After World War I western nations have their own Unknown Soldier to commemorate those soldiers who lost their life serving their countries and whose identity was lost forever together with their lives. Some nations, like the UK, used their main churches to host the grave of the Unknown Soldier, others, like Italy, built monumental shrines. Yet the intention in any case is the same: to glorify self-sacrifice in the name of the nation. Although marked by an aura of religiosity, the monument is very much secular paraphernalia. Painted as a symbol of civil piety, the Unknown Soldier is a self-glorifying institution of Durkheimian mimesis. Continue reading
Since the revolt of the monks against the military junta in Burma, all the western mass media have focused on the long history of oppression of this South Asian country, which, I suppose, few of us really know about. While in Italy, I saw people wearing purple T-shirts in the streets, at the universities, and organised protests at the Burmese embassies in support of the ‘Buddhist monks’. This struggle for freedom has seen recently its first victims, and there is a general fear that the new protest can be as unsuccessful as the attempted revolution in 1988. Yet the attention is very much focused upon the courage of the ‘peaceful’ monks.
From an anthropological viewpoint, the revolt in Burma is particularly interesting for an anthropologist specialised in Muslim societies and communities. There are two elements that attract my attention. First of all, how this revolt is represented by the western mass media and secondly, the near total lack of reference to the drama that the Muslim minority, the so called Rohingya Muslims, have experienced in the last three decades. There are some hard stereotypes which affect how the mass media represent religions, and consequently, how ordinary people understand religions. Continue reading