BM: They had taken deadly gas down into the subways of Tokyo, and if it had been a purer form of gas, the casualties could have been tens or hundreds of thousands. And you refer to them as appear apocalyptic group.
RL: That's right, because the guru and his close disciples had this idea that everything around them, ordinary people, the world at large, was defiled, and had to be destroyed because it had no prior contact with purity, namely the guru. It's so wild and absurd idea, but it can be embraced. And that's the apocalyptic side.
RL: I would. I would, because with this apocalyptic vision, there's always an idea of renewal. It's wrong to say that these people have no conscience, they have a whole moral structure. But it's a destructive moral structure and it requires mass killing to realize their moral goals.
And I would certainly put bin Laden there, because he's willing to initiate large scale destruction, as we can see from this event and potentially larger ones, in the name of what's perceived by them always a higher purpose. You can't leave out that vision of a higher purpose if you're to understand what they're after.
BM: Is that what you meant when you once refered to altruistic murderers?
RL: Yes, exactly. I talked about them as performing altruistic murder and in their case there was a further idea that in killing someone, you are favoring him or her by initiating a special kind of immortality for the victim, there's a kind of theory which they put forward. With bin Laden it isn't that he's offering us more immortality so, to speak, by killing random people, but there is a parallel idea that the world will be purified and that the renewal will improve the world, will be a service to the world.
RL: Absolutely, the great Satan. That's why i'm very wary of our leaders polarizing the world between good and evil, because that's exactly what bin Laden is doing. He sees us as the evil, and his motive as good and absolutely virtuous. I think we do better by looking into what he's about and the more complex nuances that create terrorism, and do things to minimize terrorism and prevent it.
BM: The Japanese religious cult did have this idea of saving the people they were killing by sending them to a better place. In this case it seems ostensibly that the hijackers, the terrorists themselves were seeking paradise and martyrdom for themselves, not for the 5,000 plus victims in the World Trade Center.
RL: That's exactly right. There's always some immortalizing promise in this kind of apocalyptic violence. And really in a lot of violence, a kind of promise that we overlook. And in the case of bin Laden, and his followers, there is a kind of islamic heaven which they envision, and in a sense they're giving up their life for something greater, in their terms, which is immortality and endless virtue and endless reward.
This episode's guests are Ian Reader, professor emeritus of The University of Manchester, and Erica Baffelli, senior lecturer in Japanese Studies who is also at The University of Manchester. Ian Reader's work on Aum Shinrikyō is widely known in Japan and overseas. Erica Baffelli is also well-known for her work on media and post-Aum religions (Aleph and Hikari no Wa) as well as work with former Aum members. The interviews were conducted on 6 July, 2018, the day the Japanese government released news of the executions of the leader of Aum Shinrikyō, Asahara Shōkō, and 6 other major figures in the organization.
RL: Oh, very much so. And this kind of apocalyptic violence, the impulse is essentially religious, however dark. But there's always a combination of the religious and the political. So Asahara had political and military goals as does bin Laden, but there must be that ultimate religious vision if you're to have this kind of extreme mass murder.
RL: Yes, this fanatical Japanese cult, which combined ultimate zealotry and ultimate weapons or tried to, I saw a very, a piece by a Protestant minister. And he said you can't dismiss this as nonreligion, it's is a form of religion. This man had been promoting Christianity and teaching it and everything else, and he looked at me and said, there is nothing more dangerous than a religious conviction.