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Awakening Peace Through Nonviolence

11-27-01 Bhamini Nadarajan

“The next great political unfolding for our age is a broad-based commitment to

wage peace, to declare it with as much serious intent and effort as we have ever

employed in the waging of war” says Marianne Williamson in her book, The Healing Of

America. The last century saw massive and destructive wars such as the two World Wars.

Today we are a world that has not found change yet, by continuing to wage wars in

several parts of the globe. Peace has been threatened in many nations and chillingly some

nations have not seen peace for a long period. To see another war escalating as in the

past, to a global scale, one with more nuclear armaments such as it is possessed today,

capable of much more destruction that history has ever recorded before, is simply

inconceivable. Fortunately “we’re going through a kind of mind change … all around the

globe … (and it) has more to do with the reassessment of values and meanings” states

Willis Harman, author of An incomplete guide to the future. So humanity today is said

to have been inspired by a new awakening and for this reason we may commit ourselves

in a path other than of war and violence. However, since this is also the period of humans

in possession of such deadly weapons as we have today, I believe that we are left with no

other choice than to just seek peace and to seek through rather least destructive means.

Two figures come to our mind when we mention nonviolence in politics –

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The ideologies of attaining peace through

nonviolence as the means to fight against violence, injustice and oppression took concrete

shape in a vast social level, probably for the first time in history, through the leading

guidance of Gandhi and King. Even though we have been practicing to think of
nonviolence as a “defunct political force” today, it is - as Williamson had envisioned a

few years ago - emerging again to be applied with a far more serious effort and

commitment. The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell has come up with a proactive

pledge to reach peaceful resolution amidst the long and ongoing violent tensions in the

Middle East. He has been quoted in the CNN news report on November 19th saying,

“(we) need to make a 100-percent effort to end all the violence” and he has proposed this

effort as part of a plan called the “Mitchell Committee report”, which provides a vision

for a “peaceful coexistence of Israel and a new state of Palestine.” This is a unique step,

proposed during this era attempting to touch that political essence, as had been

manifested through Gandhi and King. So far, we have been detecting the use of military

prowess around the world to foresee an end to the differences, conflicts and violence. But

the results have shown that the use of physical might, although at times as a justly

intended mean, has in fact escalated the unrests. And the alarm rang on September 11th so

loud as to wake up the world to the futility of any kind of violence – unjust and just – and

it was a call to reveal that the spirit of Gandhi and King cannot be obsolete yet.

As mentioned earlier, in parts of the world today physical force and violence have

been largely advocated to fight injustices; and unfortunately such means have only

worsened the situations into deadly conflicts instead of reaching closer to the goal of

justice and peace. The present situation in Sri Lanka is sadly an example as would be

some of the other places in the world. The country’s large minority group of Tamils, has

suffered oppression and discrimination – from the BBC news at report/1998/sri_lanka/ newsid_50000/50926.stm. Some groups

representing the people began to use violence giving rise to clash with the government,

while the groups aimed for a separate state as a resolution. Almost five decades later, the
future for a peaceful resolution looks grim. During the course, the conflict has resulted in

countless and gruesome murders and destructions continuing to this day. In this situation,

we cannot help but reflect on the possibility that, had the groups representing the people

endured and led a fight against discrimination through other effective ways – as it is

often advocated that violence does not resolve anything – such as through constructive

propagation, persistent attempts for dialogue with the government and other nonviolent

means, the Sri Lankan Tamils may now be seeing a hopeful future – though indeed we

cannot say for sure of what never took place – if not have achieved a situation of justice,

equal opportunities and peaceful living.

We have seen the means of nonviolence serve humanity to successfully rise above

differences, oppression and injustice, such as through Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,

whereas we appear to have had less faith in adapting it in today’s world. In every period

of humanity we experience life anew as we human beings are each born anew into this

world at different periods. Since our life becomes an experiment for each one of us

in spite of our long human history, the following of the means of nonviolence to fight

injustice also becomes an experiment. Gandhi had expressed this by saying, “I have

nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have

done is to try experiments in both on as vast as scale as I could”. As conflicts and war

rage in our world today, it is necessary that we learn to be willing to experiment like

Gandhi and King in order break the vicious cycle of violence, which we have painfully

adapted to resolve injustices and differences among us. And there is no better time for

this than now as we see our world moving towards more respect for freedom and human

rights, as the Dalai Lama – the political and spiritual leader of the Tibetans - aptly

conveys the noble trend of our period.

The world has seen a tremendous change during the past few decades as we have

become more “interconnected” as a global community. The African-American

community achieved civil rights by the struggle of the people of the community led

by Martin Luther King Jr., which also gained compassionate response gradually from that

community itself that oppressed African-Americans – for example, seven hundred white

Americans joined King and his followers during their march from Selma. This was

similar to what happened between the people of India and the people of Britain during the

progress of the period of India’s struggle for independence. Fortunately, today we see a

rise in momentum, of a certain concern taking shape, among the global nations in support

of the ongoing Tibetan nonviolent freedom struggle, against the communist rule of China.

