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2006 Annual Lecture: Kamalesh Sharma

We were extremely privileged to have The High Commissioner for India, His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma, deliver the Lecture.  He read English at King’s College, Cambridge and has served over 20 years in the Indian Foreign Service.  He was India’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations (1997-2003) and then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to East Timor (2003-04).  He was appointed UK High Commissioner in 2005.  He is currently involved in many forward thinking organisations including The Loomba Trust, The Ditchley Foundation and The Imperial War Museum.

Often quoted, he came to fame when he said, before the Afghani Taliban actually destroyed the huge Buddhist rock carvings in Bamyan, that:

“If [they] did not wish to retain the country’s inheritance, his Government would be happy to arrange for the transfer of the artifacts to India, where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind, in the full knowledge and clear understanding that they were treasures of the Afghan people themselves.”

In The House of Commons, he announced his Lecture as “Encounters with Gandhi”.  His articulate and eloquent talk ranged over many of our global crises pointing out where and how Gandhi’s exemplary model of courteous diplomacy and deep respect for his opponents had been successfully applied in our own times and when, and sometimes why, it had failed.  These were the telling insights of a diplomat at the peek of a very distinguished career.  He made it very clear that he had advocated and practised non-violent approaches to resolving differences throughout.  We ignore at our peril the wisdom that such experience has clearly brought.

Shri Kamalesh Sharma spoke to nearly 200 people packed into Committee Room 14 of The House of Commons.  This had been organised for us by The Prime Minister’s envoy on inter-faith matters, John Battle MP PC.  The meeting was chaired by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a Patron of The Gandhi Foundation.  Bhikhu spoke concisely of Gandhi’s actual and potential contribution to the 21st Century.  Lord Parekh’s family trust, The Nirman Foundation, sponsored this year’s Lecture and will do so again for a further 2 years; this will allow The Foundation to expand its horizons and your suggestions for this year’s Annual Lecturer will be gratefully received.

John Rowley

2005 Annual Lecture: Mark Tully

Sir Mark Tully had a very distinguished career as BBC Correspondent for South Asia for 25 years. He has a vast knowledge of and respect for Indian culture and has written a number of books on the subject. This is a summary of the Lecture delivered on 1 September 2005 in City Hall, London.

Was the Mahatma too Great a Soul? Pulling Gandhi off his Pedestal

It has been said that it is dangerous to be too good. To illustrate this by two stories: I once heard a sermon on the Bible story about selling everything and giving it to the poor, and this was being interpreted literally ­ I was left with the feeling that this teaching was impossible and so irrelevant; the other is a cartoon of two Indian Congressmen leaving a cinema after seeing the film ‘Gandhi’ and one asks: “Did such a man ever exist?” In other words there is a danger when great people get put on pedestals that their lives and teaching seem so far from the reality of us ordinary people and our lives that we dismiss them as impractical.

If Gandhi is so impressive, for example in his austerity, one may say to oneself: “This is wonderful but I can’t be like that”. One effect of this is that Gandhi is not greatly followed in India today. Tagore thought that the West would support Gandhian ideas before the East because the East had not gone through a materialist phase and become disillusioned, but in the West also Gandhi is put on a pedestal. And the danger is that
he will lack influence because he is seen as too removed from the real world. In fact he always insisted that he was not a saint and he was sometimes justifiably criticised in his lifetime and has been since.

Even now he is questioned by some about his rejection of all sexual relationships, and also his sometimes harsh treatment of his family. Moreover, nonviolence and trusteeship of wealth are both often seen as unrealistic. If we put Gandhi on a pedestal it makes it difficult for us to question him when we should. Gandhi once said

“I do not believe industrialisation is needed in any country”,

but it could be argued that India was under-industrialised at independence. While aspects of industrialisation are to be criticised, complete rejection is unwise. Also the growth of cities is attacked by Gandhi, but not everything about cities is bad; nor in contrast are villages ideal: for example in India today the panchayat system being promoted is breeding corruption at the village level showing that villages are not ideal republics. Taking some of Gandhi’s sayings literally would mean rejecting sex, taking a luddite economic position, and being absolutely nonviolent.

But we should remember the humanity ­ and humour ­ of Gandhi and see him as belonging to the Indian tradition of dialogue, argument, discussion, as a means to the search for truth, which involves the courage to compromise. He saw himself as a pilgrim, journeying on the path of truth. He said:

“Insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise”.

Politics and the media need to learn from this today.

If we understand Gandhi’s meaning but do not take the message too literally we will find he is still highly relevant today. I would like to look at three fields in which that is true. They are nonviolence, the economy and religion.

War is no answer to anything as we can see from its use by the mightiest power of our time in Vietnam, and the first and second Iraq wars. The military might of the USA was unable to resolve the issues in these places to its satisfaction. Declaring a war on terrorism does not eliminate terrorism. It requires some understanding of the terrorists’ position, listening to them, without however supporting their violence. Essential also
is to look at ourselves to find where we have gone wrong and contributed to the creation of terrorists. One example of misunderstanding is with regard to women, where seen from a devout Muslim position, Western societies have an obscene culture. In contrast Western societies see conservative Muslim societies as oppressive to women. It is not easy to resolve these differences but attempts must be made.

Western culture can be felt as a threat to traditional cultures such as Indian and Muslim. While violence may be used in a good cause it must be the absolute minimum possible. A politician should always work to dampen the flames of conflict. From a Gandhian perspective our economy is violent. The basis of it is consumerism which in turn is based on greed and envy. Without greed the consumers won’t consume enough. Greed and envy, bad in themselves, may provoke violence. Is it moral to encourage debts? What about some of the signs of a healthy expanding economy which we hear about so much on radio and television ­ are they really healthy in themselves? Should we want higher house prices? Who does it benefit? Not young couples trying to get a mortgage, not lower income people in rural areas. Is a healthy society one which keeps the tills ringing on the High Street? There is some virtue in free-trade but taken too far it exploits poorer workers in developing countries, and it does violence to nature through degradation of the environment. Gandhi’s belief in the local economy is very relevant ­ we should support enterprises such as farmers’ markets and transport fewer goods around the globe. India’s development has been top-down, the opposite of what Gandhi advocated.

