The Buddhist “God of War” Who Foreshadowed ISIS

Nick Danforth writes in the Atlantic:

As the debate over the true relationship between ISIS and Islamic tradition grinds on, historians of 20th-century Mongolia must be wondering why no one is talking about Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg.

In the early 1920s, Ungern-Sternberg carved out a religiously inspired pseudo-state based in Ulaanbaatar, terrorizing its inhabitants with sadistic public murders to fulfill his messianic dream of a restored empire. His story is instructive for anyone trying to understand what’s unique and what isn’t about the Islamic State.

Well, this guy was a character. It puts things in perspective that there will always be bizarre people in positions of power.

During a pre-war visit to Mongolia, the baron had converted from Christianity to a strange form of mystic Buddhism. His never-fully articulated interpretation of the faith, with which he sometimes mixed bits of Christian eschatology, was probably just as bizarre to most Buddhists as ISIS’s strain of Islam is to Muslims today. But as Ungern-Sternberg amassed power, people found political and personal reasons to play along with his desire for religious legitimacy.

Beyond the rhetoric, it’s hard to tell how exactly Buddhism shaped Ungern-Sternberg’s rule. In the course of invading Mongolia, the baron supposedly received advice from the oracle bones of his soothsayers and a detachment of bodyguards from the Dalai Lama.

Read the full article here.