As there has been an increasing awareness of the Tibetans’ struggle worldwide, the Dalai

Lama, representing the Tibetans, was invited to give a speech to the European Parliament

on October 24th 2001 – transcript available at the website,

dalailama2.html. And by what we have seen of the non-violent means of struggle of the

past and by the trend of today’s world, the people of China – a nation very much part of

the global community and impossible to be left behind in this connectivity – like the

people and leaders of other countries such as the European nations, probably may not

take long, we may hope, to come to openly acknowledge the Tibetan struggle.

Although the Tibetan struggle compares to the two important movements – civil

rights movement in America and freedom struggle in India – in the past century, the

problem of terrorism that threatens us worldwide today is almost unlike what we have

ever seen in the past. But like the oppression of the Tibetans calls for and benefits from a

broad support and concern from all parts of the globe, there is a similar necessity that is

recognized – that is for the nations of the world to connect and positively involve with
each other to strive against injustices, especially in the form of terrorism. But it also

calls for an identical change in the individual lives of the people living in the

communities of the nations that has been affected by terrorism. During a discussion in the

media as to how the suspects of the September 11th incident successfully continued to

lead their lives – without drawing any suspicion – in the neighborhoods in the U.S., one

striking reason that came up was the decrease in or absence of connection among the

people of these neighborhoods. For this reason, we see a need for change in our

individual lives towards building a relationship with our immediate world in order to

sustain a peaceful living – this would perhaps be the most subtlest practice of

nonviolence today to fight injustice and the one that we may have taken for granted.

“Unadulterated nonviolence” is “an intensely active force” states Gandhi in his

Letter to Lord Irwin. It is a force that is also creative and demands clear, systematic

and logical involvement and expression for its success. “In any nonviolent campaign

there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist;

negotiation; self-purification; and direct action” – explains Martin Luther King Jr. in his

Letter from Birmingham Jail. Perhaps these steps are those, which make nonviolence

synonymous with weakness, passivity and cowardice – as not so physical power are often

mistaken or underestimated. The first three attempts mentioned lay powerful basis to

undertake the last step, of ‘direct action’, even if the preliminary attempts apparently fail.

‘Direct action’ creates disruption in the complacency of the practice of continued

injustice and oppression. The Dalai Lama’s speech at the European Parliament – a direct

action in the form of worldwide propagation - has drawn intense criticism from the

Chinese authorities. Keeping in mind that the strength of nonviolent movements grows

inconspicuously, this situation would likely come to be viewed more as what King calls,
a “nonviolent tension …(that is) necessary for growth” and rise against oppression.

Nonviolence is a creative force for social transformation. When all means of

violent forces are given up in this movement, all other just means, all that adhering to the

“natural law” are to be made use of to the greatest degree possible to achieve the goal.

The famous 200-mile Salt march led by Gandhi in 1930 was also a nonviolent ‘direct

action’. With the arrival of media, King invited its attention during the 1965 march from

Selma, Alabama. Both Gandhi’s march in which millions of people joined and King’s

Selma march, that drew national attention through media, drew them significantly closer

to their goals. According to Ruckus news recently Tibetan-rights activists attracted

fair attention as they unfurled a huge banner that was left for two hours over the

headquaters building of the World Bank in Washington D.C.. The banner read a protest

against a loan approved for China, which regards Tibet as part of its territory, by the

World Bank. This may have helped spread some more awareness and support, for the

cause of Tibetan freedom, as they are crucial for the survival and success of nonviolent

movements of social cause. The active forces of any nonviolent struggle constantly

invents and shapes itself. And with the advent of technology, especially that of the

internet, nonviolence can be a sophisticated, fresh and creative force in ways suitable for

adapting it today.

The most difficult task in the nonviolent struggle is perhaps the “self-purification”

step, which would make any one shudder upon realizing the truth in it. The internal and

the external challenges that naturally arise from truly committing to such a struggle can

undoubtedly be the primary reasons we resort to the relatively lesser challenging violent

methods. King willingly continued in his stand for social cause in spite of a risk of being
assassinated, which eventually happened, thereby tragically ending his life. Both King

and Gandhi along with those who followed them were imprisoned several times during

the course of their struggles. There were several other difficult consequences that these

two leaders willingly endured. They chose not to refuse to experience the consequences

of their actions. Nonviolence calls for other strong and self-disciplinary attitudes to be

held, from those who commit to it. The two leaders did not devote a least residue of

hatred for their opponents. They had practiced restraint from reacting to the anger of their

oppressors. Yet all the difficulties that they faced only strengthened their struggle and the

causes that they stood for. Their strength was such that the success of their cause for

peace could not be betrayed. Through their lives, came an invisible force visible to


Nonviolence is a powerful weapon, more powerful than bullets, King had said and

lived to prove it. Nevertheless we may be unable to trust in the strength of it – that

originate from our inner being - in a world that has experienced the unexpected and

violent action on September 11th. We may doubt the possibility of freeing ourselves from

the threatening and destructive forces of widespread terrorism through other than using

military power. But we may also have to wonder how different the humanity would be

today had not Gandhi and King believed in the “non-physical” power and ability of us as

humans. Our future as a just and peaceful global society may thus rest primarily on our

choice of having faith and as Ruth Ozeki, the author of My Year of Meats mentions,

“You cannot make a better world unless you can imagine it so, and the first step toward

change depends on the imagination’s ability to perform this radical act of faith.”