northeast, and the artistic print on our living room wall, we can say they are three of the ways that the Buddha can be represented by his footprints. The first form is natural; an indentation on a rock or on a mountain top is understood to be an actual impression of where the Buddha stepped. A.B. Griswold reports that legends explain that after his enlightenment the Buddha made indelible impressions as he strode upon the land. The lore also gives a rationale for this. Donald Swearer puts it this way, “The Blessed One bestows various signs of his presence – hair relics and footprints being the most prominent – and grants permission for the construction of Buddha images.” The most sacred relics are those collected from the funeral pyre of the Buddha after his death. Then there are those which are pious creations inspired by earlier works of art and devotion, which were renditions of originals that were somehow donated by the Buddha directly.
Cultural anthropologists specializing in Buddhist art have technical names for four levels of representations and have much to say about how they vary from age to age and region to region. The first category of “reminders” which the Buddha permitted out of compassion for his grieving disciples and their followers were dhatucetiya bodily relics, such as the tooth of the Buddha enshrined in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The second category is paribhogacetiya consisting of reminders by association so that when the disciples saw those things they remembered how they were the Buddha’s; they included his alms bowls and robes, his footprints, the bench he sat on, the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya under which he sat, and sites where events took place. During the early period of Buddhist representational art the Buddha himself was not pictured but was represented by such things as his bench, the tree, the wheel of the law in the form of a sun disc, or the protective Naga serpent, with a blank space where the Lord Buddha would have been. The third category is dhammacetiya, the whole body of teaching or Dharma, remembered in oral tradition for centuries and then written in canonical texts; this category also includes stupas which contain extracts of the Dharma, and (I am convinced) also buildings in temple compounds where the texts are stored and where they are expounded for the faithful to hear. The fourth category is uddesikacetiya “inductive” or derivative substitutes forparibhogacetiya which were actual items the Buddha used or were associated with him. This category became extremely important in the spread of Buddhism. A.B. Griswold mentions how Buddhist anticonography (also spelled aniconography) incorporated symbols that had formerly been religious symbols in their own right, such as the Naga of the cult of the King Serpent, the Bo tree from cults surrounding certain trees, the solar disc now transformed into a halo or nimbus behind the Buddha, and many others. Uddesikacetiya reminders were supposedly reproductions or artistic renderings of such things as the Buddha’s footprints. The category includes paintings or bas-relief renderings of the great events in the Buddha’s life. Indeed, in our villages in Northern Thailand were all the “reproductions and representative substitutes” removed there would be little left.
But what do Buddha footprints mean and why are they significant? It has to do with more than the fact that they have an ancient origin, one that pre-dates the Buddha some 2500 years ago. In pre-Buddhist times (and in modern times to the present) to refer to oneself as beneath the foot of another is to indicate one’s place in a hierarchy. It is not about oppression, but about veneration. In a way it is the reverse of giving honor in the West where one expresses the great distance between royalty and common people by saying kings are highnesses and God is high and lifted up. In the Far East, at least in the area that inherited culture from India, Lord Hanuman worships Rama by placing his hand under Rama’s foot, and everyone including the Prime Minister of Thailand refers to himself or herself in addressing the King of Thailand as “dust under your foot” (tulee phrabat). In this culture, to express due veneration, one lowers oneself, both figuratively and on occasion physically and literally.
