The giant comet is, actually, crashing into the planet.
Which is to say, we’re seeing truly unimaginable weather events, clear evidence that “stopping global warming” is no longer on the menu, and that holding it to a level that allows civilizational continuity may be hard. I don’t scare easily; having thought about climate change for more than three decades, most of the frightening scenarios are things I’ve processed. But in June the “heat dome” that sent temperatures in Canada past the 120-degree mark terrified me: they seemed to be a sign that instead of linear change we were moving into some new phase of the climate story. It should not be statistically possible to break long-standing temperature records by eight or nine degrees, and yet we were. And I am having those same feelings this week, as news emerges of the truly remarkable heatwave gripping Alaska.
The temperature in Kodiak reached 67 over the weekend. That’s the hottest it’s ever been in December in Alaska. Or in November, or in January, or in February, or in March. It didn’t just break the old record; it shattered it in statistically unlikely ways. The Washington Post captured the magnitude of the event in the lede of its story:
Imagine running a 5K and winning the race by 10 minutes. That’s analogous to what is transpiring in Alaska at the moment. An exceptional slew of records has tumbled in the wake of extreme warmth, with highs up to 45 degrees above average.
It’s the increasingly erratic jet stream that’s in play—apparently unmoored by the fact that temperature differentials between the pole and equator are diminishing, it now gets stuck in ways that bring unprecedented sieges of hot and cold, wet and dry. The point is, it’s happening in real time. The planet’s climate is getting screwy week by week.
Our ability to slow and limit this screwiness is time-limited; the best work of our scientists—and it may be optimistic—says that we need to cut emissions in half by 2030 which is eight years and two days away. So, 2022 counts more than any year before it; we’re running out of leverage, and need to seize what we can. I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on the science and the politics and especially the movement-building in the months ahead.
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A few notes from around the climate world:
+With Build Back Better sidelined, at least for now, other ideas about ways the federal government could fight climate change are coming to the fore. A carbon tax has never caught on in Congress—but the indefatigable campaigner Dan Galpern, working with the planet’s foremost climate scientist James Hansen, has been pushing the idea that the EPA has authority to impose a carbon fee all on its own.
+Jeff Goodell, whose beat is the rising sea, has the best piece yet on the disturbing science emerging from the Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic. He long ago nicknamed it the Doomsday Glacier, and—well, he may have been right.
+Here’s a non-dystopian postcard from the future, courtesy of Australian energy analyst Tim Buckley, who looks back from a 2030 where we’ve turned the corner towards renewable power. My favorite part: “The energy transformation intensified the risk of stranded assets for fossil fuel companies. Today, many younger investors haven’t even heard of some of the oil companies; they have fallen out of the top indices and headed into terminal decline.”
+According to the National Geographic, “Canadian oil and gas exploration company Reconnaissance Energy Africa has bulldozed land for a test oil well inside a protected wildlife area in northeastern Namibia, and two local leaders say they were offered jobs in return for their silence.”
+A massive win in New York State, where the teachers’ pension fund divested from coal and froze all its investments in Big Oil. Lots of stalwart campaigners made this happen—many of them students appealing to their teachers for change. Meanwhile, in New York City, comptroller Scott Stringer completed the divestment of the city’s pension dollars.
That will do it for this year. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey; I confess I’m awfully grateful to everyone who’s written to say they enjoy this epic nonviolent yarn I’ve been serializing. If you need to catch up on the first 36 chapters of The Other Cheek, check out the archive.
“So can I ask you something?” Allie said. She was sitting with Cass and Professor Vukovic in his office, eating Danish butter cookies and drinking tea. The professor had sent her a note, reminding her that she’d promised to come by for a visit. She was, like all the other students, a little wary of the ancient academic who never said anything. But Cass, who’d delivered the invitation, assured her she’d enjoy him. “He’s not at all what you think,” said Cass. “You’ll see.”