Religion can be a divisive factor in society but an aggressive secularism creates disrespect for religion which impoverishes society. Banning the wearing of headscarves by schoolgirls in France or directives not to celebrate Christmas in some hospitals in the UK, contrast with the tolerant approach of India where symbols of all are accepted and found side-by-side. Rowan Williams has called the former “the agenda of nervous secularists”. Importantly this increasing secularisation can produce fear in adherents of religion which may encourage development into a more fundamental form of their religion. Indeed Karen Armstrong has said that extreme secularisation is in symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism. This change in the West is also leading to a loss of the awareness of the transcendent.

If we are to respect Gandhi we should do so in the context of Indian thought. Gandhi was a Hindu and steeped in Indian culture. That is a culture which does not believe in absolutes and Gandhi certainly didn’t see himself as absolutely good or absolutely right. We shouldn’t see him in absolute terms either. Then maybe today’s India and the West will realise his relevance and the relevance of the Indian culture he stood for, a culture which would not take secularism, globalism, or any of the other isms of today too far but try to find a middle way between their advantages and their disadvantages.

Sadly even in India they are forgetting the great principle of the middle way. When I speak of Hinduism, secularists don’t see that I am advocating a middle way between religious and secular intolerance; to them the mention of Hinduism automatically implies fundamentalism. I came to India as a Christian, and I still am a Christian, but I came to believe with Gandhi that there is more than one way to God. It is possible to
live side-by-side with those of other faiths and not just tolerate them but appreciate them. This includes non-believers ­ after all Hinduism has an atheistic school of thought too.

The poet Kathleen Raine was a great admirer of Indian culture and suggested that the West should learn from it. Living in India and seeing the spread of Western consumerism and materialism I begin to wonder whether we are not doing the opposite and undermining Indian culture. To respect Gandhi and make him relevant in the cultural crisis of today we should not go too far in our appreciation of him and place him on a pedestal but discuss his ideas among ourselves ­ and sometimes argue with Gandhi himself. That I think is what he would want because, as I said, he did not regard himself as a saint.

We are delighted that Sir Mark Tully has kindly agreed to be a Patron of the Gandhi Foundation.

2004 Peace Award and Annual Lecture: Helen Steven and Ellen Moxley

The 2004 Annual Lecture was given by Helen Steven from Scotland who, together with Ellen Moxley, also received the Gandhi International Peace Award on this occasion. Both have campaigned tirelessly over 30 years against WMDs and the arms industry, and set up and run The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence. The Gandhi Foundation is delighted to honour them in this way.

Helen and Ellen were chosen from a shortlist of 5 names sent by the Friends of the GF.  Both have been campaigning against weapons of mass destruction and the arms industry in general for the past 30 years.  Both have been involved with peace work and set up and ran The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence.

They have participated in nonviolent direct action, particularly at the UK nuclear submarine base at Faslane and have been to prison several times for their commitment.

Ellen was one of 3 women involved in a test case in Scotland regarding the use of International law as a defence in protest against nuclear weapons. The Sheriff directed the jury to acquit the 3 after hearing expert witnesses in international law.  Unfortunately, the Government took the case for review and three Law Lords in Edinburgh advised that the use of international law in these cases was inappropriate. However, the acquittal still stands.

Peace Award Acceptance Speech & Annual Lecture –
by Helen Steven & Ellen Moxley
‘Our World at the Crossroads: Nonviolence or Nonexistence’

The title of our talk, ‘Nonviolence or nonexistence’ is a  quote from that other great example of nonviolence in action, Martin Luther King.  It sounds extreme, a choice that is too stark, too uncompromising, too dramatic for our more pragmatic day and age.  I would like to draw attention to Mirabai Narayan writing recently in ‘The Gandhi Way’ who likened humanity to a person deeply in debt shoving the bills under the bed and hoping they will go away.

That our world is in crisis is in no doubt.  Global warming is now a recognised scientific fact.  And we can see its devastating effects in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Florida, reeling after hurricane after hurricane, or the people of Bangladesh whose land is doomed to permanent inundation if predicted global water levels rise.  Or does it need to come closer to home than Boscastle in Cornwall before we appreciate the seriousness of our situation?  Many years ago I heard the theologian Jurgen Moltmann say, ‘Nuclear disaster is a possibility; ecological disaster is a certainty’.  True, the planet may shrug off us mere humans, but as Chief Seattle said:

‘To harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.’

The ‘New Scientist’ of 13th March 2004 was quoted in the ‘The Gandhi Way’ last month giving the following statistic. The world’s output of meat increased fivefold in the second half of the 20th century.  We now have 22 billion farm animals. (and 6 billion people) … by 2050 the world’s livestock population, on present trends, have to grow to the point where the plant food it consumes could feed an extra 4 billion people, if it wasn’t hived off for meat production.

To many the threat of nuclear annihilation would seem to have receded.  It is no longer the issue of the day as it was in the 1960’s and 80’s.  And yet, if anything, the danger is far more acute now than it ever has been. Britain still has four Trident nuclear submarines, each armed with nuclear warheads giving a potential capacity of more than 1000 Hiroshimas.  These submarines are not simply a deadly threat that we would never contemplate using.  Whenever there is an international crisis, as in the recent war on Iraq, these subs leave their base on the Clyde and are deployed in full readiness for use.  When questioned, Minister for Defence, Geoff Hoon, said that the U.K would be prepared to use its nuclear weapons if necessary.

Next year the Non Proliferation Treaty is up for review.  According to U.N. sources some 40 nations are believed to have the capacity to build nuclear weapons, and there is always the very real fear of terrorists developing and even using nuclear capability – not too unlikely considering a recent shipment of tons of weapons grade plutonium across the Atlantic from the U.S. to France.  And if the superpowers can play at nuclear terror, why not anyone else?  At every Trident Ploughshares camp at Coulport, where the warheads are stored, some of the protestors have swum into the high security area around the Trident subs with apparent ease.  When we are asked if this doesn’t increase the risk of terror, our response is always that the only way to be totally safe from the nuclear threat is to ban them altogether.

