By Zedeck Siew
I am sitting in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s main auditorium watching a band of Akademi Seni Kebangsaan students, wearing baju melayu, kurung and kebaya, play cheerful, violin-and-accordian RTM-like music. I am here for the Malaysian chapter of the Universal Peace Federation’s inaugural convocation on Sat 26 Nov 2005. After 20 minutes or so more costumes of diverse Malaysiana emerge and begin to dance, interpretatively, to happy, generic tunes sung by one Malay, one Chinese, one Indian in their respective mother tongues.
The hall was informed at the onset that these singers would be performing an interpretation of a Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon poem, written when he was 16, the same one printed on the last page of our handbook, the one that reads
When I doubt people, I feel pain.
When I judge people, it is unbearable.
When I hate people, there is no value to my existence.
Yet if I believe, I am deceived.
If I love, I am betrayed.
Suffering and grieving tonight, my head in my hands
Am I wrong?
and continues for another four stanzas. “Wait. They shouldn’t be happy such,” Ric, a young fellow from Manila who I met in the foyer, says. Whether these songs are translations I cannot tell, so I shrug. Ric is dissatisfied. “But Father Moon’s poem is sad,” he says.
Ric, wearing a shirt, tie, neat hairstyle and tired expression, is a dedicated member of the Unification movement. When I first shook hands with him, he told me how surprised he was at the turnout for today’s event. “Here, there are not many members,” he said, watching the fairly dense loitering crowd. “In Manila there would be thousands; everyone will want to see Father Moon.”
Ric was visiting a friend in Singapore, and regrets he will not be present in the last city of the UPF 100-City Tour’s cycle, Manila, when it arrives there, later, on 2 Dec 2005. Rev. Moon, who founded the UPF, is on a worldwide promotional tour, and his speeches have been graced by such regional luminaries as former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid and Cambodian Prince Sirivudh.
Ric pointed out a photograph of Jose de Venecia, Speaker of the House for the Filipino Parliament, in the handbook. “He is the third-highest man in the Philippines, and he follows Father Moon. Many ministers, senators follow Father Moon. Why are there so few members in Malaysia? Is it because there are many Muslims in your culture?”
Growing up in Manila, Ric originally joined his university’s campus World Collegiate Association tor the Research of Principles (World CARP) chapter because of his interest in the martial arts. Tong-Il Moo-Do, a unified form of martial arts and brainwave of the Unification movement, has several similarities to other major Korean martial art schools, such as Taekwon-Do and Hap Ki Do, but with an emphasis on “building sound character enlightening one’s mind and spirit”. Through kicks and blocks, Ric, a young Roman Catholic seeking answers, embraced the Unification movement. It inspired him with a care for his fellow man – Ric now works for Service for Peace, an international youth volunteer organisation, and coordinates their projects in the Philippines.
Toast of Peace
Media presence at the Universal Peace Federation’s inaugural convocation this Saturday is conspicuous by its lack. When registering, I was the second name on a two-name list.
Press absence is odd for two reasons: one – it is Sun Myung Moon, a religious leader of considerable influence both in Korea and internationally (particularly in the United States, whose tabloids coined the term ‘Moonie’, a play on ‘hippie’) famous for his mass marriages (in the UPF convocation handbook there is photograph captioned ‘August 1992, 30,000 couples blessing’; in it thousands of brides and bridegrooms fill half a stadium) and other slightly meta-normal exploits. He is here to give a speech, and it is his first visit to Malaysia.
Two – this particular event is under the patronage of YBhg. Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hjh. Saleha Haji Mohd Ali, also patron of the Pure Love True Family Malaysia for World Peace, a regal lady who has, among her own credentials, the privilege of being Tun Dr. Mahathir’s sister-in-law and a UPF Ambassador of Peace; the convocation ceremony is also graced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, and other, only slightly less illustrious dignitaries.
At this point an usher admonishes us to extract the small transistor radios provided from our bags and tune them to the bands on which our translators will be broadcast. I am surprised to see, behind him, pass a string of at least two dozen young men and women, wearing t-shirts that say BELIA 4B, which is a nationalist youth non-governmental organisation with close ties to UMNO, most recently known for forming morality-snoop-squads in Malacca.
