Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hindu terrorism, how to prevent it


The UPA Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, is but the umpteenth to repeat in public the notion of “Hindu terrorism” and to apply it to the RSS and BJP. Predictably, the RSS and BJP react furiously. They say they have nothing to do with Hindu terrorism, and that the lone Hindu terrorist Nathuram Godse, the  assassin of Mahatma Gandhi and hanged 63 years ago, was not a member.


Nathuram Godse

To start with the last point: ideologically, Nathuram Godse had remained an RSS man, singing an RSS hymn to Mother India on his way to the gallows. His brother Gopal Godse testified in several interviews, including to myself, that Nathuram had emphasized his quitting the non-political RSS (for the political party Hindu Mahasabha) in order to provide the RSS some breathing distance to his own inevitably demonized person. His non-membership was an organizational technicality, but ideologically, he had remained with the RSS. That way, at least, Gopal liked to pull the leg of the “soft” RSS and its even softer political party, the BJP. However, I think Nathuram’s non-membership was essential in the one respect that is crucial here: if he had been a full RSS man, his superiors would have told him not to commit the assassination.

No matter what its ideological position, the RSS was first and foremost an organization. It had a purpose, and considered itself important to the realization of that purpose. So, it wanted to safeguard itself. Now, the crackdown on the RSS and other Hindu organizations after the Gandhi assassination in 1948 was perfectly foreseeable. On the other hand, Gandhi was discredited by his non-resistance against the Partition and its attendant calamities. The Hindu movement had been proven right and had the wind in the sails. The assassination changed all that completely: the grip on society by Jawaharlal Nehru and his secularism was enormously strengthened while the Hindu movement was marginalized and thrown back for decades. It is unlikely that the RSS felt suicidal and would want to bring this setback on itself. An RSS member would have thought of the consequences to the organization and the  wider Hindu movement.  Only a non-member, ideologically on the same wavelength as the Hindu nationalists but organizationally a lone wolf, could commit this murder. In the RSS, the widespread anti-Gandhi sentiment was suppressed by the even higher consideration of the Sangh’s own welfare. But Godse made himself the instrument of this much wider sentiment, shared by many suffering Hindus who had never been near the RSS. That is why leftists who blame the RSS for the murder of Gandhi are wrong.   

For the same reason, they are wrong in associating the RSS or the BJP with terrorism. More than any other organizations in India, the RSS and its allies know that if anything happens, they will get the blame. Even they are not stupid enough to smash their own windows by engaging in terrorism. But numerous Hindus are on the same Hindu nationalist wavelength without being members, and some of them may be tempted  by hit-and-run alternatives rather than by the characteristic discipline of the RSS. I have already remarked that many Hindu initiatives are seeing the light of day without any RSS affiliation. That counts for those disappointed with the weak-kneed policies of the RSS, or with its anti-intellectual inclination, or with its appeasement of the non-Hindus; but it may also take the form of nuclei of militants who want “direct action”.



Now fast forward to the present. Does it exist at all, Hindu terrorism?

On the scale and the level of organization of Muslim terrorism, it of course does not exist. It is a figment of the secular imagination. Not even of Hinduphobia, because the secularists have no genuine “fear of Hindus”. They fear the Muslims (which makes them, in their own terminology, “Islamophobes”), not the Hindus. Indeed it is because they have a real fear of the Muslims but only pretend to fear the Hindus that they bend over backwards to please the Muslims and not the Hindus. Yes, the Hindus are capable of rioting in the streets, generally when provoked, but willful violence against persons, groups or property by purposely prepared groups is rare, if existent at all.  It has so far not been their favourite modus operandi.

Smaller-scale acts of terror, such as arson of Muslim religious buildings (or of the jeep of the Australian missionary Graham Staines, with three people inside) or the targeted assassination of religious leaders, have been alleged. Some famous court cases have led to nothing, but other incidents have been reported that seem genuine cases of “Hindu terrorism”. Thus, in Panjab, the so-called Shiv Sena has been accused of targeting some Khalistani leaders. The Azad Sangathan has been mentioned as targeting Muslims in Haryana, and likewise the Sanatan Sanstha in Maharashtra. Church burnings in Manipur have been blamed on Hindus. The Bengal revolutionary movement against the British, the Abhinava Bharat society, has been refounded. Those who take this trend seriously, fear that though small now, it might signal a wave of the future, when “Hindu terrorism” will be a large and endemic problem. It is therefore important to address it at the root.