When Allie had arrived in the office, Professor Vukovic was finishing up a Google hangout with four activists from Madagascar trying to raise world attention about a drought so deep that farmers were literally eating their seed corn to survive. “You need to link it to climate change, so people up here will understand they have some responsibility—that it’s not just an act of nature,” he said. “Maybe take one of those withered fields and scythe the Exxon logo into it? Cass and I could work on finding a drone that can take an aerial picture, and we’ll get it out as widely as we can.” Cass had clicked off the computer connection and helped him untangle his earphones; he’d turned in his chair to find Allie, and greeted her warmly. “Signs you can view from the air—an excellent tactic!” he’d said. “The Dutch resistance in the Second World War would go out at night and cut slogans into the tulip fields, then send up weather balloons to take pictures. Drones are a big improvement!”
They’d chatted for several minutes, till Allie worked up her nerve for her question. “Here’s what I want to know. You took off your oxygen tank and handed it to me the other day at the top of the mountain. And I didn’t think much of it right then. But you could have died. Why’d you do it?”
“You ran down the trail at top speed, yes?”
“Well, you could have died too, or at least hurt yourself pretty bad.”
“But I’d seen Yasmin. I knew how bad she was hurting. You—I mean, I just came running in the room and basically grabbed your equipment. You just handed it right over and told me to go.”
“And that seems strange to you?”
“It seems . . . like, really good? But you could have died.”
“Well, thanks to you being fast, I didn’t. But I’m pretty sure you would have done the same thing if you were me . . . Most people, as far as I can tell, are incredibly good, at least when they’re dealing with other people directly.” Allie, without knowing it, frowned; the professor noticed, but didn’t say anything.
“So now let me ask you a question,” Professor Vukovic said.
“Fair,” said Allie.
“Tell me about your gun. Better yet, let me see it.”
Allie unclipped the gun from her boot and handed it over, grip first. He took it, checked the safety, and spun it on his trigger finger like a movie cowboy. “Haven’t seen one up close in years,” he said. “No one around here has one, except you. Goldfarb, have I ever told you the story of the first time I ever saw a shot fired from a handgun.”
“No,” she said.
“Well, of course, I’d seen hunting rifles ever since I was a boy. Lots of hunting in Serbia. But handguns were rare in those days. When the war came, though, and they were drafting soldiers for the Nazis, there was a boy in our town who didn’t want to go. A good fellow, Leslek—sensitive fellow. Hated the Nazis, but not the type to join the resistance. Bookish. He thought about it and thought about it, and decided he should shoot himself in the foot so he wouldn’t be any use to the army. He didn’t tell any of us. We were all at the café, and he asked one of the boys who had signed up if he could see his gun, and then he just put his foot up against the wall, and pulled the trigger. Like this.”
Before anyone could stop him, the Professor stood up, propped his foot against the door jamb, held the barrel against his toe, clicked off the safety, and pulled the trigger. Cass screamed, and kept screaming as the professor pulled the trigger again and again, five times in all as the chambers revolved. Allie just sat there, looking stunned.
He settled himself back in his chair, breathing hard. After a moment he handed the gun back to Allie. “You never. Even bought. Bullets, did you?”
“No sir,” she said. She was gripping the armrests of her chair, spine jammed against the back. “But how did you know? I mean, if you’d been wrong you’d have no foot now.”
“Well, I don’t walk. Much at my age. Anyway,” he said, and then rested a minute till he had his breath back. “But I was pretty sure. I spent a lot of my life around guns. Real ones when I was young and we were fighting. And then prop guns, when I was in Hollywood, which Goldfarb can fill you in on. When people are carrying loaded weapons, they carry themselves a certain way. They almost can’t help it—they glance at the weapon often, or if it’s in a pocket they feel it every once in a while. They don’t swagger; almost the opposite. They walk with a restrained confidence, with the knowledge they’ve got something that can do damage. Whereas people with stage guns don’t treat them seriously, because they know they’re toys. They forget they’re there. If you’re carrying a starter’s pistol, it doesn’t make you into a different person. It’s just a prop.”
Cass was only now getting her own breath back—she was still staring at the gun, and at Allie. “But why would you—why would anyone—carry around a gun for no reason,” she said.
“I have a feeling there’s a story to explain that,” said the Professor. “And I don’t know if Salgado would want to share it or not.”
Allie just looked up at him, her eyes wet. She nodded.
