Scholars awaited ruling with mixed emotions

Several scholars who closely watched proceedings unfold in the trial of Chizuo Matsumoto had mixed emotions before the Tokyo District Court handed down its ruling Friday.

“I can’t shake a lingering feeling of wondering what the point of this trial–which dragged on for years and years–was really all about,” author Ryuzo Saki said.

How Cult Apologists Defended AUM Shinrikyo

“One of the Americans, James Lewis, told a hostile and evidently incredulous roomful of Japanese reporters gathered at an Aum office Monday that the cult could not have produced the rare poison gas, sarin, used in both murder cases. He said the Americans had determined this from photos and documents provided by Aum.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

“He was accompanied by two Santa Barbarans – J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, and James R. Lewis, director of the Association of World Academics for Religious Education–and Thomas Banigan of Anver Bioscience Design Inc. in Sierra Madre.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

“Another claim by the AUM apologists is that the trip to Japan was initiated and financed by AUM ‘dissidents,’ shocked by the acts of their leaders. The reality is that the trip was initiated by the NRM scholars involved, who contacted AUM to offer their help, and that there are no AUM dissidents.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

Saki voiced concern that the lawyers involved in the case had not always acted in a manner conducive to bringing about a swift resolution to the trial, saying: “I feel dissatisfied and distrustful of the lawyers who instructed Matsumoto to remain silent or were unable to make him talk. A good deal of the questioning seemed to serve no purpose other than to drag out the whole process.

“If Matsumoto had spoken about the truth behind the crimes committed by the cult, it’s quite certain that would’ve had a far-reaching impact on the trials that sentenced 11 of his followers to death.

“The lawyers needed to make him open his heart and reveal the truth so they could help him. Matsumoto inevitably will be handed a severe punishment, but I hope he will accept the court’s decision, at least in the end.”

Kimiaki Nishida, an assistant professor of social psychology at Shizuoka University, said, “It’s unfortunate the court could only rule on the string of crimes committed by Aum as simple acts of terrorism or violence.”

“His followers basically were earnest, talented young people. The trial was unable to unearth the truth behind the horror of the mind control that pushed them to become ‘religious killers’ in the belief it would be their salvation,” said Nishida, who headed the psychological evaluation of Yoshihiro Inoue, Aum’s self-styled intelligence minister who was sentenced in 2000 to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and the 1995 kidnapping of Kiyoshi Kariya, a Tokyo notary public.

“Simply disregarding Aum as a religion won’t solve the problem. If Matsumoto’s believers received death sentences for being criminally responsible for the cult’s crimes, it stands to reason that he’ll be given the same sentence,” he added.

However, Nishida voiced concern that the ruling could provoke a backlash. “Consider the impact this will have on his remaining followers. It’s terrifying how they could react if they consider him to have been deified while maintaining his silence,” Nishida said.

Shinji Miyadai, an assistant professor of sociology at Tokyo Metropolitan University, took aim at the cult’s leader.

“In my view, Matsumoto was a fraud adept at understanding other people’s feelings of inadequacy and then manipulating their weaknesses to his advantage. He offered a group of youngsters struggling to figure out what the meaning of life a doctrine that suggested some sort of purpose for life, but in the end, his teachings weren’t compatible with society,” Miyadai said.

Miyadai said the trial had left some questions unanswered.

“Today’s ruling will probably offer a crucial opportunity for the victims of Aum’s crimes and their families to settle the score, but generally, most recollections of the incidents are already fading away,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we reached this stage without inspecting why the crimes took place and what we can do to prevent similar crimes from occurring again in the future.”

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Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan
Feb. 28, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday February 28, 2004.
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