After a ‘multi-religious invocation’ with representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Sikhism; an arcane ceremony called the Toast of Peace (involving mango juice, to be practiced between husband and wife, and “if you are here single,” our emcee assures us “This is okay; think of your ideal partner,”); and a speech by Hjh Saleha (unwell, she postponed a major operation to attend this convocation, and tells us that: “We yearn for peace for the world as a mother loves her children,”); Bernard Dompok approaches the podium.
In his speech, Bernard tells us that: “Among the 2000 invited guests here today are representatives of non governmental organisations, students, and corporate personalities, all here to forward the cause of peace.” On a page in our booklets, Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib welcomes Dr. Sun Myung Moon, stating that:
‘The Government of Malaysia encourages every process that contributes towards unity and harmonious coexistence within the global community. Indeed Malaysia is a model of a successful national process of integration in which diverse ethnic groups are broadly united in a common endeavour to live in peace.”
Amid the niceties I decipher that this event is viewed by the Government of Malaysia as yet another gesture in the vein of the People’s Alliance For Peace Malaysia, a “coalition of NGOs … with the common goal of pursuing a comprehensive, permanent and just world peace” and founded in 2002, after the war in Afghanistan and prior to America’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. This Saturday, Hjh Saleha repeats this meme, citing America for “unsanctioned warfare”, the UPF convocation is revealed to be a not-so-innocent continuation of Malaysian foreign policy, explaining the presence of Belia 4B and ASK.
The UPF’s intentions may be a little different. Thanks to Ric, I have this mental image of our Deputy Prime Minister shaking hands, smiling, with the cult leader Rev. Moon, True Parent of humanity – a photograph in the Manila handbook on December 2nd.
Day of Victory and Love
Ric would disagree with my so casually slapping on the label of cult on his beliefs. He tells me about Divine Principle, a central text in Unification thought. Its concept is based on the notes of Sun Myung Moon between the ages of 15 and 26, scribbled on the margin of his Bible. The young Moon had just experienced a revelation: Jesus came to him atop a small mountain and commanded him to complete Jesus’s mission of saving all of humankind.
The earliest manuscript of Divine Principle was lost when North P’yong’an, Moon home province, became part of North Korea, and Moon himself became a detainee in one of Kim Il-Sung’s death camps. Critics of the Unification Church pinpoint Moon’s anti-Communist agenda to his experience in the death camps, packing fertiliser with his bare hands.
Unification belief is a combination of Christian theology, Korean animism, and personal magnanimity. The circumstances of Moon’s second son may illustrate:
Heung Jin Moon, a quiet and serene young man, sacrificed himself in December 1983, swerving the car he was driving so that the force of an impending collision with a jacknifing truck would hit him instead of his passengers. He died after a month in coma, on 2 Jan 1984. This date is a church holiday – the Day of Victory and Love, observed by Unificationists Heung Jin Moon’s ascension into heaven.
According to Moon’s tenets, unmarried couples cannot rise to highest level of heaven; Rev. Moon held a posthumous marriage ceremony for his son in February. Heung Jin Moon is considered a martyr; Moon survived an assassination attempt by leftist terrorists the same day. Heung is now believed to be King of the Spirit World, Moon’s representative in the hereafter, conducting seminars for the departed souls of religious leaders and politicians.
Peace King Tunnel
“Unification is not very religious,” Ric says. “Just happens that many members are religious.”
Ric has his hands together, in a prayer-like pose, because our emcee is announcing Rev. Moon’s entrance. We stand up. Moon, an elderly man of some gravity, bows to the applauding audience. Ric, on my left, bows back. Moon begins to speak.
It takes me some frustrated fiddling with the radio frequencies, and at least half an hour into Moon’s speech, before an English translation comes on. The translator’s voice is dry, monotonous, hypnotic, and speaks much slower than Moon’s flowing Korean. I must be missing the nuances. A Mandarin translation has been running all along.