“Do you mind if Goldfarb stays to hear it too?” he asked.
“Nope,” said Allie after a minute. “I want her to.” She turned to Cass.“You’ve been nice to me since the minute I got here. I want you to understand why I’m—why I’m an asshole,” she said. “Sorry, professor.”
“Not to worry,” he said. “I was in the army, and then I was in Hollywood. They swore like sailors in Hollywood. Actually, the sailors I’ve known swore far less than the average movie director. Anyway, tell us your story. I have a feeling it’s time for it to come out. But first, have another cookie—those ones with the crystallized sugar on top are particularly good, I find.”
Eating the cookie, and then another, gave Allie time to compose herself. She wiped her eyes, and then she sat squarely in her chair facing the other two, and began to talk in a low voice.
“I wasn’t like this mostly,” she said. “I came from a small town in south Texas. I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. My father was a mail carrier, which is a good job there—it’s a poor town. Anyway, I was pretty—“
“You are pretty,” Cass broke in.
“I was pretty, but I was also smart, so most of the town looked out for me. Made sure I could go to college. If you’re in Texas and you’re the valedictorian of your high school, you can go to UT pretty much for free, but it still costs to live there, and since I’ve got seven brothers and sisters it wasn’t easy. Lots of people helped. They were proud of me. I was proud of me—the first one in my family to go to college, one of the first in my town to go to something other than community college. And it was great. Austin was amazing. I did well in my classes, I fell in with a bunch of other Latina girls, it was pretty clear right away I was going to get rushed for a sorority. It was the best.
“Then one night we were at a party at a frat house—Latino frat, mostly, which makes it worse. There was a guy I liked, who’d asked me to come. And I drank too much. Not so much, really. But too much, I guess; either that or he spiked my drink with something. Because when I woke up he was—we were in his bed and he was ... And two of his friends were watching; they had beer bottles in their hands. They were, like, clinking the necks. Bros.”
Cass moved her chair over, and put an arm around Allie as she talked; Professor Vukovic just looked on intently and calmly—he and Allie had locked eyes as she began her story, and his gaze never wavered.
“But that’s not really the bad part. The bad part is after. When I went to the dean of students, she ‘looked into it,’ and she came back and said it was basically a ‘he-said she-said’ story. Except that there were three he’s and they were all going to testify I’d been asking for it. That I wanted them to watch. She told me that if she was me she’d drop it—I thought then she was being kind, but now I think she was mostly protecting the university. Basically, my friends told me the same thing—that if I said anything half the school would hate me, because he was an athlete and popular. His friends convinced the Tri-Delts to take me if I shut up, and they’re the most popular sorority on campus. The girls all know the story, and they all told me I did the right thing. And I kind of hate them all.
“I actually kind of hate everybody—you can’t tell because I’m good at being bouncy. But I kind of decided that no one was going to look out for me except me. I told my one older brother kind of what had happened—not the part about the guys watching. And I’m glad I only told him a little, because Daniel wanted to go kill the guy. He’s the one who got me the gun, and helped me get the open-carry permit. He said he knew I’d carry it if it was pink. And he actually taught me to shoot it. But—I kind of hate people, but I’m not going to shoot one. So I tossed the bullets.”
Allie sat there looking at Professor Vukovic, thinking he was the calmest person she’d ever met. She’d never told the whole story to anyone before, just bits and pieces. He hadn’t shrunk from her, or wept, or gotten mad. He’d just looked her in the eye, which made it easier to spit the words out.
He finally straightened up, and said “Goldfarb, I think we all need some tea.” Cass poured three cups from the thermos he kept in the office, and he passed around the tin of cookies again.
“Child,” he said. “I have an apology. A few minutes ago, when we were talking about Yasmin, I said that I thought most people were good, or at least had good in them. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s the key question, and everyone gets to decide that for themselves, and you’ve got . . . disturbing data to work with. I’ll say only this: when I was your age I thought pretty much the same thing. Nothing so bad as happened to you happened to me directly, but I had been through a war. It took me a long time, and a lot of . . . data, to change my mind. I guess I’d just say: you don’t have to make your mind up on the proposition forever.”