In his book The Fate of the Earth Jonathan Schell said:

In weighing the fate of the earth, and with it our own fate, we stand before a mystery, and in tampering with the earth we tamper with a mystery.  We are in deep ignorance.  Our ignorance should dispose us to wonder, our wonder should make us humble, our humility should inspire us to reverence and caution, and our reverence and caution should lead us to act without delay
to remove the threat we now pose to the earth.

When we returned from Vietnam, Ellen and I were both absolutely clear that the task lying ahead of us was to put all our strength and talents into playing our part in ridding Scotland and the world of nuclear weapons. I leave it to Ellen to tell her part of the story.

Ellen’s story

So many amazing people have contributed to my history that I don’t know where to start!  Albert Schweitzer put into words my feeling about “reverence for life”; Martin Luther King’s winning his opponents through suffering; Martin Buber’s “All living is relationship”; Rosa Park’s “I’m tired of being tired” and sitting in the  front of a segregated bus, in spite of the consequences. And Gandhi’s concrete example of a better way of life — a man with such an uncluttered life that whenever someone (even a complete stranger) called for his help, he went miles and miles to help. He chose to remain vulnerable, placing his own health and welfare as his lowest priority. Mohandas K.’s life expressed indeed “the propaganda of the deed” (George Lakey). He spun khadi, he made salt, and didn’t just talk about it.

Though only 10, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened, the full enormity of these events penetrated through to me, and by the time of the U.S.’s  part in the Vietnam War, I had become fully conscientized. Though my mother and stepfather were U.S.ers, by the age of 19 I was looking for another country to which to emigrate!

In 1963, I left the U.S. with no intention of ever again living there, and I have not. Between 1972-74 I worked with a British Quaker team in Vietnam, running preschool playgroups in orphanages. There I met Helen Steven, and my adopted daughter, Marian. There I was faced with the full impact of a ghastly war upon innocent civilians. I determined to work as fully as I could for peace. Until 1998, working for peace meant writing letters, marching, praying, vigilling. Many of our affinity group’s (the Gareloch Horticulturalists) demonstrations were very imaginative, like stretching a hazard tape the length of a Trident submarine (4 football pitches) through the pedestrian precinct of Sauchiehall St. in Glasgow. But nothing we did actually dented the nuclear arsenal, whose firepower is equivalent to more than 1000 Hiroshimas.

A big milestone for the security of the world occurred in July, 1996, when the International Court of Justice in the Hague declared the threat and possession of nuclear weapons are illegal, because they are by nature indiscriminate. Because of this judgment, Angie Zelter was able to issue to peace groups around Britain an  invitation to participate in citizens’ disarmament. Previously, she was one of four women who had disarmed a Hawk aircraft which had been sold by the British Government to Indonesia to bomb the East Timorese. Her credentials were impeccable. Always she acted accountably, openly, safely, and without violence to any living being. The women were acquitted on the grounds that the “crime” they had committed was to prevent a greater crime. The same principles used in the Hawk action were also applied to Trident Ploughshares.

The thought of myself doing the disarmament was scary and exhilarating. Angie had found the web page of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). On it the work of two platforms in Loch Goil, Maytime and Newt were described. They tested the sonic capability of the Trident submarines, to make sure that they moved noiselessly through the waters. The site was a very isolated and beautiful loch, and after months of reconnoitring, Angie, Ulla Roder, a Danish peace activist, and I went there,  June 8, 1999,  7 o’clock, a most beautiful evening. Helen pushed out the rigid inflatable boat. Our press officer, David Mackenzie, was photographing on the opposite bank, and in spite of a dicky engine the boat arrived at the platform. We moored our boat, and climbed the ladder. To our amazement, a window in the laboratory was partially open! We climbed in, turned off the power supply, and unplugged all the machines, faxes, keyboards, screens, telephones, and handed them out to the waiting arms of the accomplice on the deck waiting to throw them into the loch. As I let them drop, my first thought was,”Gosh! wouldn’t  these be useful at The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence?”

But a look from Angie banished that thought. As they splashed into the water, I  thought of our nuclear capability being destroyed bit by bit, of these computers representing globalisation, child pornography, the mechanisation which destroys jobs and relationships being drowned in the bottom of the loch, and I was very happy. Afterwards, I was aware that there is a good precedent for weapons destruction in my own Quaker tradition. In 1776, during the American War of Independence, William Rotch was asked for a consignment of bayonets which he had been given as quittance of a debt. They were to be used by the Americans. Rotch explained that he could not put into the hand of another man a weapon which he was not prepared to use himself. The persistence of those asking him was so great that he ended up by throwing them into the sea!

We three left the laboratory “sanitized” as the master of the boat explained during the trial. We did not touch the First Aid equipment, the drinking water dispenser, nor the life saving equipment. We did destroy the model submarine winch, and we cut several antennae. After three hours we had time to eat our sandwiches and grapes topside. Although quite capable of “escaping”, it never occurred to us, as the whole point of an accountable disarmament action is to bring it to court, and to stress the illegality of nuclear weapons.

In the police boat back to Coulport, we chatted amicably to the police, and told them about our campaign and the illegality of nuclear weapons. Throughout the time of the arrest, the four months in Cornton Vale Prison on remand, and the trial, I don’t believe we were ever disrespectful or abusive to anyone. In fact as much as possible we tried to establish dialogue with everyone.

In October we finally got our trial. Thanks to Angie, our case was well prepared. We had Professor Francis Boyle, an international lawyer, Rebecca Johnson, from the ACRONYM Institute, Ulf Panzer, a German judge who had blockaded the Pershing missiles at the Mutlangen  Base in Germany, Professor Jack Boag, a nuclear scientist.  And, based upon the international law evidence, Margaret Gimblett, the Sheriff of Greenock Court found us “Not Guilty”.

