FALUN GONG, CULTS, AND THE SWASTIKA
None of the major news reports on the Chinese Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) cult mention the swastika on the cult's home web page (http://www.falundafa.com/). This omission is all the more curious since the group has had no lack of press coverage since the Chinese Government cracked down on the cult on July 22 and offered a $10,000 reward for the arrest of its New York-based leader. China's Napoleonic/Continental legal code gives authorities wide discretion for investigative detention. But nobody charges that Falun Gong members have been raped or murdered, nor have their businesses been destroyed; such crimes are reserved for the Roma and other minority victims of the KLA in "Albanian Kosovo". But when the Western press virtually ignores the Roma, we are justified in concluding that Falun Gong made the news not so much because of any injustice waged against them but more out of a desire to attack the Chinese Government. Just what is Falun Gong? It has been portrayed as a religion whose rights were violated, even as a traditional Chinese physical exercise, and a philosophy. It claims one hundred million members. "There is no political agenda", the group wrote in a press release. "Falun Dafa is not a `cult' or a `religious sect' as the Chinese authorities claim. There is no formal structure or organisation." This statement is highly problematic, for if there is no formal structure or organisation, who put out the group's press release? The statement also seems to contradict the status of prime-leader Li Hongzhi. Li has predicted that the world will explode unless he is recognised as the saviour of the planet and forbids his followers to believe in other theories. His claim to almost deified authority is worth quoting at length: "You must not preach the Law in the form of large-scale lectures as I have adopted. You are unable to preach the Law. "What I speak about is of a very profound significance, because there are things belonging to the high dimensions in my lectures. Now you cultivate at different levels of attainment. "When you have improved yourselves in the future, and you go back and listen to the recording of my lectures, you will improve yourselves continuously. If you listen to them constantly, you will always have a new understanding and gain. "You can achieve a much better result by reading this book. I am giving lectures which contain things very high and profound. So you are unable to preach the Law. "You are not allowed to take my original words as your own. If you do, you are a Law robber. "You can only say my original words and tell the listener that they are said by the teacher or are written in the book. You can only talk this way. Why? Because such talking will carry the power of the Great Law. "You must not spread what you know as Falun Dafa. Otherwise, what you spread is not Falun Dafa. You are equally disrupting our Falun Dafa. "If you talk according to your ideas or your thoughts, what you say is not the Law. It is unable to save or have any effect on others. Therefore, nobody else is able to preach this Law. "To spread the cultivation system, you can play the recording or play the video tapes in the place of practising the Gong or in the place of teaching the Gong. Then let the instructor teach them how to practise the exercise. "You can adopt the form of a forum where you can learn from each other through discussions and interpretations and by exchanging experiences and views. You are required to spread Falun Dafa in this way. "Besides, you must not address the student (disciple) who spreads Falun Dafa as teacher or master. There is only one master of the Great Law" (Li Hongzhi, Zhuan Falun: On Buddha Law Lecture 3). The Far Eastern Economic Review (August 5,1999) reports coverage on China's television of practitioners who died because they refused medication or went on murder sprees or committed suicide to reach nirvana. "Viewers have seen graphic pictures of one practitioner, retiree Ma Jianmin, who died after cutting open his abdomen with a pair of scissors to look for a `wheel of law' — an orb of energy that followers believe Li implants in them." The group came under attack when it mobilised some 10,000 supporters outside the homes of the Chinese leadership. Recently, however, cult-leader Li has distanced himself from this action. The cult's press spokesman Erping Zhang also maintained that "There is no chain of command with Mr Li at the top". Claims do not stand up This is the type of cynicism about the truth that often marks cults. The group can tell the press that Li plays no such role, ignoring the fact that we can read Li's claims to the contrary on the group's web page. It mobilises 10,000 people for protests yet denies it is political and claims to have no structure. Its claim to represent "traditional values" is not one likely to be accepted as apolitical, especially from those familiar with the ultra- politicised Christian Fundamentalists in the US who espouse a similar traditionalism. Chinese news reports say that the group has "39 provincial-level `general guidance stations' and 1,900 lower-level `guidance stations' spread all over China". This then returns us to the issue of the swastika and the claims that the group is not political. Some sympathisers of politicised Asian-based religions maintain that the swastika "is just an Indian good luck symbol". But the leader of Falun Gong resides in the United States. The cult has a widely-diffused presence on US college campuses, as documented by the links on its web page. No; Falun Gong knows full well about Hitler and the crimes against humanity committed under the sign of the swastika. Knowing this, they made a decision to put it on their home page. Such was their right; just as it is the right of others to judge them for it. The cult claims to reflect the "will of the people", perhaps the ultimate political statement and one consistent with a group competing for state power for itself. Members of the dissident China Democracy Party like Xie Wanjun think the group is political enough to try to form a "pro-democracy" alliance with it. Religion-As-Politics; Politics-As-Religion Asia has a tradition of the politicised-religion or of political groups presenting their organising in the guise of religion. Certain Western-oriented Hindu groups counselled people to both "avoid politics" and "attack Communism", arguing that the latter action was not political but a defence of religious rights. When religious leaders bid for state power, terms like "Communism" become exceedingly flexible, bordering on the McCarthyite slanders of years past. We remember the end of the New Left in the US as newly invented Hindus and Buddhists attacked civil rights and anti-war activists for being political instead of spiritual; the spirituality consisted of little more than attacking those seeking a better society. Opposition to their frequent disruptions of meetings became, in their rhetoric, an attack on their religious freedoms and, in turn, served to justify their disruptions against anti-religious "communists". More recently, we saw the avowedly-apolitical Aum cult in Japan develop anti-Semitic theories in a land effectively without Jews while attacking thousands of Tokyo subway riders with poison gas. Nor must we forget the otherwise "apolitical" clerical fascism rooted in certain Roman Catholic traditions that would place the Church as an ostensibly neutral spiritual body standing above the temporal state and mediating its disputes. A religion that engages in political struggles abandons any special claim it has to religious freedom. But of course the ultimate refutation of claims that Falun Gong's religious freedom was violated comes from the cult itself: it denies it is a religion. Apolitical Cults? We need to take an exceedingly critical attitude towards any cult that claims to be apolitical. For frequently such claims are made with "private dictionaries" where the words used may be the same ones you and I use, but with a special definition by the cult. Thus one cult may stress that it is apolitical, attacking "politics" as an attempt to dominate society with "materialist values" while openly admitting it wishes to control the same society with its "spirituality". Nor must we automatically accept a religion's claim of discrimination when prosecuted by state power. We recall such claims made by the Church of Scientology, the Unification Church, and the Church of God when the groups were targeted for very non- religious criminal activity. Today's World Church of the Creator in the US claims its religious freedom is violated by the investigation following church-member Benjamin Smith's killings. Elsewhere, religious organisers today demand prosecution of Americans United For the Separation of Church and State for violating their religious "right" to link pulpit with ballot box. Other Christian fundamentalist sects defend their ostensible freedom to avoid the laws of civil society. They claim to answer to the highest law — of God — formed in some arcane legislative assembly that only they know. For these fundamentalists the political demand to return to "traditional values" forms both the core of their politic and the basis for them to declare themselves "apolitical". How apolitical is Falun Gong's declaration, made on CNN, that the Chinese have been "brainwashed" while their cult seeks to return China to "traditional Chinese values"? The image of the cult becomes more and more that of the traditional Asian- based politicised-religion, conducting its political organising behind the mask of apolitical religious activity. Others, seeing Falun Gong's decision to use the swastika as a symbol, maintain nothing more is needed to prove the far right-wing political nature of the group.
* * *The Internet Anti-Fascist, (#312), USA