He straightened the knot on his tie, and wiped his glasses with a handkerchief, slowly.
“I’m guessing the Ayn Rand stuff came with the gun?”
“Kind of,” she said. “The gun made me into a bit of celebrity with the conservative activists on campus—the cute Tri-Delt with the pink revolver on her boot. I couldn’t stand the official Republican ones—you ever see our Senator, Ted Cruz? They were like small versions of him. But the libertarian activists were okay. Smart. And the idea that we should rely on ourselves, no one else—made sense. Because I was basically not going to trust anyone ever again anyway.”
“They must have been happy to have you,” he said.
“Um, there weren’t many girl libertarians?” she said. “And anyway, I was good at it. They’d been organizing for open carry on campus for years, but they never got anywhere because—they had, like, symposiums? I had raffles for guns—the gun companies love to give stuff away. And target shooting competitions—plinking cutouts of the mascots of every other team in the Big 12 Conference. We had Second Amendment night at the sorority house—no guns, since they were still illegal on campus, but the girls were wearing bandoliers of ammunition and not much else.”
Cass shook her head in wonder. “This is not like Rutgers,” she said.
“A good organizer is someone other people like to be around,” said the Professor. “You’re a born organizer. One more question—was the anti-religion stuff from Ayn Rand too, or was there something else.”
She stiffened, but didn’t shift her gaze. “You knew it was me? With the posters?”
“Salgado,” he said. “When one doesn’t talk, one notices, and I’ve been watching young people for some years now. It was quite obvious that morning which two boys who had done the dirty work, and it was also quite obvious that neither Juuk nor Aadit is even close to capable of coming up with such a plan themselves. In fact, it’s been my observation”—and here he dropped his voice just a little and looked at the two of them—“that most of the boys here aren’t good for all that much. If Maria took people just on merit, we’d probably mostly have a girl’s school, which wouldn’t work since there’s a boy’s dorm. Anyway, hope springs eternal, but not with those two.”
“It’s not their fault,” she said. “I was . . . bouncy. And it’s not really Ayn Rand’s fault either. Father Walsh—he’s old now, like in his 70s?”
“Ah,” said Professor Vukovic. “Old.”
“He’d been our priest all my life, at Blessed Incarnation. And I . . . took it seriously. I was an altar girl. I basically ran our CCD class? And so when I went home, I told him about the, thing. I told him about as much as I told Daniel. And basically, all he wanted to know if I’d taken the morning-after pill—I have no idea how he even knows about things like that, they must have some kind of like newsletter for priests, because I know for a fact he can’t even use a computer. Anyway, I was smart enough to say no, and he said ‘thank God.’”
“You didn’t take a morning-after pill?” said Cass.
“Of course she did,” said Professor Vukovic.
“Of course I did,” said Allie.
“Professor,” said Cass quietly. “We’re late for the phone call with the Nobel committee in Oslo. Today’s the day they’re going over the list of nominees with you?”
“They can wait a minute longer,” he said. “They never listen to me anyway. I tell them six or seven great organizers in impossible places doing remarkable work, and then they give it to some prime minister somewhere because he stopped bombing someone for a while. To encourage the rest of the prime ministers. Anyway, two things. Salgado, is it okay if I tell your story to Maria? No one else, but she’ll get it, and she’ll know some people you can talk to. Because you’ve done pretty well dealing with this by yourself, but . . .”
“Not so well—so far I’ve made it possible for a whole campus to carry guns. And I’m pretty sure most of them actually have bullets.”
“She’s a nun?”
“She has roughly the same relationship to the Catholic church you do, I believe.”
“Okay,” said Allie. “And tell her I’m sorry about . . . the posters?”
“Yes,” he said. “Though the day may come when you want to tell her yourself. But no hurry. In the meantime, I have a favor to ask both of you, something beyond your usual work. I think this religious question is going to come to a head around here soon, and I have a story I want to tell, but I’m not really strong enough any more to do it justice. Not in a room full of people. So I’m going to need some help. Would you be willing to get up to a speed on a particular person? It will take a little digging because he’s kind of forgotten, but you’ll find a start on Google anyway. Badshah Khan.”