There may be reasons not to believe the allegations by the biased media, but when Hindus I know testify from their personal contacts that “Hindu terrorism does exist”, I tend to believe them. It is but the factual tip of a verbal iceberg: the pro-violence messages I receive all the time on the internet, often from Gujarati businessmen raised on a diet of Gandhian non-violence but wizened up by real-life experiences with Islam. Hindus who make the move from this mouse-clicking violence to actual terrorism are very rare, but more than zero.

The one thing that can be said in defence of Hindu terror is that it proves Hindus are not dead yet. Like the Sangh Parivar, where numerous people are dedicating themselves to making a success of projects and policies that may of may not be rightly-inspired, the as yet little-studied Hindu terrorists are sacrificing for the Hindu cause. As it happens, they are mindlessly sacrificing other people’s lives thinking this will further the interests of Hindu society. There are better ways, requiring more intelligence and a more persistent sense of direction, so one hopes that their primitive enthusiasm can be transmuted in a more constructive direction.


Logic behind terrorism

Supposing it exists, what is the logic behind Hindu terrorism? What makes a Hindu conclude that terror is the solution? Several factors combine.

Firstly, Islam is comfortable with violence, has no scruples about it, and uses it on a large scale. This is being confirmed every day, from Nigeria and Mali through Afghanistan and Pakistan to Xinjiang and southern Thailand. Some hot-blooded Hindus conclude very logically that, at any rate, violence is a language Muslims understand.

Secondly, the government is not protecting Hindus. In West Bengal, it sides with the illegal Muslim immigrants against the Hindu Samhati. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hindus are permanently exposed to petty acts of terror, from eve-teasing through abduction and forced marriages to Muslim to torture and murder; the Indian government fails to raise its voice, let alone use its influence. Bangladesh owes its very existence to India and is an indigent country dependent on foreign aid; it should be easy to get its government to prevent anti-Hindu terror; yet this is not happening. Hindus are increasingly desperate.

Thirdly, whenever Islam commits acts of terror, the secular elite (in India like in the West) is superficially making “religion” in general guilty, thus allotting guilt to Hinduism when judging crimes committed in the name of Islam, with Hindus as the victims. In reality, there are occasional terrorists in other religions, from Guy Fawkes in Catholicism and Yigal Amir in Judaism to Nathuram Godse in Hinduism, but Islam is violence-prone and terror-minded with an unprecedented systematicity and therefore on a much larger scale. Unlike Hinduism, Islam was founded by and looks up to a man who committed murder, abduction for ransom, rape, slave-taking and slave-trading.

More importantly here, the secular elite implicitly but unmistakably expresses a fascination with violence. When Communism was going strong, numerous intellectuals were Communist or were defending Communist regimes. Politicians were introducing policies inspired by Communism, such as India’s stifling licence-permit raj. As I remember, left-wing “city guerrilla” in Europe in the 70s and 80s was considered an object of fun, perhaps a bit misguided but fundamentally well-inspired. It never delegitimized the  use of its language of “class struggle” in mainstream politics. The trendy intellectuals have blood on their tender hands.

When Islam replaced Communism as the most popular justification of violence, intellectuals and politicians started defending Islam. And the more it made headlines with acts of terrorism, the more they defended it. At no time were more mosques visited by politicians than after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in order to ensure Muslim communities that in the eyes of the ruling class, they had no connection with what “a few extremists” had done in their name. In India too, Muslims prove that violence works. Thus, against the departing British colonizers’ and the Hindu majority’s opposition, the Muslim minority managed to force the Partition of India on all others by unleashing violence and making clear that the refusal of their demand would lead to even more violence. Incipient violence and the threat of more violence achieved the Shah Bano law, the banning of The Satanic Verses, and other small but symbolic gains for the Muslim community. More importantly, this creates an atmosphere where a confrontation with Muslim opinion on more consequential issues is avoided. Thus, the secular Congress Party does not dare to implement a Common Civil Code, an eminently secular reform enjoined by the Constitution and by the Supreme Court. Even the BJP, which had all along promised the enactment of a Common Civil Code, refrained from raising the issue when it was in power. The assurance that the BJP regretted the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the assumption of an ideological low profile by the supposed Hindu nationalist party, not to say its “appeasement policies”, are all remote consequences of the fear of Muslim violence.

So, Hindus conclude that violence works. Secularists prove it to them.


Moral objections

I would raise the objection that violence remains morally problematic. First of all, violence overrules the compassion you should feel for its innocent victims. Even victims guilty as hell could be prosecuted in a court of law rather than murdered, that is the way of a society under the rule of law.

Secondly, the Just War Theory, formulated by Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, but enunciated and practiced much earlier in the Dhanurveda and the Mahabharata, lays down as one of the conditions of a Just War that all non-violent means of achieving your end should be exhausted. India as a democracy offers plenty of possibilities, of which the Hindu majority could make use if well organized. Unfortunately, the party that collects Hindu votes with promises of pro-Hindu policies has never delivered. But what have the terrorists done to change that party, or to come into the legislature through another party, or to apply any other instrument provided for in the Indian system?

Thirdly, another condition for the Just War is that there is a chance of victory. There is no point in shedding blood for nothing. But the people concerned have never to my knowledge devised a strategy and surveyed the field to see where the highest probability of victory lies. It is very unlikely that stray acts of violence will lead to any other result than needless bloodshed of innocents, the perpetrators on the gallows, and Hindu nationalism discredited even more. In my experience, very few Hindus are into Hindu activism for the sake of victory. Most of them do it to vent their emotions or get a kick of self-justification, and to hell with victory.


Strategic objections

Moral problems apart, this pro-violence philosophy suffers from a strategic shortcoming, viz. it evokes very different reactions depending on the elite’s pre-existing ideological bias. Thus, the passive approval of left-wing terrorism was not matched by an equal approval of right-wing acts of terror, e.g. the recent murders of Turkish immigrants in Germany were sternly condemned. The reason is that public opinion has been conditioned to judge left-wing violence in a supposedly commendable cause differently than real or alleged violence from the real or alleged right wing, committed in the service of a disapproved cause. Che Guevara is on posters and T-shirts worldwide in spite of being a torturer and mass-murderer, because he was associated with a cause approved by the intelligentsia; any ideologically disapproved activist in his position would be treated as a proverbial criminal.  Similarly, a show of sympathy for Muslim causes does not predict an equal sympathy for Hindu causes, regardless of whether Hindus take to terror or not.   

As Herbert Marcuse, the New Left professor at Berkeley whom the leftist terrorists of the German Rote Armee Fraktion invoked, commented on their acts: terror (assuming in his Marxist philosophy that it is justifiable) can only be justified in a revolutionary situation, as a trigger for a general uprising. As an unpremeditated spontaneous act, it can only jeopardize the strategy of the revolutionary forces and play into the hand of the repressive authorities. Such a situation did not exist in the Germany of the 70s, and nor it exist in India today. In the present circumstances, stray acts of violence will not bring Hindu liberation closer.



                So, what to do? If Hindu terrorism doesn’t exist or is still marginal, it may become an acute problem. The reason is that Hindus are desperate, the number and aggressiveness of enemies is increasing, the callousness of the government is impressive, the ineffectiveness of the supposed pro-Hindu organizations has left them disappointed. So, by addressing these root causes of Hindu unrest, the threat of Hindu terrorism can be taken away.

Secularists could abandon their buffoonery and suddenly become even-handed. They could work with the Hindu nationalists for the eminently secular Common Civil Code, they could abolish the legal privileges of non-Hindu-majority states, they could apply Karl Marx’s dictum that “all criticism starts with criticism of religion” to Islam or Christianity for once. The Hindu organizations, while not committing Hindu terrorism themselves, are co-guilty of it by failing to provide the Hindu population with successes and hope for the future. They could defuse the threat of Hindu violence by suddenly turning effective and really pro-Hindu.


