Realised it might be worth explaining who U Dhammaloka was and why I’ve started posting about him along with stuff about #SocialMovements and #revolutions that might be more familiar to people following this account…


@OUPReligion #IrishHistory #AsianHistory #activism
Starring an Irish atheist anti-colonial Buddhist #activist in 1900 and his many adventures from Japan to Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), and from Burma to the Torres Straits - up against the missionaries, the cops, the courts…
First off, Dhammaloka was one of us. Here’s an #Irish #migrant worker – sailor across the Atlantic, #hobo in the States – sailor across the Pacific, who turns to causing trouble for the British #Empire in #Asia and allying with all sorts of Asian networks.
He had at least five different pseudonyms, was put on trial for #sedition, was under police and intelligence #surveillance, subject of a proto-extradition attempt, faked his own death – and they may have changed the law to try and shut him up. Quite a CV.
Did I mention that there’s quarter of a century mysteriously missing from his early years in which he evidently learned to be a really good organiser? The years of the #Fenians and Clan na Gael, of the Molly Malones and the US general #strike ...
... the #Haymarket bombing and the rise of #anarchism … we don’t know where he learned his trade, but he learned it well.
In #Asia he first makes his name with direct action in #Burma confronting racism and the police force in an event that echoed through Burmese nationalism for decades. He also challenged official corruption and sexual exploitation...
... the colonial establishment had good reason to try to get rid of him.
He becomes a #Buddhist monk, which turns one of the key justifications for Empire on its head – that it was bringing the Gospel to the heathen.
And this is the period in which people trying to imagine the future after #colonialism often turn to religion – Hindu nationalism, pan-Islamic visions … and #pan-Asian Buddhism, potentially connecting everyone from Sri Lanka to Japan (which defeated a European power in 1905).
A side note: here, officiating at a Shugendo fire ritual to bring defeat to the Russians in 1904, is his fellow Irish Buddhist Charles Pfoundes. With all his Buddhist bling!
Oh yes – @DhammalokaU’s not just disloyal but also# Irish, like a good chunk of the British military in India. #Empire depends on one group of colonised people being willing to fight another group somewhere else –
but after the 1857 #Rebellion and with rising Irish nationalism, imperial dreams are haunted by Irish people turned #Buddhist. “Kim” and “The Road to Mandalay” are both about this. [That's Kim and his Buddhist lama in the original illustrations below.]
Dhammaloka also disrupts the racial order, in which white men in #Asia were expected to set themselves apart from Asians – he subordinates himself to an Asian institution, wears native clothes, goes barefoot (a big deal), goes begging...
... he was a walking symbol undermining the ideal that White People Were Special
Poor whites like this make the Empire nervous. Up to half the whites in India are soldiers, sailors, ex-soldiers, ex-sailors, skilled workers of various kinds. If they don’t line up behind the officer class things could get very sticky.
Remember these are the years of the rise of #trade unions, anarchism, socialism…

And as a #migrant worker @DhammalokaU is *very* good at getting on with people quickly.
He has 8 languages and made friends across the globe. In #Burma he’s a celebrity preacher for Buddhist peasants and supported by key members of the Buddhist sangha and the new lay #Buddhist groups who would form the backbone of nationalism.
His allies elsewhere include international Buddhist organisers, members of the #Dawei ethnic minority, figures in the Chinese diaspora, a Shan opium baron, Sinhalese diaspora merchants, Sri Lankan radicals, Indian nationalists, Muslim #dockworkers
He’s the kind of guy conservatives wrote thrillers about. We wrote an #activist #biography instead.
He speaks for a plebeian cosmopolitanism (I like this phrase!) of multi-ethnic working-class, peasant and other #subaltern groups who worry the #Empire – and who don’t fit into later mono-ethnic #histories about The Rise Of The Nation.
He’s a successful organiser not just in Burma but in #Singapore and Siam (Thailand), a celebrity speaker in Ceylon, and active in Japan, #Hong Kong, India and present-day #Bangladesh.
Maybe also the #TorresStraits, #Cambodia and #Nepal. We don’t quite believe him about going to #Tibet but you never know…
His key slogan is about “the Bible, the whiskey bottle and the Gatling gun”. In other words: #Empire will come for you with religion, it will come for you with cultural devastation and it will come for you with massive military power.