What I missed was an exposition of Moon’s cosmology, which has much to do with Satan hoodwinking God into bondage; His helplessness to act because of humanity’s sin; the Cain and Abel principle of balance in all quarters of living; and the concept of True Parents – the True Father and Mother of humanity being Moon and his wife. Moon’s speech is a sermon. It is also a diatribe against the inaction of international bodies:
“Satan’s knot has been tied for thousands of years,” the translator in my ear says. “It is getting more and more tangled over the years. It needs to be untangled. You think the United Nations can do that? It can’t. Don’t be proud if you work for the United Nations. Only I can give this special message. I will start a new United Nations, the Abel United Nations. This Abel United Nations will absorb the old, Cain United Nations, and bring about world peace.”
Should this come to pass, first on Moon’s agenda would be the construction of the Peace King Tunnel, a proposed rail and road link running under the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. According to the handbook: “The realisation of this project would literally and physically connect the global village, which has been divided into eastern and western hemispheres. It would make communication possible, which would surely bring great advancement toward creating one peaceful kingdom without war or division.”
In short, ‘THE WORLD SHALL BECOME ONE’.
Suddenly, Moon begins to shout. The translator, unperturbed as always, says: “Can you hear me in the rear? Is anyone 87? I will give proper respect to you. But you all are like my children. So please be patient, and listen and pay attention and you and your nation will be blessed.”
My prophesies all come true
“Don’t you think that women should produce children,” the translator says. “Some women don’t want to produce children. I think you should produce children. You are given energy by God – if you don’t use this energy you are life a thief, stealing from God.” Hak Ja Han Moon, Moon’s wife, was 17 at the Holy Marriage; Moon himself was 40 and recently divorced then. To date, the True Mother has given birth to 14 kids.
For all Moon’s stated desires for peace and unity, Unification dogma is conservative and vitriol-filled, comfortably sitting with more extreme fundamentalist groups and hardcore family advocates. Much of Moon’s teachings are obviously misogynistic; homosexuals are ‘dung-eating dogs’ unfit for a peace kingdom; Jews ‘have to repent’ for the murder of Jesus Christ, as they are reaping this sin.
“My prophesies all come true,” the interpreter continues. On the podium, with his image projected on a screen several times larger behind him, Rev Moon still speaks in an animated, almost spitting language. “I predicted the fall of communism. So now I predict that in a few decades there will be open communication between the material and physical world. See, I am thinking and studying that much more than you.”
He stops, waits a moment, and begins to shout again. “I have many universities and scholar following me,” the voice in my ear says. “When I say clap you must clap.” The Rev Moon onstage looks lost for a moment. “Now, where were we? There must be balance between the Cain and Abel in our lives.”
Ric, looking slightly uncomfortable, tries to smile, and says: “Father Moon is very strong. He is already 86.” All through Moon’s speech, people have been leaving the hall – not out of outrage, but simply because there is no translation in their language. The dozen or so 4B youth members pass in front of us on their way to the door.
King and Queen of Peace
The modern Moon has lost some of the notoriety he gained during the 1970s in the United States, when the Unification Church’s aggressive recruitment of young people led to accusations of mind control and brainwashing, primarily by other conservative religious groups – Unification methods were revealed to be plain doggedness, and young people are just young people.
The Unification Church, I infer, is a fundamentalist paradigm – hence its larger popularity. With the void left by departing ideals such as communism now being filled by dogmatic and revivalist religion – Wahabist extremists and Bible literalists – a member of the Unification Church one-ups these two groups: Ric is able to claim, in the same way a follower of the Ayah Pin’s Sky Kingdom might have, that the scripture is being revealed and revised and streamlined, here and now, by the incarnated Messiah walking among us. Rev. Moon, with his answers to everything, is reassuringly dependable, logic be damned, in these ambiguous times.
(Interestingly, Ayah Pin, with an equally non-sectarian dogma and who ostensibly may have proven to be as much of a peace-lover as any Moonie, is a fugitive here; Moon, perceived to run an international organisation of some clout, is allowed leeway, almost automatically. “Successful national process of integration”, indeed.)
In 1997, the Unification Church was officially renamed the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, to market a less Christian-like face for more catholic expansion. Today, it appears to operate in a similar fashion to pseudo-religious social support groups like Philip Berg’s Kabbalah Centre – come to our meetings: learn a dance or martial art, hang out with people, listen to an inspirational speech.
