Nonviolence in the Middle East
The universal ignorance and misunderstanding that surrounds the philosophy of nonviolence—at least the Gandhian interpretation of it—is due to the inadequacy of the English language. Taken literally, nonviolence means not using physical violence while ignoring the non-physical violence that we, individually and collectively, commit every day. This non-physical or passive violence is more insidious because it generates anger, which leads to physical violence. Therefore, unless we recognize and deal with our “passive” violence, we cannot end “physical” violence.
nonviolence emphasizes the need to build interpersonal and international
relationships on positive principles of respect, understanding, acceptance, and
appreciation rather than on negative principles of selfishness and
self-interest, as we presently do. This requires respect for different
religions, cultures, nationalities, and other physical and social
characteristics. If respect becomes the basis of our relationships, violence
becomes difficult to practice. Gandhi’s nonviolence is also firmly based in
love and compassion for all of creation. Thus, when people question the
relevance of nonviolence, they are questioning the relevance of respect, love,
nonviolence is not a strategy for conflict resolution, nor is it a weapon to be
used when convenient and discarded when not. It is a way of life, an attitude,
and an outlook. One has to live it, practice it, and think it. Nonviolence
emphasizes the need to recognize the good in every individual and to let that
good flourish so that the “evil” (anger and violence) can be suppressed.
Gandhi taught me at age 12 that anger is as useful and powerful as electricity,
but only if we use it intelligently. We must learn to respect anger as we do
in the Middle East, like violence elsewhere, is manifested in the hate,
prejudice, and selfishness found in us all. Our spirituality is defined by the
same negative attitudes that define our relationships. The competitiveness we
have injected into our religion contains the seeds of the violence destroying
our social fabric today. Can it be changed? Gandhi said nothing in this world is
impossible to achieve if we have the will to do so.
we have made many mistakes of which the most devastating is the religious
division of nations such as Ireland, India, and Palestine/Israel. These
partitions have generated hate, prejudice, and violence on a vast scale with
repercussions so extensive as to almost defy logical conclusions.
before his assassination on January 30, 1948, Gandhi was asked: “What is the
solution to the Palestine problem?” He replied: “It has become a problem
which seems almost insoluble. If I were a Jew, I would tell them: ‘Do not be
so silly as to resort to terrorism...’ The Jews should meet the Arabs, make
friends with them, and not depend on British aid or American aid save what
descends from Jehovah.”
solution was difficult in 1948, it is even more so now, although not impossible.
The question in the Middle East, as in India and Ireland, is: What is the goal
for each side? Palestinians and Israelis have tried to suppress, if not
annihilate, each other through violence, which is impractical and inhuman.
ideal solution would be for the parties involved to take a more human approach
and, as Gandhi says, befriend each other, work out a mutually satisfactory
solution, and then live in friendship. Since nations have been divided for so
long, putting them back together is virtually impossible. German unification has
often been used as an example, but its division into East and West was
ideological not religious. When the ideological differences of the two sides
were resolved, bonding became easy.
differences cannot be merged so easily; they can only be respected. As a result,
bonding into one nation two disparate religious groups that have been torn
asunder becomes even more difficult. An equitable solution will be possible only
when the people in the countries in crisis resolve not to become pawns in
international power politics.
long as western powers, particularly the US, manipulate smaller nations for
their own purposes, and as long as the people in the conflicting countries allow
themselves to be manipulated, a solution will be impossible. The US wants Israel
to be a strong, dependable partner to safeguard the supply of oil and, as
illustrated by the recent action against Afghanistan, it (the US) is willing to
buy the allegiance of Pakistan to contain the terrorists.
without principles, Gandhi said, is a deadly sin that contributes to violence.
Unless we allow ourselves to be governed by ethics and values, respect, and
compassion, violence will continue to deplete our lives.
recently read a bumper sticker that expresses the truth succinctly: “When the
people will lead, the leaders will follow.”
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Gandhi is the Founder and Director of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
in Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
exclusively for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
© CGNews, November 29, 2001