The veneration being undertaken by the reverence being paid to Buddha footprints is with regard to the Buddha in three eras, past, present and future. There is a historic referent, while at the same time immediacy, and also anticipation. A footprint evokes the sense that at some time in the past, in some way, the Buddha was right here in this place. This place is evidence of the existence of the Buddha, and also of his regard for this place. There is a sense of urgency about a footprint, inasmuch as the one who made the impression has gone on and we are being left behind. A follower of the Buddha must walk the path that the Buddha walked in order to come to the end of the path that the Buddha achieved. There is also a sense of immediacy given that something of the Buddha remains. Clues to that residue are usually found in the indentations in the footprint. At the center of the print is almost always a round symbol, either of a wheel of the law or of a chakra (a center of energy, and in some expressions a sunburst) or a combination of both with the 8 or 16-spoke wheel superimposed on the blazing sun. Very commonly the Dharmachakra is accompanied by a checkerboard grid of auspicious symbols referring to aspects of the Buddha to be remembered. A spiritually sensitive person can expect to have renewed urgency to follow the Buddha as a result of attending to the messages being communicated by the footprint. Buddha footprints also evoke the promise that a Buddha, Phra Araya Maitrai (as it is pronounced here in the north), will be returning, as prophesied or promised (depending on the text) 2500 years from now. The sense is that even though the Buddha has gone, humankind is not abandoned. This sense of the future being taken care of is presented in many additional ways in Mahayana Buddhism.
Buddha footprints come from the anticonic (“prior to the iconic”) stage of Buddhist art, the time before there were images of the Buddha. Instead, in those earliest centuries the Buddha was represented symbolically, by wheels referring to the “wheel of the law”, the Dharma. Or by a footprint. Or by a stupa (chedi [Thai], pagoda) standing both for the world mountain connecting heaven, earth and hell, as well as the reliquary in which relics of the Buddha or relics substituting for such relics are interred. A few stupas are supposed to actually have such venerable items, but most stupas just represent those more important ones.
Here in North Thailand Buddha footprints have a further significance.
Stories of mountains and legendary figures, ascetics, and supernatural beings of various kinds including gods and demons, were perennial favorites in the rich folklore of northern Thailand. These oral legends with pre-Thai origins were in time written on palm leaves and thick mulberry paper albums that became part of the popular preaching traditions of northern Thai Buddhism, and in this process of amalgamation and subsequent transformation they were Buddhasized. The Buddha emerges as the dominant figure in the narratives. Everyone else, whether ordinary villagers, ascetics, monks, kings, or supernatural beings, all play their part to facilitate the Buddha’s journey through the mountains and valleys of northern Thailand. The primary intent of these tamnan (chronicles/legendary histories) of the Buddha’s journey throughout Lan Na is to establish northern Thailand as a sacred land—literally a Buddha-land (Buddhadesa)—through a legacy of signs, primarily bodily relics and footprints. [Swearer, Donald K, Sommai Premchit, and Phaithoon Dokbuakaew, 2004. Sacred Mountains of Northern Thailand and their Legends. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. P. 24]
Buddha’s footprints and relics, together with the tamnan narratives, validate the land, and by extension the rulers of the land.
The controversy surrounding same-sex marriage is the latest manifestation of a wider change in the human arrangement of daily life. Ironically, although technology has made global connectedness possible with its benefits of instantaneous communication and its perils of opaque, consolidated power, the current era is one of social and cultural fragmentation. Empires have crumbled, and nations have divided. At the local level clans have shrunk and families have redefined themselves into smaller and smaller units.
This has been going on for more than a century. The soap-opera “Downton Abbey” pretends to present an English portrait of this. Kukrit Pramote’s Four Reigns did the same for Siam. One might argue that the literary genre began with Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
Obviously, something massive is not the result of a single social rite of passage by which young people achieve standing on their own in communities. In fact, communities are also changed by the glacial shift that overwhelmed empires and castes. Whereas, communities used to be integrated and homogeneous, now they are increasingly diverse.
In the past, church (or temple), society and spirituality were overlapping, if not concentric. Churches were expressions of ethnic culture, around which community life functioned, and within which individuals found inner growth and outward fulfillment. Now religion has shed much of its ethnic-cultural character, or perhaps adopted the culture in which it is submerged. Churches try to emulate an ecumenical model so that a worshiper in an Anglican Church in London, Singapore or New York will feel right at home. Thai Buddhist temples are trying to be the same in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Boston. Or religious institutions have gone the other way and tried to blend into the mindset and lifestyle of people who attend, forsaking all suggestions of heritage. Spiritual development strategies have diversified as well, to include physical exercise regimens, support groups, and music, to name three.