What to do about it? Challenge the missionaries (risky stuff). Organise for temperance (safe). And implicitly – saying this out loud is #treason or #sedition – think about Empire and what else might be possible. Did I mention he’s #Irish?
Irish people had been using #religion to challenge Empire for decades by the time @DhammalokaU gets going as a #Buddhist monk in 1900. Empire sells itself at home (among other things) by saying that they were converting the heathen.
But in “the colonies” it has to pretend to be religiously neutral or at least not directly opposed to popular religion. Irish nationalism had exploited this contradiction since Daniel O’Connell.
@DhammalokaU uses this in #Asia to great effect. Challenge the missionaries, and Empire has to show its hand, and stamp down on Buddhism.
To argue against the missionaries @DhammalokaU uses … western #atheist arguments! He’s in regular correspondence with a string of #freethinking (atheist) periodicals in America and Europe … and his #Buddhist Tract Society basically republished that kind of authors.
He’s a true #atheist #SJW.
So this is what he does – #direct actions, a *lot* of public talks, publishing, media polemics, networking, setting up #alternative schools … and then he disappeared.
Actually first he fakes his own death *then* he disappears. Which kind of makes you wonder…
Did they find out something about his #biography that he couldn’t afford to have come out? And what could it be that would be so devastating? Which is what brings us back to the #Fenians and the #Molly Maguires, #Haymarket and all the rest of it.
It’s quite a story – and as an #Irish #migrant worker he’s *very* good at telling his story (and making stuff up to make a better one!)
All that might help make it clear why I’m talking about @DhammalokaU along with the other #social movements and #revolutions on this account. But one last thing:
If we’re talking about revolutions – or talking about a fundamental change in our economic structure without mentioning the R-word – it really, really helps to know something about times that popular pressure from below has really changed the world. #History matters.
In the last century, probably the major change from below that has affected most people (not necessarily the best change, but the biggest!) is the shift from most of the world being part of a handful of European empires to independent nation-states.
Then as now, over 60% of the human species lived in #Asia alone. That’s the centre of “our #history” as a species – though the wave of independence movements included the crumbling of empires in Europe at the end of WWI and the end of empire in Africa too.
It wasn’t @DhammalokaU’s kind of #anti-colonialism that won out: before WWI, nation states were just not so common. It was really hard to have the benefit of hindsight that says *of course* this was how things were going to go.
Fantasies of a return to the old pre-colonial monarchies, pan-Asian religious visions, #Gandhian village communities, #anarchist and rationalist visions – they didn’t win out. But in 1900 this wasn’t clear to most people, however smart and politically active they were.
And of course they got neither – though they did get an end to #Empire.
And our situation isn’t so different. We desperately need an end to #capitalism, #patriarchy, the #racialised global order – and #ecological destruction at the hands of fossil fuel industrialism.
We have fantastic visions from #Chiapas and from #Rojava, nostalgia for postwar welfare states, Soviet-style socialism or national-developmentalism, as well as some real “head-births”.
But we don’t know what’s going to work. And it may be helpful to acknowledge this – we’re not going to get the future that we have convinced ourselves, individually or in small groups, is The Only Possible Solution. What happens depends on the way our struggles go.
“I want, you want, she wants … What we want, happens. But what happens is something none of us want.”
They used to say “After late #capitalism comes more capitalism” – and they weren’t wrong. Unfortunately. We don’t know what comes next except that it will be what we, and at least hundreds of millions of other people, make it.
It’s terrifying stuff, and makes it really hard to orient ourselves. But stepping back into another situation like this can help trying to name our #historical situation more clearly.
So that’s a deeper reason for being interested in @DhammalokaU – it’s nt just the #biography of a crazy #Irish troublemaker who came out of nowhere, turned things upside down and disappeared , and not just a way into many different worlds of popular #resistance round the world
He’s also a way of thinking about #social movements, strategy, visions and social #change on a Really Big Scale.
Our book’s coming out in March with @OUPReligion and we’ll be doing various talks, blogs etc. around that.
If you want to know more, give @DhammalokaU a follow! Livetweeting from the 1900s in Burma and across Asia...
You can follow @ceesa_ma.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: