Archive | January, 2009

Book Review – Ghaffar Khan: Nonviolent Badshah of the Pukhtuns

Ghaffar Khan: Nonviolent Badshah of the Pukhtuns
Rajmohan Gandhi Penguin/Viking 2004

Abdul Gaffar Kahn

Abdul Gaffar Kahn

Eknath Easwaran writes in his biography of Khan: “The definitive history of Khan’s life and movement remains to be written”. The current situation in the Pathan or Pakhtun area of Pakistan and Afghanistan makes a study of his life and culture particularly relevant.

There are a number of studies of Khan in existence:

  • D G Tendulkar’s Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Faith is a Battle has been considered as the ninth volume of his biography of Gandhi in eight volumes. (1967)
  • Pyarelal’s Pilgrimage for Peace: Gandhi and Frontier Gandhi among North West Frontier Pathans; by Gandhi’s former secretary and biographer.
  • Eknath Easwaran’s Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match his Mountains. (1984)
  • Khan’s own My Life and Struggle, narrated to K B Narang. (1969)
  • Mukulika Banarjee’s The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier is not a biography as such but an account of the rank and file members of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God)founded by Khan.

According to Rajmohan Gandhi, Khan’s thinking can be summed up in the following six points:

  1. The struggle he mobilised was nonviolent.
  2. Forgiveness was part of Islam; a passion to find an answer to the code of revenge to which Pathans appeared to be sworn.
  3. Non-Muslims were as important as Muslims.
  4. He wanted Pashtun women to study, work and lead; an example of this is sending his daughter to study in Britain.
  5. Although being a devout and loyal Muslim, he was also enthusiastic about his region’s older Buddhist history.
  6. Against the politics of ‘me first’ and double standards he asked his Khudai Khidmatgar to serve society and practice the values they espoused.

Although often called the Frontier Gandhi, Khan has always linked his nonviolence to Islam. At a meeting in Bardoli he said:

“There is nothing surprising in a Musalman or a Pathan like me subscribing to nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet, all the time he was in Mecca… But we had so far forgotten it that when Mahatma Gandhi placed it before us we thought he was sponsoring a new creed or a novel weapon..”

Khan was certainly not a mere appendix to Gandhi. His nonviolence depended on his own thinking and he grounded his ideas of nonviolence on both Islam and the traditional thinking of his own people,what he called Pukhtunwali. Banerjee says that Khan’s nonviolence was based on this traditional code and Islam. Another author, Barbara Metcalf, refers to two ideas in Islam – “the lesser Jihad” which is related to the legitimate armed struggle against injustice, and to “the greater Jihad”, denoting the inner struggle of an individual to develop a true commitment to Islam and cultivating the necessary qualities which the Quran cherishes. The Khudai Khidmatgar therefore was neither Gandhian in inspiration nor a mere tactical manoeuvre but rather a creative ideological position. Pukhtunwali had its key-terms – shame, honour, refuge, and hospitality.

Another author, J P S Uberoi, has said;

“In order to be martyrs human beings have to possess the qualities of truthfulness, fearlessness, poverty and chastity.” Badshah Khan must have been converted to nonviolence in 1919-20. After 1920 he started telling Pukhtuns that their condition would never improve as long as they believed in “blood for blood”. “Violence creates hatred and fear,nonviolence generates love, makes one bold.”

Looking to the present, Rajmohan Gandhi writes:

“Placing contemporary Pakhtuns, whether resident in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere, in the setting of the real or imagined clash between Islam and the West-dominated modern world, they may ask whether Badshah Khan has anything to offer to an understanding of this presumed clash. Related to this clash is the discussion in which adherents and scholars of Islam are currently engaged: Does Badshah Khan contribute anything of value to the modern debate within the world of Islam?”

The Western world does not even consider this question. Yet Khan’s territory is again an area of intense fighting and many Western countries are involved. Rajmohan Gandhi concludes:

“Let us attempt to appraise him as a Pakhtun, as a subcontinental figure, as a Muslim and finally as a voice in today’s world”.

Piet Dijkstra

Obama on Gandhi

On Gandhi Service Day October 2

“Dear Friends,

It’s a pleasure for me to join today in commemorating Mahatma Gandhi’s day of birth, celebrated across America and around the world by service to our neighbors and other good works. Gandhi’s commitment to creating positive change by bringing people together peacefully to demand it resonate as strongly today as they did during his lifetime. Through the power of his example and his own unshakeable spirit, he inspired a people to resist oppression, sparking a revolution that freed a nation from colonial rule. In formulating his strategy to achieve freedom, Gandhi had a choice, and he chose courage over fear.

America faces many choices as we work to address the challenges of our time. We must act from a place of strength and conviction to reclaim the high road and position of moral leadership that has defined the United States at its best.