What has happened to marriage is a result of this great shift and not, as some argue, its cause. In fact, not only has marriage not caused this mega-cultural metamorphosis, neither will conserving the traditional form of marriage prevent the shift. People are wrong who argue that maintaining traditional marriage will preserve traditional culture. It is too late to preserve the past.
Family no longer means Mother, Father, Dick and Jane and Baby Sally. An unwed mother raising two children by unknown fathers is a family. A county clerk married four different times is a family if she has registered her last marriage. A couple with 3 foster children is a family. Grandparents raising a grandchild are a family. A couple who have been separated for five years sharing children on alternate weekends is still functioning as a family, or maybe two. Two women raising a niece of one of them is a family, just as would be two lesbian women raising a child sired by a surrogate father who donated to a sperm bank. A prostitute who makes a living for herself and two children by sleeping with 3 different men a night is a family. A nineteen year old boy who has run off with his eighteen year old girlfriend and is living with her while working at McDonalds and going to community college is a family if they say so. If the definition of “family” has been opened up, the definition of “marriage” must necessarily have changed too. It is pointless to argue otherwise.
How, then, do we initiate young people into larger community life? What takes the place of traditional marriage? The same-sex marriage movement that is drawing so much attention all over the world is merely expanding the range of participants to include a more realistic understanding of gender. It is actually gender fluidity that is being virulently opposed.
In the future no marriages will have the same central role they had in the past to remove young people from their birth families and install them as perpetrators of new families in wider society. Very soon marriage between two people will be just one of many ways to define people’s role in society. The trend is for people to define themselves, in fact, rather than to allow themselves to be defined by their family structure, racial heritage, social role, economic capacity, or anything.
This, I think is becoming world-wide. Let’s look at what we can see in Northern Thailand.
I know of several families nearby that constitute a sample large enough to represent at least part of the contemporary possibilities. In generation 2 (age 50-60) of Family A, 3 children are married hetero-sexually and 1 is married to a same-sex spouse. In generation 3 (age 16-30) of that family 4 children are married – 2 formally and 2 informally, 1 is estranged from his wife whom he never married (they have a little boy) and vocal about not intending to get involved again anytime soon, 1 is about to be married with a big ceremony, and 3 are still too young. In Family B the husband had 2 wives (one of them a widely suspected secret), one son is married after not having any ceremony for a year, and the other son is gay. In Family C the husband is happily married to his second wife without a formal marriage, the first wife has a new part-time spouse, their daughter has a little son she has turned over to her mother’s parents to raise while she extorts money from one young suitor after another, and another daughter has disappeared. Family D includes one son who became a Buddhist monk, and two sons who each are married while maintaining separate families elsewhere. One son has two daughters, one of whom is married and one who may be lesbian. The other son has a daughter who is still “too young” at 37 and a son who is too happy to be a carefree bachelor to marry the woman who has been chasing him for about ten years.
In other words the traditional long-term monogamous relationship is no longer typical, and, frankly, in this culture may never have been. Certainly the public “I do” ceremony (or its Northern Thai equivalent) is not a necessary rite of passage.
Young adults these days in North Thailand describe themselves in terms of where they live. The closer they live to where they grow up the more specific will be their identification. They mention a salaried position if they have one; salary is an indicator of upward mobility into the middle class. They think of their alma mater if they are graduates or current students. And they never lose track of their familial position as son, grandson, father, uncle (maybe all at the same time) in relation to different people. Then comes their roles in the community. At the top of the list would be any particular thing that marks a person as socially remarkable or somehow elite. Young adults in N. Thailand live in a nexus of relationships, no one of which identifies the person as “now a mature, full-fledged member of society”.
Passage into society at large doesn’t have a rite. Marriage doesn’t do that anymore than it defines a family.
This is a terrible time – again. A headline today calls the wave of refugees fleeing Syria the worst refugee crisis since World War II. There are lots of contenders for that questionable rank. But without doing more than mention a couple or three close to home we can agree we need to reassess our humanity in the light of how we are responding as moral inhabitants of this small blue marble on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy at the fringes of the universe.
