Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Freedom of Speech & the Buddha's Children

"Even if they should smash statues and burn scriptures, it would be wrong of me to carry anger in my heart or offense in my head, as the Buddha suffered through innumerable hardships, so too must I bear patiently these things, heat and wind, cold and rain, ignorant people and anger of others. All things arise a result of conditions, I did not condition them, but I will cherish all living beings within them." --Buddhist Prayer, translated from Pali

Thailand plans to censor you and your site if you offend the Buddha.

This raises a number of troubling questions about the use of the Internet to control how information is used, about the dynamics of our first amendment rights online and our willingness to defend them. Of course most Americans do not want to cause any offense to anyone, but often do so through sheer ignorance of the historical conditions people are sensitive to; sometimes people do so willingly, but for many Americans tolerance is an ideal as enshrined as it is for Buddhists.

The reality is that an amoral market has co-opted symbols scared to Asian people and often discriminated against them, but I am not so sure if anything in Buddhism itself defends the response. To understand it in context, one must realize that discrimination against Asian people is very real, and using non-Christian symbols in this way causes problems for people who are not Christians or who feel some separation from others on the basis of race and religion.

For a full discussion please see the tricycle blog that explains why so many Buddhists feel so sensitive after the Taliban exploded the Bamiyan Buddhas, and why so many others feel offended at the commercialization of Buddhist symbolism....

You will please note I spent this morning looking through my Tripitaka and could not find anywhere in the Dhammapada, the Suttanikaya, the Abidhamma, or related works where Buddha said "I will hack their computers and ruin their work" and so I went to the history books and discovered that this is a first in the history of Buddhism.

Who knows what the Cyber-Buddha patrol will say about my discussion or request for libertarian tolerance, or the fact that it comes in the same form and spirit that the Buddha asked for total intellectual freedom?

Tolerance will not only allow us to understand each other, but will allow us to develop our unique talents and respect for each other in a more fundamental way. If anything, when Quakers in Delaware and Pennsylvania faced (and face) similar persecution, they simply removed all symbols representing the religion. They made it an ideal that it was not belonging to a group, but as an individual that all the inalienable rights people should have, they could have- many for the first time. To address the problem of symbols in Quakerism, not that there were many to begin with, they simply got rid of them. No symbols, nothing to make fun of or capitalize on.

In the modern world, we would say that is Zen.

But Buddhism is a little different. Just as it would be wrong to claim Buddha for any one people, it is wrong not to understand Buddhist's backlash against people who seek to capitalize on their symbols and who perceive it as ethnic and racial discrimination. It should be noted that despite claims to the contrary, and despite this controversy, the Buddha was one of the only religious figures who ever advocated TOTAL intellectual freedom, and freedom of moral conscience and it is my sincere hope the the inheritors of his faith will continue to do the same.

It is quite remarkable that in America under the guidance of William Penn this freedom of intellect and conscience was institutionalized into almost every state's constitution. And it is equally amazing how tolerant our citizens have been when it has been ignored by the intolerant among us. One can hope that this remarkable tolerant heritage of Buddhism, which is much larger, will do that much more to spread tolerance.

As a very drunk Japanese monk once asked me, "you have to ask yourself, who would Buddha censor?" That being said, you also have to realize that in Asia, a favorite past-time of many Muslim, Communist and fundamentalist Christan groups has been Buddha-bashing and Buddhist persecution. And, no discussion would be complete if we should forget about Sri Lanka where Buddhist violence is not uncommon. A sad commentary on ethnic and social and often religious intolerance. Or if we forget the use of the military against Buddhists in Mynmyar, and other parts of Asia.

Let's hope that Thailand uses the appropriate diplomatic channels to direct its frustration over the commercialization of the Buddha and does not add to the over-abundant amount of intolerance floating around out there in the world. It would be inconsistent with being the children and inheritors and protectors of the profoundly peaceful and tolerant spirit of Buddha- to do less will not help those of us who continue to call for universal toleration in the same spirit as Asoka Maurya and the Buddha.

ICT to ‘hack & crack' foreign websites offensive to Thai supreme institution Prachatai 17 March 2008.

News The Information and Communications Technology Ministry is to ‘hack and crack' foreign websites deemed offensive to Thailand's revered institutions.

A March 15 report in Krungthep Turakij newspaper ( quoted a source at the ICT that the ministry could pursue legal proceedings only with websites registered in Thailand, and is now planning a ‘hack and crack' programme to hack offensive websites hosted abroad and delete their contents, because the legal process would take too long.

"This approach may be somewhat illegal, but sometimes it might be worth it, if [the websites] are really unacceptable," the source said.

One website registered abroad has been found to advertise merchandise including calendars, dolls, bags, hats, glasses, watches, trousers and underwear, all with a logo of the Buddha meditating on a lotus, with the face of a dog. It was reported to have upset many Buddhists.

On March 14, ICT Minister Mun Patanotai said that he had called a meeting of investigators from the Department of Special Investigation, and Crime Suppression Division, and the ‘ICT cops'. ICT Minister's Secretary Sarawuth Petchpanomporn was assigned to coordinate the collection of evidence and ask the courts to block websites and prosecute owners who, if inside the country, are subject to fines and imprisonment under the 2007 Computer Crime Act.

If the offence is committed abroad, the Minister admitted that there were difficulties. However, the Ministry has so far asked for cooperation from the authorities in each country or website administrators themselves, who have cooperated in solving the problems or delete offensive material, particularly concerning Thailand's ‘supreme institution'.

"The ministry has 30 so-called ICT cops, so it is difficult to keep a thorough watch. We still have to rely on net surfers or webmasters to help, to solve the problem or notify the ministry of any irregularities," Man said.

Acting Director Booncherd Kittitharangkul of the Office of National Buddhism's Technology Centre said that on hearing the news he felt uneasy, and believed that it upset all Buddhists across the country.

The Technology Centre has found that the website has its server in California, USA, and the centre has twice asked the ICT Ministry in writing to shut down the website, but it is still online. The centre has also asked the Foreign Ministry's Information Department to address the problem through diplomatic means.

"If within one month the problem is still not solved, I will ask for cooperation from ‘internet cop' Pol Col Yanapol Yangyuen, Commander of Office of Technology and Information Cases under the Department of Special Investigation, to shut it down," said Booncherd. He added that his centre has cooperated with relevant agencies in shutting down 5 similar websites which made commercial use of Buddhist symbols.

Translated by Ponglert Pongwanan

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