She said:

“I have the invidious task of deciding on international law as it relates to nuclear weapons. I am only a very junior sheriff without the wisdom or experience of those above me. I have a knowledge of the repercussions which could be far reaching. As a sheriff I took an oath to act without fear or favour in interpreting the law … I have to conclude that the three accused in company with many others were justified in thinking that Great Britain’s use and deployment of Trident … could be constituted as a threat … and as such an infringement of international and customary law. I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent. Therefore I will instruct the jury that they should acquit all three accused.”

Of course, the British Government could not let this judgment stand. But in spite of the adverse and politically biased Lord Advocate’s Reference, which stated that the legality of Trident could only be judged  during the period when it might be used, Gimblett’s monumental judgment has reactivated the peace movement, so that between the time of the opening ceremony of Trident Ploughshares, July 1998, when no-one was prepared to get arrested, and the last Coulport Camp, August 20-September 1, the numbers have swelled to the latest count of  a total of  over 2,000 arrests, 1,970 days spent in jail, and fines totalling over £60,000 imposed.

More and more young people have become involved in the Campaign, not only in an activist capacity, but in the considerable administration of the campaign. I would not be surprised if Trident Ploughshares largely contributed to the 80,000 marching in Glasgow in the February before the war on Iraq. We are exploring very widely what we can contribute to the raising of the issues connected to the G8 Meeting at Gleneagles, in Scotland, next July. Like the tiny plants which slowly creep through hardened concrete and break it up, those who care about the earth and its future are becoming stronger.

As Gandhi said,

“The difference between what we do and what we can do could solve the world’s problems”.


Gandhi’s life exemplified nonviolence in action as the only valid and lasting alternative to the disastrous negative spiral of greed and violence in which our world seems to be trapped.  Environmental awareness of the oneness of life expressed in a lifestyle of total simplicity.  The value and uniqueness of each individual recognised in his ability to engage fully at every level of society from the humblest ‘untouchable’ to King George V.

Recognition of the inequality and economic injustice of society led to a well thought-out programme of social reform and education.  And campaigning for political change involved a total commitment of his whole life. Daniel Berrigan, that great American activist expressed this total demand thus;

‘Because we want peace with half a heart, half a life and will, the war making continues.  Because the making of war is total – but the making of peace by our cowardice is partial.’

Some challenge!

So for us committed to peace and social change more is required than symbolic action, vital though that is.  Gandhian nonviolence involves moving behind the action to the motivation; to changing hearts and minds into the creation of a nonviolent state of being.  For example, we might cancel Trident next Tuesday, and indeed it probably will be declared obsolete during the next electoral term – but unless we can change people’s attitude to militarism and their concepts of security, our government will soon be seeking more deadly and efficient weapons – as indeed they are already doing in the new facilities at Aldermaston.  We are often accused of being unrealistically idealistic in the peace movement, but this is the only way forward.

Gandhi said

“Heart and mind are one, but the heart must rule”

It was with this kind of endeavour in mind that Ellen and I started our venture at Peace House in 1987.  Peace House was a residential centre in Scotland near Dunblane supported by The Iona Community and the Quakers, where people could participate in workshops and trainings on a whole variety of aspects of nonviolence.  In the course of twelve years at Peace House over 10,000 people took part in our courses, ranging from issues of fair trade and LETS schemes, campaigns against the arms trade, to training for nonviolent direct action and prison support.  Many of them still speak warmly of the good food and welcome that they received – surely as much part of nonviolence as direct action!

Eventually we reached a point where we were running out of energy.  It was at this stage in 1999 that Ellen retired, thus freeing her up to undertake the nefarious deeds she has already recounted.  We were very keen that over twenty years of expertise in nonviolence training and a whole library full of resources should not be lost, and in fact should be made more widely available.  And so we founded The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence situated in Dunblane in the grounds of Scottish Churches House, the ecumenical centre for Scotland.  I worked there for over three years until I retired in 2002 to be ably succeeded by Liz Law.

The work of the Centre addresses nonviolence at many levels. We were very keen to introduce the concept of nonviolence into the academic mainstream, and were delighted to be able to work with the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh to offer a module in ‘Nonviolence from Theory to Practice’ as part of a Masters degree accredited by the Open University.  This was a most demanding piece of work, requiring that we explore behind the familiar area of nonviolent activism to the theoretical and historical background.  However, because the course was set in an academic context, many who were familiar with the more theoretical aspects of nonviolence were challenged by the tutorials, case-studies and workshops that introduced them to the practicalities of nonviolence.

Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum is the work we have been doing training people to go as part of the international peace teams working in Palestine.  Preparing and delivering these courses challenged us in a most profound way to explore the realities of nonviolence in situations of very real danger and violence.  We have a huge admiration for the participants of those programmes, and are eager to develop the whole concept of teams of nonviolent peacemakers providing a practical and positive alternative to military intervention.

Conflict resolution, anger-management, mediation skills, planning a campaign, working with women against violence – all these are the everyday work of the Centre.  With the G8 meeting being held next July in Gleneagles, just some 10 miles away from the Centre, there will be an exciting opportunity to be involved in training the non-violence trainers.  After five years in existence the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence is beginning to prove itself; it has put nonviolence on the map in Scotland.  As ever of course the perennial problem is money and working there calls for a constant living in faith.  I’m sure Gandhi would have approved, but it doesn’t make for sound sleep at night!

One aspect of Gandhi’s life that I have always particularly admired was the totally fearless and yet gentle way in which he ‘spoke truth to power’. Nonviolence is based on the premise that change is always possible, and that that change comes about through our actions, enabling another (our opponent, if you will) to change position without loss of face or humiliation.  Gandhi spoke of ‘pouring love into the institutions’ and that can only be done through personal engagement.