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Monday, January 21, 2013

“Not everything is a matter of Islam”

In the blog magazine Dagelijkse Standaard, Joost Niemöller writes (15 december 2012, “Het Marokkanenprobleem is geen islamprobleem”, “The Moroccan problem is not an Islam problem”) that the reduction of all problems to Islam is stupid: “Look, this kind of thinking is not just dumb, it is also dangerous. Whoever can only think of Islam as the root of all evil, moves through the world blind with anger and has lost all ability to correct himself.” He calls this thinking “hysterical”.

Probably that article was written after its author had a discussion with someone who obsessed over Islam, as described. But except for this putative debating partner, is there really anyone to whom this allegation applies? I have never met or read such a person, and I say this after having met many victims of Islam in South Asia. Even Geert Wilders, whose Party For Freedom is routinely labeled as “anti-Islam party” in the media, has campaigned for the 2012 on another plank, viz. the relations between the Netherlands and the European Union. In my experience, people who reduce all problems to Islam are a figment of the Islam defenders’ fondest imagination.

Some people, allegedly, claim that Islam is the reason for e.g. the misbehaviour of Muslim youngsters. The author, by contrast, proposes “cultural, pedagogic and genetic explanations” in addition to the Islam problem. Or even instead of it: “Moroccan boys are raised by their mothers as little princes, and so they start behaving as spoiled brats.” There are no indications that Turkish boys are raised that differently, yet according to the author they have a lower criminality rate. For that matter, Hindu boys are raised likewise and they stand out by a low crime rate. So, Niemöller’s explanation by educational factors falls flat. However, the shortcomings in the examples he chooses need not invalidate the case he is making. Indeed, we are convinced along with him that Islam is not the only factor of evil.

Thus, to reiterate some examples he uses, the high rate of violence in Brazil or the vast and variegated problems of Black Africa exist outside the reach of Islam. Indeed, most world religions are older than Islam and have a whole theology of evil, often with prescribed punishments for a number of specified crimes. It seems evil existed before Mohammed, and we will still have it on our hands after Islam has gone. Many critics of Islam are Christians and Christianity famously teaches that all men are inheritors of Original Sin, so Islam only added to a pre-existing store of evil.

Niemöller only expects criticism of his arguments about Moroccan boys’ upbringing, so he counters it beforehand: “Now the ‘true’ Islam critics will undoubtedly start saying that this is a typical Islam problem is, and then surely a Quran quotation can be found that points in that direction. But that is of course nonsense.”

Frankly, that one phrase is the reason why unlike so many media articles on Islam, this one provided me with a reason to respond: “But that is of course nonsense.” (Maar dat is natuurlijk lariekoek, in the original Dutch) In the 24 years since I first wrote in a critical sense about Islam, pro-Islamic responses have mostly been of this calibre. Rather than going into the contents of Islam criticism, where they know they can’t win, the friends of Islam pretend that there is no honest debate because Islam critics are a bunch of loonies. The whole Islam debate is between well-informed critics quoting chapter and verse and superficial sympathizers resorting to rhetorical tricks.

Actually, in this specific case, Islam as a factor of problems is a valid (if only partial) explanation. The double standard in the treatment of the sexes, by mothers as by everyone else, already exists in the animal world, not to speak of most human societies. Even hermaphrodite lower animals prefer the male to the female role; the preference for a male over a female birth is much older than Islam. If any problem predates Islam, or any other organized religion, sexism certainly is it. But the effect of religion is to stick to such natural habits even against pressure to reform. And this is where Islam trumps other religions: whereas others make compromises with the modern world, Islam is still standing firm. Feminism is making big inroads in Christianity, as exemplified by the woman bishops in the Church of England; but hardly any into Islam.

Thus, when Copts from Egypt or Sudan settle in Europe, they go by the rule: “When in Rome, do as the Romans”, so they abandon any plans to circumcise their daughters. By contrast, Muslims from the same region will stick to this custom, sanctioned by Islam though dating from much earlier, against their European neighbours and even against European law. They believe that their law is supreme, while the law of the land is negotiable. Sexism was not invented by Islam, of course not, but today Islam is a strong upholder of sexism in a world adopting more egalitarian norms regarding the sexes.