The Unification Church now, somewhat oxymoronically, operates hundreds of acronym-d organisations, both minor and major, including the American Space Culture Foundation, the Federation of Island Nations for World Peace, and World Freedom Institute. Many of these do not acknowledge their inclusion in the Unification movement – the Service for Peace website, for example, mentions nothing about its founder: Rev. Moon’s son Hyun Jin Moon.
It is this innocent failure to be forthcoming that, perhaps, allowed a Christian cult leader like Rev. Moon to be so welcomed to our predominantly Islamic state – amid the prewritten speeches by politicians and carefully constructed press material, the UPF is a benign, religious but ecumenical organisation on paper, having no explicit ties to a church known for slightly unorthodox Christian teachings.
On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that Unification elements aren’t vying for political clout, considering their record. The Washington Times, founded by Rev. Moon in 1982, is kept afloat by Unification money; Moon also owns United Press International, a press organisation that gives the Unification movement a press seat on Air Force One. A particular UPF event may illustrate:
On March 23rd, 2004, Rev. Moon and his wife were crowned King and Queen of Peace in what has been described as Caligula-like ‘coronation ceremony’, robes and shiny crowns and all.
The event, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, was advertised as an Ambassadors of Peace awards dinner, meant to honour activists from various states. Many of the senators and congressmen who attended later tried to deny that they ever witnessed this surreal ceremony, embarrassedly claiming ignorance.
Whether intentional or not, the following circumstance of this Saturday’s convocation appears as calculated misinformation: the transistor radios Ric and I are equipped with have no Malay-language channel – a rather telling oversight in a Malay-speaking majority nation where Islamic authority takes precedence.
Ambassador for Peace
So, the translation continues. “It is a miracle of miracles that you breathe the same air as Rev. Moon,” our interpreter drawls comfortably. “You don’t understand your priviledge. Rev. Moon has achieved the divine victory of becoming the horizontal true parent. I have won this victory against Satan. Satan has been playing with God but not with Rev. Moon. He can’t with Rev. Moon.”
My fascination with Moon has finally petered out. I yawn, tell Ric I have to leave, thank him, and make my way to the exit. With the ushers, I exchange the transistor radio for a souvenir packet containing a shiny 50 sen coin. In the corridor, 4B members loiter about, adrift and motiveless. Through the window, in the carpark, three school buses wait to take them away.
In the KLCC park, I pass someone who says: “Don’t disturb all the couples about.” Young people in love are out in force this Saturday afternoon, sitting on the steps and lying on the grass. There are children running about and consumers flowing into the sliding doors of Suria for designer wear. For a day as momentous as this, with someone of such cosmic and spiritual significance in town, Kuala Lumpur is business as usual.
Under a slightly overcast sky, I feel uncomfortable with the oversight that gave rise to our embrace of Rev. Moon, and the great incompetence this displays. At least Najib, who was originally scheduled to give the opening speech, realised his error and did not materialise. The other hypothesis from all this would be reminiscent of 1970s-era conspiracy theorists: Moonies are taking over my government. Maybe we won’t feel the difference. I look up at the Twin Towers and shrug it off.
On the Universal Peace Federation homepage, a report about this Saturday appears (the report has been modified since). It says that in his 3-hour speech, Rev. Moon mentioned that “although in physics the input of energy is always greater than the outcome, in the case of true love, the energy of the outcome always exceeds the energy of the input.”
The report continues with an anecdote about the Twin Towers, which I cannot verify, and do not know what to make of:
“In the beginning, the building was being built by a Korean company, Samsung, but losing money. Then one of our Ambassadors for Peace arranged for a second company – from Japan – to get involved to build the second tower.
“This created a big challenge and some ‘clash of civilizations’ difficulty, that eventually was overcome with our Ambassador for Peace mediating to reconcile misunderstandings and also to encourage sharing of equipment. Finally, the buildings were completed in good time. A bridge between the two towers was then built, and due to the success in cooperation between the Korean and Japanese companies, the 40th floor bridge was named the “Friendship Bridge.”‘
Zedeck Siew, at 19, has his own cult following, but he’d rather not talk about it.
First Published: 02.12.2005 on Kakiseni