Over the years I have been privileged to have had opportunities to meet with top level people in the military and the diplomatic service and have frequently known intense moments of understanding.  NATO generals in Brussels, Russian strategists during the Cold War years, a group of military people meeting on Iona for a week to discuss ‘Options for Defence’; all have shared very personal moments of understanding and have shared visions that have moved me profoundly. A NATO colonel deeply moved by the music and poetry of our group, saying goodbye with tears on his face, saying “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry”. Or another man at our conference on Iona who caused a little frisson of dismay when he described himself in the introductions as ‘The father of flexible response, the nuclear programme for Europe’ who gave us a sudden insight into the poetry in his soul as he picked up a white feather and likened it to the nuclear programme.  A little bit chilling perhaps, but a sudden flash of insight into another’s soul. Later as he left Iona to board the ferry, he shook me by the hand and said,

“Only the hand of God could have dumped me among a group of raving peace women”, then he suddenly looked me straight in the eye and said most solemnly, “And I mean that”.

More recently the Church of Scotland has hosted two overnight meetings called the Rhu Consultations attended by very senior military personnel and civil servants. I believe that such meetings are vitally important.  Often afterwards I have been asked “Well, did anything change?” or “What did you actually achieve?”  All I can say is “You never know.”

The point is that Gandhi never gave up on anyone.  His nonviolence was based on the understanding that everyone has an aspect – albeit sometimes hard to discern – of the truth and that therefore we cannot kill or violate another’s truth.  In our nonviolence we have to be constantly seeking that grain of truth, or spark of the divine, in the other, even in our perceived enemy, and even in those we cannot conceivably understand.

Which leads us to terrorism.  Perhaps nowhere else is the contrast between non-violence and non-existence more evident than in the desperate plight of our world in the 21st Century as we are dragged into a totally unwinnable war against terror, that is killing our children, making everyone live in fear, and can only result in disaster. Gandhi said;

“The fear is that if we go on like this, heaping retaliation and indignities upon each other, we shall progressively reduce ourselves to a state of cannibalism and worse.  In every war the most brutal and degrading acts of the previous war become the norm.”

So how would Gandhi have responded?  I don’t know, but I can suggest a few ideas. For example in his insistence on truth he might have asked a few pointed questions about where real terror lies.  Is threatening nuclear annihilation, or waging a savage mechanised war to back up our demand for far more than our fair share of global resources not terror?  And are our governments not total strangers to the truth anyway?

Gandhi always listened to all sides of a problem.  Refusing to talk can never be a solution; it slams the door on any possibility for change.  Might he not suggest that we find out what it is such desperate people really want?  Could it be that they are seeking justice from those who are gorging themselves on the riches of the earth before the eyes of the starving millions.  Gandhi’s well known saying that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed has never been truer.  It has been calculated that to support the present lifestyle of the Western world at the present rate of consumption we would require the resources of four more planet earths.

There is a story told of St Francis that he was asked to use his famous way with animals to overcome a wolf that was terrorising a small village. Francis disappeared into the wood where the wolf was and was gone for some time.  The villagers were certain that he had been killed.  However after a while Francis re-appeared quite unscathed.  ‘What happened?, asked the
villagers. ‘Is the wolf dead?  What must we do to be rid of the threat.?’ ‘Feed the wolf.’ was the Saint’s reply.

I believe passionately in the power of nonviolence.  In times of great despair, it offers a way of courage, great companionship, immense potential for change, and above all, hope. Because there are signs of hope in the midst of our despair.  23 million people in Europe marching – many for the first time – against the war in Iraq; the steady quiet determined bravery of the Women in Black; volunteers pouring into Palestine to help with the olive harvest; in Trident Ploughshares seeing committed young people taking over the boring administrative jobs and not just the glamorous ones; the internet humming with activity and preparations for the G8; and on our own doorstep in the far north of Scotland, an enthusiastic group of local people planning a community buy-out of Suilven, one of our most beautiful mountains, from a mighty landowner.

I shall finish by quoting a poem by Marge Piercy, from ‘Stone, Paper, Knife’.

Who shall bear hope, who else but us?
After us is the long wind blowing
off the ash pit of blasted genes, or after,
the remarrying of the earth and the water.
We must begin with the stone of mass
resistance, and pile stone on stone on stone,
begin cranking out whirlwinds of paper,
the word that embodies before any body
can rise to dance on the wind, and the sword
of action that cuts through.  We must shine
with hope, stained glass windows that shape
light into icons, glow like lanterns
borne before a procession.  Who can bear hope
back into the world but us, you, my other
flesh, all of us who have seen the face
of hope at least once in vision, in dream,
in marching, who sang hope into rising
like a conjured snake, who found its flower
above timberline by a melting glacier.
Hope sleeps in our bones like a bear
waiting for spring to rise and walk.

Ellen Moxley & Helen Steven, October 2004

2002 Annual Lecture: John Hume

The Annual Lecture, given in the Nehru Centre on 25 October, was delivered by John Hume, MP, MEP, who first became prominent in the political life of Northern Ireland when in 1968 he became involved in the nonviolent civil rights movement. He was leader/deputy leader of the SDLP 1979-2001 and played an active mediating role in the many stages of talks between the two sides, Nationalist and Unionist, over some 20 years which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year and most recently received the Gandhi Peace Prize in India.  The following is a slightly abridged version of the Lecture.
When I received the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize on the first day of February this year, I spoke of my deep sense of pride at being honoured in memory of one of the greatest leaders – and one of my greatest inspirations – of the 20th century.

I also asked the question whether we as people have the capacity to choose peace over war, friendship over hatred, compassion for our fellow human beings over ruthless self-interest.

The inescapable conclusion I drew then was that the ideas and ideals by which Gandhi lived did not just have a relevance for his own people and his own time, his ideas and ideals have a resonance that will echo for all people and all time.  And perhaps now more than ever we must look to Gandhi in these unstable and uncertain times of change and challenge:

  • Change and challenge for the people of Ireland as we work to restore and deliver the Good Friday Agreement in an atmosphere of instability and uncertainty.
  • Change and challenge in Europe as we prepare for enlargement of the European Union in 2004.
  • Change and challenge throughout the entire world as we seek to leave behind the tragedies of past conflicts and injustices and build instead a new order of peace, justice and equality for all people, regardless of the colour of their skin, the creed of their faith, or the continent of their birth.

