Friday, May 06, 2005

I was just reading a segment from the book Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, by Bradley K. Martin. It mentioned that one of the things US troops found when they briefly seized Kim Il Sung's command bunker in the North Korean capital Pyongyang in 1950 was an organ. Kim had played the organ as a youth. Kim's cult of personality, along with the mention of his musical interests, made me think of another cultish leader, Shoko Asahara of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo. Although most of the world first heard of Asahara after Aum's 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system I knew of him for at least a couple of years before that. In the early '90s I listened to quite a bit of shortwave radio, and at the time Radio Moscow was selling airtime to interested parties. One of them was Aum, and their broadcasts quickly became familiar to many shortwave listeners. Included in each broadcast was a hymn or two, supposedly written by Asahara. After they were played the Japanese lyrics were explained. Unfortunately like the rest of their program the English speakers they used weren't particularly good, and listening was rather surreal. The vagueries of shortwave broadcasting, such as fading and interference, didn't help.

It would seem that their Russian programs were rather more successful. Russia proved to be the most successful area outside Japan for Aum recruiting, and a decade later many of the converts to the group hold their allegiance. Some reports even claim Aum, or Aleph as it calls itself now, currently has more followers in Russia than Japan.

When the first news reports hit Canadian radio and tv about the 1995 subway attack and the possible involvement of a Japanese cult I almost instantly began to wonder if it was Aum. I wasn't all that surprised when the answer was yes. What had been merely some amusing broadcasts of some weird religious sect suddenly became much more disturbing. Over the next few years we learned of what Aum had been doing before the subway attack, activities that included the murder of a critic of the group and his family, attempts to spread disease organisms, and attempts to develop or obtain weapons even more dangerous than the homemade sarin gas they actually used. Shoko Asahara was convicted as the mastermind of the Aum attack, and last year was sentenced to death, although this doesn't appear to be going to happen anytime soon.

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