            In fact, very little was invented by Islam. Except for the veneration of the person of Mohammed, most doctrines and rules in Islam are taken from Arab Paganism, Judaism or Christianity. The double standard in treating Muslims and non-Muslims was adopted and adapted from a universal ethnic discrimination between in-group and out-group. But whereas modernity consists in combating this natural tendency, Islam upholds it. That parents frowned if their daughter married someone from another religion, was common elsewhere too, but today only Islam insists that she can never marry a non-Muslim, to the point of killing the groom or even their daughter in order to prevent it.

            That is why Islam poses a very specific problem, different from the general immigration problem. Immigrants from, say, Russia or Congo do pose certain social problems, but because they do not militate against assimilation, at least their children are bound to blend in and ultimately become Europeans with the Europeans. In the case of Islam, it is the reverse: the present generation of Muslims is less integrated than their parents. In expectation of becoming strong enough to take our countries over, Islam cultivates separateness for now.

            At the fag end of his article, Niemöller also admits that Islam, while not being the sole problem, is nonetheless a problem. He cites and rejects the opinion that “criticism of Islam is really criticism of Muslims and therefore hurting and annoying”. He also counters the usual remark about “the kind Muslim neighbour” by saying that “he is mostly kind in spite of, and not because of Islam”. I can live with his conclusion: “Yes, Islam is a problem. But not all problems with Muslims are an Islam problem.”

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The history of the Yijing

It is since about seventeen years that I take an actively skeptical view of the Yijing, the Chinese Book of Changes. Ever since, I have followed the ongoing debate at a distance but, save for a booklet in 1997 and a few lectures around 2010, not really taken part in it. Other people with more drive or more leisure for exploring the subject have devoted themselves to original researches into it, triggered by several discoveries of ancient texts and artifacts as well as by the disbelieving but benevolent spirit of the times.

A fairly recent book confirms my viewpoint that the Yijing is, to a far larger extent than realized by the starry-eyed New Age users of this classic, the story of a successful coup d’état. King Wen held the Zhou fief at the western border against the barbarians, and therefore had a better army than the other feudal lords. He formed a threat to the regime of the imperial Shang dynasty. He spent 7 years in prison at Youli, and was, at least according to a later tradition, released after eating his own eldest son Yi Kao. He then prepared to seize power but died. A single battle against the established overlord was enough for his successor as vassal, his second son King Wu, to topple the Shang regime and establish himself as sovereign. Not only was it a military and political success story, it was uniquely successful as a propaganda exercise: the propagandistic justification of the coup d’état, viz. the depiction of the last Shang emperor Zhouxin as a model of wickedness and decadence begging for replacement, and especially the doctrine of the Heavenly Mandate allotted to successive dynasties, became the state ideology of a whole civilization for three Thousand years.

S.J. Marshall’s book The Mandate of Heaven (Columbia University Press, New York 2001) fills in a lot of detail that most Sinologists including myself will be surprised to learn; not to speak of the wholly new world that it will open to New Age enthusiasts of the Book of Changes. It confirms that a number of Yijing characters hitherto given a general meaning (by the Chinese tradition as much as by Western translators) actually refer to specific places or persons that played a role in the coup d’état.

This much was clear already from the mention of Prince Ji (36/5), a privileged witness of the corruption of the Shang court; but unlike him, others were forgotten. Thus, Feng, the character that serves as title of hexagram 55, and usually translated as “fullness”, is actually the name of the temporary military capital built by King Wen in preparation of the attack on his Shang overlord. Just as the character Kang has recently been found to refer to “the Marquess of Kang”, an early title of the later Duke of Wei, i.e. Feng, the 9th son of King Wen and faithful brother of King Wu, and not to the traditional “brave marquess”; so now, the character Fa, “send out”, now turns out to refer to the personal name of King Wu. Meng, usually translated as “the youthful folly” (hexagram 4), means “the deceitful boy”, a nickname which King Wu earned as a lad and which the Shang nobles remembered all too well when he had conquered their capital. The mention of penultimate Shang emperor Di Yi marrying his younger sister off (hexagram lines 11/5, 54/4) pertains to her marriage to King Ji, the father of King Wen whom she bore.

Mingyi, traditionally “the darkening of the light” and translated by some modern scholars as “the bright pheasant” (hexagram 36), may refer to the meng Yi, the “allied Yi-(barbarians)”, who attacked Shang from the east to facilitate the Zhou attack from the west; an added “bowl” radical to the character ming turns it into meng, and such variations in writing were commonplace in archaic Chinese.  The lines refer to an archer shooting a bird in the sky, but may also refer to a solar eclipse, an occasion for shooting arrows at the dog supposedly eating the sun.