My awakening from dreamland into a wide-awake nightmare was when reports began filtering back to safe, happy America about horrible things happening to Vietnamese boat people in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea in 1975. The atrocities were being perpetrated, the reports insisted, by the Thai fishing fleet with assistance from unbelievable sources. I refused to believe it. It did not fit my extended experience living here in Thailand from 1965-1969. Then came the Pol Pot decimation and the wave of refugees on top of the Hmong and Lao desperate to escape and the Karen and other refugees from Burma. Thailand looked like it might be inundated.
Thai reaction to influxes of homeless and stateless people has varied. In some cases the newcomers were allowed to move in and gradually assimilated as in the case of the “Chin Haw” (remnants of the Kuomintang Nationalist Chinese forces defeated by Mao in 1949 and 1950). In other cases they were quickly hurried on their way to resettlement abroad. In some cases, the Khmer in particular, resettlement took more time as third country arrangements were made. And in a large number of cases refugee camps became home for a second and now a third generation born and raised there in confinement, waiting for the situation to settle down back in Burma so they can be “repatriated”, whatever that can possibly mean.
Now there are two new refugee crises here in the Land of Smiles. As with all the previous people movements these have nothing to do with Thailand except that the people are moving through here. That is another way of saying Thailand has nothing to do with these people unless it wants to. Apparently it does not want to have anything to do with them; (“them”, being the Rohingya refugees leaving Burma and the Uighur trying to get out of China and into Turkey.) Since some readers of this essay may be unfamiliar with the Rohingya (mentioned earlier in the year in www.kendobson.asia/blog/rohingya) or the Uighur I will summarize. The Rohingya are being persecuted in Burma where they have lived as officially stateless people, unclaimed by Bangladesh or Burma. Now there is a radical Buddhist movement to get rid of them from Burma. They have tried to relocate onto swampy land south of Yangon and they have taken to boats where they are stranded on the sea, enslaved, trafficked, trapped and scores have been killed. Large mass graves have been found on the Thai Malaysian border. The Uighur are Muslims in Northwest China left over from the Mogul Empire. They would prefer to live elsewhere now, and a group of them were discovered trying to get through Thailand onto transportation to Turkey, but they were found out and their situation was called “trafficking” by the Thai military government when China wanted them back. Muslims in Turkey stormed the Thai honorary consul general in Istanbul on July 8 when the Uighur were summarily shipped back to China. The protests moved closer to Thailand, it turns out, when a bomb exploded in Bangkok at the Erawan Shrine killing 20 people and injuring 130 on August 14 including, perhaps not coincidentally, several Chinese tourists. The bomber may have been caught trying to escape to Turkey through Cambodia. Lo and behold, the “traffickers” are the same for both the Rohingya and the Uighur. I will not be surprised to hear the military government praise itself for breaking up the trafficking ring. The police department has already claimed the million baht reward for solving the bombing case. Why think about a trial at all?
But what about the refugees? What about the little boy dead on the beach in this week’s gut-wrenching icon? What about the 12,000 Icelandic families who want to provide hostage to the Syrian refugees, even though the government of Iceland has offered sanctuary for just 50? What about the Hungarian riot that tried to prevent the Syrian refugees from getting onto a train to Germany? What about Donald Trump’s American Presidential campaign promise to ship back all Mexican “illegals” and the idea of building a huge wall to isolate the USA (presumably since dragging the “homeland” out into the ocean seems impractical)? What about the Australian government’s detention and humiliation of refugees offshore?
What about these desperate human beings?
What about the humanitarian values of our governments and our people?
I say just assimilate these people, bring them home. Every one of our lands is a land of refugees. Some just arrived longer ago than others. I know one other thing as an amateur historian and professional theologian: we will be held accountable for how we respond to these refugees. They may be undergoing tribulation, but we are on trial.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.