Our response to these changes and challenges will shape the world for many decades to come.

We stand in the early days of the 21st century.  Behind us is a century of unprecedented bloodshed and suffering, but also of profound peaceful thinking and progress towards a shared future.  The same century that gave us two world wars that claimed the lives of 35 million people [this is almost certainly a substantial underestimate thus reinforcing the Lecturer’s point – Ed] also gave us the European Union and the United Nations.  Both the EU and the UN are built upon the concepts of peace, progress and stability and both share the objective of a end to all war.

As a follower of Martin Luther King in the late 1960s and ever since, I understand that to believe in King is to believe in Gandhi.  Appropriately then, it was King who encapsulated the true import of Gandhi when he said:

The ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love your enemies’ philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary.  But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.  Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation.  It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.

Social transformation through nonviolence.  This was the essence of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the late 1960s of which I was a member.  Our people demanded to be given equal rights and opportunities.  Our goals were equality, justice and fair play.  But we also demanded that not one drop of blood be spilled in the pursuit of this honourable goal.

The people of Ireland have always overwhelmingly opposed the use of violence.  I have often articulated my view that there is real value and honour in living for a cause, but only evil and futility in killing for a cause.  This is a view that naturally reflects the thinking of Gandhi, who said, “the bomb-throwers have discredited the cause of freedom, in whose name they threw the bombs.”   There is no place for beatings, bombs or bullets in Ireland today.  Violence serves only to perpetuate confli

2001 Annual Lecture: Scilla Elworthy

Gandhi’s Legacy: The Vibrancy of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution in the 21st Century
Dr. Scilla Elworthy

In the extraordinary violence of the past four weeks, one sane phrase has been echoing through speeches, in conversations and across email channels throughout the world.  It originated, of course with Gandhi:

“The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

He went on:

“Violence ends by defeating itself.  It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”

I would like to trace the contemporary picture of this spiral of violence of which Gandhi spoke, and how it can be broken.  I will describe what is happening today in terms of understanding the methods and techniques of nonviolence, and then show, by way of four examples, what ordinary people are doing all over the world to prevent or to stop war and killing, armed only with integrity, stamina and courage.

Cycles of violence
The classic cycle of violence, which ensures that conflict follows conflict, has roughly seven stages:  an atrocity is committed resulting in shock and terror, fear and grief follow, and then anger, hatred hardening into bitterness, followed by revenge and retaliation, resulting in a further atrocity.  In recent times this cycle has been evident in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Rwanda, and repeatedly in different regions of former Yugoslavia.

It is nevertheless possible for the cycle of violence to be halted.  To do this requires a combination of determined powerful leadership, imaginative action, and adhering resolutely to some key principles.  Gandhi demonstrated beyond question how effective nonviolence can be.  His inspiration reverberates down the 20th century and into this century.  In the case of South Africa, Nelson Mandela became convinced while in prison on Robben Island that nonviolence, negotiation and reconciliation were the only ways to prevent mass killing on the route to independence and equality.  In insisting absolutely on these principles he is widely viewed as having saved millions of lives.  Martin Luther King intervened equally effectively in the violence of segregation of the American South; other leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama have shown recently how cycles of violence can be stopped.

The anger felt in the US and elsewhere after the attacks of 11 September is entirely understandable.  Nevertheless if it continues to result in retaliation causing yet more innocent victims, it plays into the hands of the perpetrators and will destroy the remarkable coalition of nations willing to support the US.  Western leaders have the opportunity to convince those segments of public opinion in favour of revenge attacks that more powerful alternatives are available. The coalition can follow the rule of international law in bringing the perpetrators to justice, setting up the necessary legal instruments to do this, as has been done in the case of the former Yugoslavia.  The coalition offers an unprecedented opportunity for intelligence co-operation on a global scale to undermine and isolate terrorist activity – physically, financially and in terms of preventing acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.

The cycle of violence can be broken at a deeper level by an an analysis of the underlying causes.  An intelligent understanding of the antagonism that lies at the root of such atrocity, coupled with a willingness to address its causes, is the only long-term method to prevent its recurrence.

Nonviolent resolution of conflict
Some time ago the Oxford Research Group began research into the effective nonviolent resolution of conflict.  We set out to discover who does it, where, and what it costs.  We investigated examples from 240 sources all over the world, and selected 50 to write up in a book, recently published.  These stories show how powerful nonviolence can be.  First let me answer the general question “Can ordinary people actually make a difference?”

The answer is very positive: experience in what makes for effective nonviolent intervention in conflict in growing exponentially.  A few decades ago there were only a handful of analyses of conflict interventions; now there is an extensive body of knowledge – in Britain alone there are now 51 institutes studying conflict resolution.  In addition to inter-governmental agencies working to prevent and mitigate conflict, there are now several hundred NGOs competent in the field.  The application of theory and development of best practice are producing effective tools and techniques for conflict transformation which anyone can use.  These include: early warning; protection of human rights; promotion of democracy; election monitoring; support to indigenous dispute resolution; stakeholder dialogue; community mediation; bridge-building; confidence-building and security measures; civilian peace monitoring; violence containment; reconciliation measures and restorative justice.

At the beginning of the 20th century, 80% of those who died in war were military personnel; at the end of the century that figure reversed, and 80% of those who die now in armed conflict are civilians.  Whereas previously most conflicts were between nations, now the vast majority are within nations.  20 of the 34 poorest countries in the world are either involved in violent conflict or emerging from it.  Conflict massively reduces the willingness of domestic and foreign investors to invest in a country, thus increasing poverty.

Governments are still subsidising arms exports.  A US State Department paper comments

“in some countries it is easier and cheaper to buy a AK 47 than to … provide and decent meal”

– rather disingenuous given that the US is the largest arms exporter in the world.  Governments also commit vast sums of money to military interventions in conflict situations, which rarely solve the problem.  Funding for nonviolent conflict prevention and resolution work, in the other hand, is grossly underfunded.  One example, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is the main intergovernmental organisation on conflict prevention.  Britain spends twenty times its OSCE contribution on continued military operations to ‘contain’ Saddam Hussein.  NATO member countries spend approximately £430 billion on defence, 215,000 times the OSCE budget.  The result of such policies is that in conflict areas around the world, warlords have instant access to weapons and attention is concentrated on the violent, while potential bridge-builders and peacemakers have few tools and fewer resources.