Allie and Cass both nodded, and then Cass looked at her screen. “Oslo is on the line,” she said.
“Oslo could have given Khan the Nobel in the 1950s or the 1960s or the 1970s,” he said. “Which would have made a difference.”
“Um,” said Allie. “Can I ask one other thing. What happened to Leslek.”
“He spent the fifty years after the war teaching high school—literature. He married the school nurse. He used a cane. He was always sensitive. He’s retired now, but he volunteers at the local library every day.”
Sonam Dolma was wary. For six weeks, since he’d tried to shoot the Dalai Lama and instead been hired as his bodyguard, he’d worked with the small team from the Indian government that had protected the Tibetan exile for decades. He wasn’t a professional, but it turned out he had strong instincts. He could pick out the members of the Tibetan Shugden sect, who would reach the head of the procession and then start shouting crude insults about obscure theological debates which the DL seemed not to hear; they were, as far as he could tell, nuts, but relatively harmless. And he could usually figure out which of the western devotees were about to break down emotionally simply from proximity to the DL—so far he’d stopped an Oregonian and a Belgian from immolating themselves in solidarity with monks back in Lhasa. He was also good at keeping the rambling, mile-long parade far enough to the side of the road that there had been only three real car crashes so far. Considering Indian traffic, he considered that a statistical success.
But Sabrmati was different. Ever since they’d halted in Gandhi’s old compound on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, religious dignitaries had begun arriving. They’d been summoned by the DL and colleagues around the world for an interfaith gathering on the environment, and they were coming in unexpected numbers. The other Buddhists were foreign enough: Theravadans from Laos and Thailand and Cambodia, Zen masters from Japan, some rowdy monks from Burma, and a burly lama from Buryatiya on the shores of Lake Baikal where the fifth precept—the one about Buddhist monks not drinking stiff shots of vodka on a regular basis—seemed not to have arrived. But there were also holy people from across the rest of Asia: turbaned Sikhs (with their ritual kirpan daggers, which the Indian security crew allowed through the metal detector), Zorastrian priests tying their kushtis five times a day, Hindu holy men in various states of dress, Jains wearing white masks to make sure they swallowed no insects.
The endless stream of leaders was a security headache, but also a diplomatic trial. These were proud men (almost all men, Sonam noted), used to being the most important person in whatever room they entered. Questions like who sat in front of who were not answered lightly, and the order of speeches planned for the three-day session was even harder; it took all the DL’s staff of secretaries, who had accompanied him on hundreds of international visits, to figure out the niceties, only to have their arrangements routinely overruled by the harried security officials. Very few top leaders had come—there were no popes or patriarchs, in part because almost everyone was at least a little afraid of upsetting the Chinese. But India—which had significant populations of most of the religions represented—was terrified of religious infighting; long experience had taught that any insult could spark communal violence, and the sheer density of people capable of taking umbrage made planning almost impossible, especially on the short notice the DL’s march had provided. “At the UN they spend a year preparing for something like this, and they have ten thousand New York cops,” said the Gujarati police superintendent at the final meeting. “We’ll do the best we can.” The security team had assigned delegations of Sunni and Shia Muslims to different corners of the compound, of course, but no one had any idea what to do with two Sufi dervishes, nor the Alawite imam who’d somehow gotten out of Syria, so Sonam was simply told to keep an eye on him.
The hanging cloud of smog made it no easier; many of these men were old, and all of them insisted on wearing full costume despite the drooping Ahmedabad heat. The Orthodox priests from Mount Athos were in long black robes, but they were probably better off than the black-suited pair of Mormon missionaries, not to mention the several nuns in full habit who appeared to be waiting on the delegation from the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The conference schedule needed to run around the five daily prayers of the Muslims, and the canonical hours of the Christian monks. “Thank god it’s not Ramadan,” one of the DL’s aides had said the day before. Even so, diet was another ongoing trial.
“Excuse me, is there gluten-free food?” a woman wearing a t-shirt that said “God is Coming and Boy is She Going to be Pissed” asked Sonam, as he waited for the first session to start, scanning the crowd for signs of trouble.
“Halal line is there, kosher line is there, Veg line in the next courtyard,” said Sonam.
