Society

In Congo, A Tribal Chief Forced To Flee Cannibalistic Militia

The Mai-Mai militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo is known to kill and eat captured tribal leaders, which they think gives special powers to shield them from bullets.

A quiet moment in Katanga, DRC
Staff

LUBUMBASHI - In the northern part of the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Mai-Mai militia group, lead by Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, have become notorious for murder, rape and robbery of civilian populations. When they overtake a local tribe, they take possession of their homes, forcing into the street thousands of families at a time. But what also sets their ruthlessness apart are reports of the practice of eating the traditional leaders of their various enemies.

Justin Kalenga Tamba is a local chief from Mitwaba, and he decided to speak out from Lubumbashi where he fled for his life.

SYFIA: When did you arrive in Lubumbashi, and why did you come?
JUSTIN KALENGA TAMBA: I moved here a month ago. I fled the raids of the Mai-Mai, which are spreading all over the northern areas of the Katanga region, targeting the entire population, and particularly the traditional leaders. I asked the authorities of the country to do everything possible in order to bring peace to our territories. I do not know why this still continues.

Do the Mai-Mai attack only the traditional leaders?
No. They attack the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the police, the security services and any other authorities. As they do not have any food, they plunder the houses and take away everything they find. They accuse the traditional leaders of working with the military forces. Since 2003, 40 chiefs have been killed by the Mai-Mai, who ate their flesh, which they believe can strengthen their power and make them invulnerable to bullets. This has happened to the leaders Musumari, Mwele, Lwalaba, Dilenge, Kawama Mubidi, Kiyombo, Ntambo, Kileba ...

The regular army doesn’t give you enough security?
They are deployed in the administrative towns of the territory, as in the city of Mitwaba. But the territory is not only the capital. Elsewhere, in the chiefdoms and the villages, it is the Mai-Mai groups who impose their law. They are armed, but we do not know where their weapons and ammunition come from. I can’t even explain to you how they resist the Congolese army. In the chiefdom of Kiona Ngoy, where I am a leader, the Mai-Mai arrested 11 of my local chiefs, and I don’t know where they brought them. This is why I escaped. Here I am not alone. Several other chiefs fled like me..

How many displaced people do you estimate there are now?
There is a thousand of families living in the bush without any assistance. Just in my chiefdom there are more than 130,000 people living in the bush. I do not know if it is possible to determine the number of people fleeing to other chiefdoms, villages, because they are fleeing in all directions.

Among these Mai-Mai, there are children of your country, therefore your own children...
They are mainly young people without any education, nor occupation convinced by Gideon to join his group. When they are under the influence of drugs, they can do anything.

Gideon is a son of North Katanga. Why does he make his own brothers suffer?
He is from the Nyembwakunda group. His hometown is Kabala. We do not understand what he wants, nor what he is looking for.


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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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