This is beginning to change.  Some national governments are beginning to realise that war prevention works, and to provide some funds for it.  The UK Government recently allocated £110 million p.a. to conflict resolution efforts coordinated between three government departments.  This is a step in the right direction.  The reason for the delay in getting our priorities right is partly due to the fact that many policy-makers are simply unaware of how much concrete, effective work is taking place in resolving and preventing conflict, all over the world.

2000 Peace Award and Annual Lecture – by Adam Curle

Mahatma Gandhi – Master of Truth

At the core of the principle of nonviolence practiced by the marvellous man I think of as the Mahatma of his age, is the idea of Truth: Sat, Al-Haq, Wahrheit, Pravda, Verdad, Veritas, the Ultimate Reality. But it is also a word now used ambiguously by myself and others, indeed often abused, corrupted and twisted for political or personal purposes.

I had of course long been aware of this idea of nonviolence and had even written a book about it. I believed then and fervently still do that the philosophy and psychology of nonviolence should guide us in all our transactions at any level, economic, political and social. But I have only recently come to understand the implications of really behaving, thinking and feeling in what might be termed the nonviolent mode based on the principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. These are the positive harmlessness which means active helping, combined with the soul force as some have call it, through which we come to the very centre of things, to the truth. Indeed Gandhiji referred to his teaching as ‘holding to truth’; he entitled his autobiography ‘My Experiments with Truth’. To the extent that we hold to truth, we see through, we jettison, illusions. And that means that we abandon many shibboleths that dominate our personal and public lives. Our existing thought patterns may make this very difficult and confuse our relationships with those who are not making the transition from one world to another.

Gandhi knew, as they say, where he was at. He was no longer swayed by the conventional wisdom, the political correctness of the day. He had approached the Truth. He understood the situation within himself, with the people of India, with the British. He knew what to do and how. And it worked. He knew and had shown the truth that violence can solve no human problems; instead, it creates and intensifies them; it doesn’t work.

But how is it with us, we who honour the Mahatma and his thought, but who much of the time live mentally in another world ? How much do we have to unlearn if we are understand and to follow the way of nonviolence ?

How, for example, do we think about crime prevention ? What about the conventional official view that: ‘Prison works’ ? And it certainly does, but not in the sense that they mean – to deter crime. What it does is to get a number of awkward people out of the way for a time and to satisfy politicians that law and order are being maintained. But it actually works to increase crime, it increases or creates criminality in those who had not really been criminals at all. That is why the prison population tends to grow. But although many of us realise that imprisonment as we know it is worthless, our communal delusion about the need for prison persists in another part of our minds.

This type of dualistic thinking in fact pervades a great deal of our thinking around the theme of violence and nonviolence. The Mahatma believed in nonviolence not just as a moral principle but because he knew it was the most effective way, the only way, to achieve goals consistent with the Truth – such as the Independence of India.

Nonviolence and the ‘Real World’

Most of us would follow him in believing that nonviolence is a nice thing, a good thing. But at the same time tell each other that in the real world we have to be tough to defend ourselves and protect our country – and of course ourselves

In the last resort, we say, it is legitimate to resort to force, preferably with UN approval, but if necessary – as in the case of Kosovo – not. Let’s briefly consider this and a few other instances.

In Kosovo we, that is NATO, thought a brief surgical strike would bring Serbia to heal (and of course when it didn’t do so in a couple of days, we were really scared). And what did it achieve? A lot of irrelevant damage and a terrible political mess A very wise and senior Chinese diplomat told me with real sorrow that this (from UN point of view) illegitimate action had set back global security and mutual trust by many decades. And how many lives will that cost? But what else could we have done? I quote the old warrior, Winston Churchill who said, ‘Better jaw jaw than war war’. Better, Gandhi would have said, his Shanti Sena or Peace Army an army trained and disciplined in unarmed resistance and negotiation. Indeed the OSCE’s observer group had something of this quality and did excellent work until withdrawn.

Move East to the Gulf War. Very surgical, very few casualties – except to the Iraqis; very quick – except for tens of thousands of young children killed by continuing the war for years in the form of sanctions.

Shift backwards to the first world war. The allies of course won in the end and then imposed terms so devastating, so cruel, that they paved the way for Hitler’s ghastly regime and the second global conflict.

And what about that? Now there, people say, was a war that had to be fought. And I was in it myself for five years, but I can say this: The reason for fighting Nazism was not just that Hitler might have taken over the British isles as well as the rest of Europe, but his policies of extermination, his brutality, his destruction of European democratic culture. We could not allow that to happen to our friends and us, and because we fought, we are today free of these horrors. But if we look around much of the rest of the world, we see that all the horrors that we loathed in Nazi Germany somehow cancerously increased – the almost universal torturing, the genocide, the slavery, the oppression, the fanaticism, the intolerance. In that light our splendid victory looks less complete.

But there is one hopeful lesson to be leaned. At the end of the war the victorious Allies made a mighty effort to help rebuild Germany and Japan not only physically, but educationally and politically (and I am happy to have played a microscopic part in this restoration, counteracting nay part in the destruction) And it worked, as is clear from the amazing economic growth of the two countries. The lesson is that helping the fallen enemy is the best way to become friends with him. It this were widely understood, many of the world’s trouble spots would be peaceful.

But the general principle seems to me unavoidable: attempts, however well-meaning, to solve problems by violence lead ineluctably to further possibly catastrophic violence, as is the case with nuclear weapons, the ultimate example of potential destructive power. Let’s consider Trident, our prized British nuclear deterrent. Whom does it deter, who would rush to invade us or to bomb us – or any of the 140 or so non-nuclear nations – if we gave up? No one of course, as we all know.