Immediately after the death of King Wen, his temporary capital Feng witnessed a complete solar eclipse, detailed in the lines of hexagram 55. This eclipse allows the author to date the event, agreed to be vaguely around 1100 BC, to 1070. His successor King Wu saw this as a sign from heaven that the mandate of the Shang dynasty had lapsed and passed to him. Instead of observing the prescribed period of mourning, he immediately amassed his troops and went on the attack. He crossed the river separating his domains from the Shang’s (his own Rubicon, as it were) and met the Shang army at Muye, “the wilds of Mu”. Hexagram 7/5 says that the elder brother leads the army, the younger carts the corpse: King Wen’s dead body was taken along into the battle by his younger son, the marquess of Kang, while the army was led by his elder son, King Wu. The judgment of hexagram 18 refers to the Jiazi day, i.e. the first day of the 60-day cycle, when the battle was timed to take place.

Some hexagrams refer to older forms of divination or shamanic magic. We already knew this of hexagram 31, about “feeling” in the successive parts of the body. This was a very simple form of divination: if a feeling somewhere spontaneously presented itself, it meant something. Even now, some people still think that if your ears start ringing, it means people are talking about you. Similarly, hexagram 1 refers to an old belief in dragons sleeping at the bottom of the well, then conjured awake, rising through the well and finally taking flight in the sky, followed by clouds and then rain. It is a rain-provoking ritual performed in days of great drought,-- which is the ordinary meaning of the hexagram’s name Qian. By the time of Wang Bi, the 3rd-century AD philosopher who promoted a symbolic reading of the Yijing, elite circles had mostly forgotten about this belief or evinced skepticism of it, but rural folk practiced this dragon magic till last century. The last line refers to the autumnal constellation Kang Long, “Dragon’s Gullet”, the autumn being the time when the dragon redescends into his well for hibernation.

The lines of hexagram 18 refers to bu, the ancestral curse that explained misfortune, and that could be remedied by sacrificing to the specific ancestor whose grievances had led to this revenge. Hexagram 53 refers to interpreting the flight of geese by a young wife as predicting the return or non-return of her husband from the war that King Wu had declared. Hexagram lines 2/1, 44/2-4, 47/3-6 refer to marriage customs.

There are also references to older beliefs held in common at the time of the coup d’état. Yu the Great, dike-builder and founder of the Xia-dynasty which preceded the Shang-dynasty, is mentioned in hexagram lines 43/4 and 44/3, speaking of a difficult walk due to the damage that the heavy work has done to the legs. His impaired walking ability is well-known, even ballet dancers have a standard imitation of “the walk of Yu”. Incidentally, he was also credited with discovering the Luoshu, “the book of the river Luo” found on the back of a tortoise climbing out of the river, which the Neo-Confucian interpreters took to be the magic square of 3 x 3. Hexagram 8 and its top line refer to a custom instituted by Yu, viz. the beheading of whomever comes too late at an important meeting.

Oh, and where does the character Yi in the title come from? Here, Marshall only confirms what I read in some French book 25 years  ago. The character shows sunrays peeping through the clouds, indicating the “change” from cloudy to sunny, from yin to yang (to use later concepts, here in their literal meaning, “cloudy” and “sunny”), and most relevant here: from Shang to Zhou. The Book of Changes describes a revolution (geming, revolution-of-Mandate, Ge being the name of hexagram 49), and I may emphasize: a political revolution.

Much to the chagrin of most of its users, the book is not about spiritual matters, or about emotions and relationships and personal growth. It is a hard-headed book about politics and war. It is an upper-class book, not for petty-bourgeois dabblers in the soft arts.

This year, the Dutch Yijing symposium should take place for the 5th time. The first two installments took place in the hippie colony Ruigoord, and the dominant voices were the old spiritualists with their touchy-feely interpretation. The last two, in the cultural centre of Soest, gave more space to the hard Sinological reading of the Changes. This is symptomatic for the change from an unhistorical anything-goes understanding of the book to a more down-to-earth one.

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