“Is any of it genetically modified?” she asked.
“I . . . don’t know,” admitted Sonam. “Which contingent are you with?”
“Wiccans,” she said. “Actually, I’m the only one. We’re also representing the druids, because they couldn’t afford the airfare.”
Sonam was glad it was almost time to start. People had been gathering for three days now, taking all the nearby hotel rooms, and camping out during the day on the white sand courtyards of the small ashram where Gandhiji had lived during his first Indian satyagraha (a strike against the textile mills of Ahmedabad, finally settled when the workers got a 35% raise.) Later he’d lived here while planning the resistance to the British—it was from Sabrmati that he’d set off on the march to the sea, where by making salt on the shore he’d begun the fight to break England’s colonial will. But each night for all those years, residents of the compound and any visitors would gather for a prayer service, and it was those sessions that the DL wanted to emulate. Judging by the squawks and static, Lopsak Tuseng was dialing in the sound system for the first conclave, scheduled in about an hour.
Sonam wandered quietly through the scene, eyes alert. In the small museum, three American pastors were looking at the case that held the entirety of the possessions Gandhi had left behind when he died: a pair of sandals, a pair of eyeglasses, a plate, a cup, and a pocket watch. “If he’d have been a Christian he’d of been a good one,” a pastor said.
“Here’s the walking stick he used for the Salt March,” said another. “He was going 20 miles a day. That’s a crazy number of steps—he should have had a Fitbit.”
“I think the program is starting soon,” Sonam said, ushering the men back towards the courtyard.
“Can’t go back out into that heat until I have to,” the third man said. “And can’t sit on the ground but for a few minutes. I know Gandhi could, but I’m not used to it.”
“There are chairs available, sir,” said Sonam. “I will help you get some.” They wandered back out into the Upasana Mandir, the prayer ground, where workers were stringing up a sheet to provide some shade, and laying out rows of folding chairs in front of the small raised platform.
“What’s she doing?” one of the preachers asked, pointing to a woman in front of the platform who held a burning knot of grass, a wisp of smoke blurring the air around her.
“Oh, she’s a Cree woman, from Alberta,” said a man standing behind them, wearing a badge that identified him as “James, Unitarian.” “She’s smudging that sagebrush to the four directions, creating a sacred space. You’re welcome to go watch, they said, but please don’t take pictures.”
“Seems pretty pagan to me,” said the preacher.
“Well, we are in India,” said his companion, clutching his Bible tightly even as he spoke the words.
“There he comes,” said the Unitarian—and indeed the DL, in his crimson robe, was emerging from one of the small cottages on the grounds, conversing with a stocky black man in a clerical collar and a baseball cap that said Save the Planet on the crown in big letters.
“That’s the man from the Hip Hop Caucus,” said Lopsak, who had joined Sonam on the edge of the crowd. “He knows everyone. He knows Kanye.”
The man took the mic and stood at the front of the platform. “Hello y’all,” he said. “I’m the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, from the United States of America. The DL asked me if I’d introduce the singer who will start us off today. The beauty, of course, is that we’ve got lots and lots of different religions here. Bahais in the house, am I right? Shintos in the house? Over there,” he said, pointing to a Japanese man who was wearing a sennin-bari, the thousand-stitched belt. The cameras swiveled—there were live feeds going out on a dozen networks, including Sky India and Vatican TV. “That’s the beauty—all God’s children. But it means it’s hard to pick just one hymn that works for everyone. So we decided on a secular song. It’s a song about things getting better, which is what we need because things are bad. You know that this is the hottest year the planet’s ever had? You know that we’re here because the glaciers at the top of this continent are melting? That’s where the water comes for three billion people on this earth. So—this song. It was written fifty-some years ago, but it’s got a new mean-ing now that we know about solar power. And here to sing it is another American, Broadway actress, Grammy nominee, the voice of the climate change movement, put your hands together for Miss Antonique Smith.”