But by retaining it we perpetuate the situation in which other nations long for it. And get it. India and Pakistan get it – the countries which their great son Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, set free from the British: yes, they got it too the danger of their people being thereby infinitely increased. And thus naturally, in the course of time, will many others. And then our wiseacres in Whitehall will say: It shows how right we were to keep Trident; it shows how wrong were CND and all the rest who don’t live in the real world; the real world, that is of crazed mass murder. And the smart idiots in the Pentagon will say: how tragic that the technology of National Missile Defence didn’t quite work.

Of course there are rifts in the protective shield of illusion, rifts through which occasionally sweep shafts of reality. In South Africa, for example, a sufficient number of the people, largely led amazingly by many of the clergy who had created the deluded gospel of Apartheid, turned against the faith and system they had made. And then again in the Velvet Revolution when all the states in Eastern Europe rose spontaneously, and with one exception bloodlessly, to throw off their communist regimes.
Dangerous illusions

What they threw off was a political version of a very common and damaging illusion: that by doing what you believe to be the right thing (politically, socially, economically, militarily, personally) you will make others happy and well behaved and that if they are not, they must accept the consequences, which are often some form of punishment. You don’t think you are being violent. You are aggrieved if accused of harshness; you are only acting for the good of others – but they end up in the labour camp, the torture chamber, on the gallows.

These illusions end by turning things upside down. We think we can buy happiness by acquiring possessions, or power, or position – but once gained, we are as empty as before. So we frenetically strive for more, with the same result. Embittered and resentful we blame our circumstances, our friends our family, thus alienating them and increasing our fury and despair, and the violence that these generate. Does this bring us to our senses? No, it simply intensifies our delusions and with them the cycle I have described – yearning, anger, and ignorance of our inner state, our great delusion, and so on to further yearning, anger etc ad infinitum.

This cycle is what the Buddhists call the Three Fires; three fires that are burning up the world as I speak but now they have become universal in the form that is known as globalisation. They can burn brutally and though they can also warm comfortably, they could consume us all in their flames – burning our wisdom before we realise what is happening.

To sum up, we have created systems and structures that conveniently support ambiguous habits of mind about reality of our relations with each other and indeed with ourselves. The ambiguity legitimises both helping and harming, rewarding and punishing, creating and destroying, loving and hating, gentleness and violence.

Mahatma Gandhi’s enormous contribution was to emphasise the truth that in our relations with each other only the first of all these options is legitimate. All the others, however dressed up, however camouflaged with trappings of philosophical or social theory, are false. They are illusions that deceive us into thinking that ignorance of the truth is bliss, that happiness can be bought and sold, and that peace can come through violence. Once we escape from the trap of such mechanical thinking we are in another reality. But the transition is not always easy to make or to maintain.
Nonviolence in action

I would now like to move away from this abstract discussion and to tell you about a contemporary example of nonviolent action. The mise en scene is the Croatian town of Osijek at the start of the present cycle of Balkan wars in early 1992. The town is besieged and the constant bombardment has cost hundreds of lives. It is full of refugees, brutally driven by Serbs from their homes in the surrounding countryside.

The general mood of the people largely combines anger, shock and the urge to fight back and drive out the invaders. Only two people, a Catholic physician called Katarina and an agnostic social scientist called Kruno? took the heretical and virulently unpopular position of advocating efforts to strive for peace and reconciliation with the Serbs.

In this remote area of until recently communist Eastern Europe, Katarina and Kruno knew nothing of the peace movement elsewhere. Gandhi and nonviolence were only names to them, but names with a stimulating resonance that made them enquire further.

Bit by bit these two, with a handful of hesitant friends, tried to argue that they should strive for peace rather than victory. At the same time, they did what they could for all the victims of the war, both Croats and Serbs, of whom in this frontier region there were many They worked for the refugees, those whose homes were destroyed, for the psychologically and physically traumatized. They were deeply concerned with the effect of war and the war mentality on children and did their best to develop peace education.

The movement developed and after some months came the crunch. Serbs rightfully living in Osijek were being turned out of their jobs and homes, and members of the centre, as the group had now become, used every means but violence to thwart these evictions. After an ugly incident they protested to one of the local warlords. He turned on them in fury, accused them of being traitors, and said he would not hesitate to have them killed if they continued this subversive work.

As they left, considerably shaken, knowing that these were no idle threats, Katarina and Kruno were able to say friendly farewell words to the warlord. In the following weeks they and their friends just went cheerfully on with the same work. When asked how they could face the danger with such light heart, they answered that once they had taken an irrevocable decision to continue doing what they knew to be right, they felt liberated. Katarina also explained that she evolved the concept of nonviolence from her experience and recent study of the Mahatma. It was not simply the avoidance of violence, but the transformation of every human encounter, with enemy as much as with friend, into an effort to be of value to that person – to encourage, to support, to soothe sorrow, to heal anger, to reduce confusion.

In this spirit, the centre has grown from two people to a decision making group of about 50 members, the great majority women, and a wider community of nearly 200 working on a large variety of projects. Two of the current major emphases are human rights and reconciliation of the Serbs and Croats who not long ago were killing and brutalising each other in the large surrounding area of east Slavonia and Bandana.

The influence of the centre has spread far beyond the town of Osijek where it is no longer scorned, but cherished and respected. Its influence and multitude of activities are known throughout Eastern Europe and indeed have spread to many other areas of the world. But the great range of the centre’s activities are simply various expressions of its essence, a spint that has transformed all those whom it has touched.

this spirit did not come easily. It evolved through times of doubt and fear, of hardship and danger, of bearing the hatred of their friends. But looking back eight years, I am amazed and humbled by the changes I have seen. With the exception of the two I have named, many of the women first joined the group hesitant and frightened. Now they are strong and assured, fearlessly abiding in the truth they have seen, a truth that is invincibly powerful.

I think the Mahatma would have welcomed and recognised them as his friends.

Earlier in this talk I said that violence did not work as a means of solving human problems, and gave several recent examples. I have now given an example of nonviolence that does work. But if one, why not many; or are we too controlled by sterile convention?

Why not be bold and try it?


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