Gandhi’s significance is universal. Countless people around the world have been touched by his spirit and example — his victory in turn inspired a generation of young Americans to peacefully wipe out a system of overt oppression that had endured for a century, and more recently led to velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and extinguished apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of their great debt to Gandhi. His portrait hangs in my office to remind me that real change will not come from Washington — it will come when the people, united, bring it to Washington.

This is a pivotal election. This is our time for change. For far too long, we’ve watched as ordinary Americans work harder and harder for less and less. We’ve watched our standing in the world erode as we continue to lose American lives in a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. I need you to stand up and work for change. Let us all rededicate ourselves, every day from now until November 4th, and beyond, to living Gandhi’s call to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Barack Obama”

Statement on Gaza

It is with dismay that we have observed the recent events in Gaza and join the international calls for the ending of violence and the sustaining of a ceasefire so that the resumption of dialogue is made possible. The UN should lead an independent enquiry into the human rights issues this conflict has raised and take responsibility for re-establishing and maintaining internationally agreed borders.

There is fear and suffering for both Arab and Jewish victims who each have an identity so deeply rooted in this war-torn area. Equally they must acknowledge the realities which have created this situation if dialogue is to successfully take place. A culture of mutual hatred between some elements cannot easily be overcome and requires brave political solutions to create an arena in which progress towards transformation can take place.

It is hoped that, through the maintenance of a continuing ceasefire, all parties to the conflict will grasp the opportunity to work towards non-violent ways forward. Gandhi’s example proved that such an approach was the only one through which any ultimately peaceful conclusion to a conflict could be achieved. He worked tirelessly and pro-actively, particularly in the aftermath of India’s independence, to end the communal riots and escalating violence which brought such suffering to all those involved. True to his teaching we firmly believe that those who wish to co-exist in peace, wherever they may be, should have the right and opportunity to do so.

Susan Denton-Brown
The Gandhi Foundation

The Question of Palestine – by Mohandas K. Gandhi

These passages are taken from the Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (‘319. The Jews’, vol. 74, 9 September 1938 – 29 January 1939, pp. 239-242; and ‘331. Jews and Palestine’, vol. 91, 20 May 1946 – 8 August 1946, pp. 272–273).

Article 1: September 1938

Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab–Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.

The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to… [text missing in original]

Can the Jews resist this organized […] and prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness [and] shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though, as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and coloured races including Asiatics. There too the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that too was by way of diplomatic pressure not of a threat of war.

But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find the world opinion in their favour in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.

I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home including Palestine not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilization by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world’s literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jew can refuse to be treated as the outcaste of the West, to be despised or patronized. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.

Article 2: May 1946

Hitherto I have refrained practically from saying anything in public regarding the Jew–Arab controversy. I have done so for good reasons. That does not mean any want of interest in the question, but it does mean that I do not consider myself sufficiently equipped with knowledge for the purpose. For the same reason I have tried to evade many world events. Without airing my views on them, I have enough irons in the fire. But four lines of a newspaper column have done the trick and evoked a letter from a friend who has sent me a cutting which I would have missed but for the friend drawing my attention to it. It is true that I did say some such thing in the course of a long conversation with Mr. Louis Fischer on the subject.[1] I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. “Ghetto” is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it.

But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism. Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honoured guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them.”If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it.” If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.

No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine? If they were to adopt the matchless weapon of non-violence whose use their best Prophets have taught and which Jesus the Jew who gladly wore the crown of thorns bequeathed to a groaning world, their case would be the world’s, and I have no doubt that among the many things that the Jews have given to the world, this would be the best and the brightest. It is twice blessed. It will make them happy and rich in the true sense of the word and it will be a soothing balm to the aching world.

[1] According to the newspaper cutting, Louis Fischer had quoted Gandhi to the effect that the Jews had a good case but he hoped the Arabs too would not be wronged.

Multi Faith Celebration 2009

The Gandhi Foundation warmly invite you to attend their Multi Faith Celebration
to commemorate the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi and to come together in friendship


Date: 31 January 2009
Time: 16:00 – 18:30
Venue: London Inter Faith Centre
Address: 125 Salusbury Road, London NW6 6RG
Directions: click here

Please join us for this special occasion and bring your friends and family. There will be one keynote speaker, time for silence, and light refreshments from 5.30pm onwards. Very young children (4yrs or younger) may not be comfortable during the main event, but there is ample space downstairs if they can be supervised adequately.  We are asking for a suggested donation of £4 per person on the day (or whatever you can afford) towards meeting the costs for venue hire and refreshments. We hope to see you.

For more details contact The Gandhi Foundation:
Phone: 0845 313 8419


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