A slight, light-skinned black woman walked into the center of the gathering, wrapped demurely in a black dress that went well below her knees, her hair tied back in a scarf. She took the mic from the preacher, stood with her head bowed for a moment, and then, quietly, began to sing:
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Her big voice began to gather power as the song headed toward the chorus, a throaty strength that underlined the purity of her tone.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right
Sonam was listening, feeling the groove. He knew the song, of course—everyone everywhere on earth knew every important Beatles song. But this version was different—full of yearning. And the singer was very beautiful. But then something caught his eye. A Buddhist monk was sidling around the back edge of the crowd, towards the spot where the Sunni leaders were camped. They were looking rigidly forward, stoically enduring the performance by an unveiled woman, and so none of them saw the approaching monk, who seemed to be reaching into his robes. Sonam moved as quickly as he could through the throng, almost tripping over a pair of rabbis.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
As he struggled to reach the corner of the compound, he could hear a vague commotion rising over the sound of the music behind him—a man shouting, then two or three, and the sound of an animal. And now, fifteen feet in front of him, he saw the monk pull a small pig from the folds of his robe and toss it with an underhanded lob in among the imams. It landed, and gave a squeal of pure terror, before running right under the chair belonging to a Saudi jurist, who jumped up glaring. Sonam dove for the legs of the monk who’d launched the pig, bringing him down with a tackle, but the man didn’t seem to mind. He was laughing—giggling—as he watched the piglet running back and forth down the rows of chairs.
One of the Indian security guards arrived, and took the monk in hand; Sonam dove again, this time for the pig, who headed straight for the delegation of Orthodox Jews, several of whom were on their feet muttering brachas. Sonam was dimly aware that the music had stopped in a jangle of static, and that a voice—it sounded like Lopsak—was saying “Please stay calm.” As the piglet rounded the corner of the Vatican delegation, thank heaven, one of the nuns deftly reached down and caught him in full-stride, lifting him into her arms. She handed him to the panting Sonam, who just sat for a moment on the ground, unsure how to handle the chaos. Clerics of all kind were on their feet, streaming towards the exit in the back of the compound. “Please be calm,” Lopsak kept repeating, but only the DL seemed to be taking his advice, sitting quietly on the small raised platform and surveying the clamor in front of him.
“This is my fault,” the DL said a few hours later, as his team met in the small bungalow that had once belonged to Mirabehn, daughter of a British rear admiral who became one of Gandhi’s most faithful disciples. “I should have known that people were too divided. I understand how that works with political leaders, and simply because people have taken religious vows does not make them magically mature.”
“The monks were from Burma,” said Sonam, who had spent the afternoon helping the Indian security team interrogate the two men who had launched what the press was calling ‘pig-bombs,’ one at the Sunnis and the other at the Shia Muslims on the far side of the compound. “They’re from a group called Ma Ba Tha, they follow a man named Ashin Wirathu, who’s leading the fight against Muslims in Burma, the Rohingya. They’ve forced 140,000 from their homes in the last year; there have been riots. This bhikku Wirathu says ‘you can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.’”
“The Muslims are very angry,” said one of the DL’s aides. “They’re blaming you, since these guys are fellow Buddhists. We’ve tried to explain that there’s no connection, but—“
“There is a connection, sadly,” said the DL. “Any practice can be perverted, Buddhism included, and it is one of the jobs of religious leaders to make sure it does not happen.”
“Most of the other delegations are prepared to come back tomorrow and begin again,” said another assistant. “We’ve lost a day, but if we cut back the time of the speeches, then—“
“No,” said the DL. “There won’t be any speeches, except an apology from me, which I will make shortly if someone will gather the press.”
“That’s easy,” said Lopsak. “They’ve been outside for hours. This is—well, it’s the number two item on Google News right now, after the release of the Apple iPhone 11, which is, like, 4-D. Anyway, Muslims are seriously mad in a lot of places—there are little demonstrations already in Gaza, in Tehran, in Medina. A boy was hurt in a protest in Istanbul.”
“Along the Ganges, too,” said an Indian military captain, part of the DL’s regular detail. “Some Hindus were already upset about the tanneries at Kanpur—they say they are using cowhides, not just water buffalo. And so apparently they threw pork sausages into the mosque at evening prayer.”
“Enough,” said the DL, who looked stricken. “Time for me to talk.”