Gandhi and War by George Paxton

Gandhi and War

Gandhi in the Boer War

By George Paxton

Professor Anthony Parel in his Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2011, Pax Gandhiana (which can be read by clicking the link at the end of this article), asks to what extent Gandhi’s nonviolence is compatible with the coercion which any state inevitably exercises. He claims that “coercion based on consent is compatible with Gandhian nonviolence”. But when coercion takes the form of physical violence, especially the extreme violence employed by armies, is that really compatible with Gandhian ethics?

Gandhi spoke and wrote a great deal as the approximately 100 volumes of his Collected Works illustrates. But he was no political philosopher, rather a man of action so his recorded words are strongly linked to the specific circumstances of the time and place they were uttered. It is relatively easy to find quotations which express contradictory positions.

Restricting ourselves to the issue of war, there were three occasions up to 1914 when Gandhi participated in war in some manner. The first was the Boer War (in 1899 and 1900), the second was a Zulu rebellion (1906), and the third was when he was in London in 1914. However in all three instances his participation amounted to raising ambulance units of Indians which I would see as very different from actual combat, although Gandhi did not personally make that distinction. The sole occasion when he did contribute to the armed forces was when in 1918 he tried to recruit Indians to fight on the British side. Without going into the reasons he gave for this, many of his friends and colleagues severely criticised him for this action which ran counter to his long standing advocacy of nonviolent action. Whatever the reasons in this instance (he gave several), the following decades saw him take an increasingly strong stance against war.

As Parel points out Gandhi spoke in favour of armed defence on occasion. But I believe that this can be explained by his recognition that most Indians (or people in general) were and are not pacifists like himself and therefore they have a right, or even sometimes a duty, to serve in the armed forces if their country is attacked or threatened. In his speech to the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, which Parel quotes from, he was representing Congress which in general held a much more conventional position than Gandhi himself. Military defence was however considered by Gandhi to be very much an inferior ethical position. He did not change his position of opposition to violence and war after the Second World War, he had for long held this position. Admittedly, confusion could arise because he held these two positions which many people would see as contradictory, i.e. absolute opposition to war as the ideal which he always advocated, and support for the right to have military defence for those less advanced in their understanding.

To illustrate Gandhi’s long held position on armed force here are some quotations:

Under Swaraj of my dream there is no necessity for arms at all.
Young India 17/11/1921

I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest causes.
Young India 11/12/1924

I do justify entire nonviolence, and consider it possible in relation between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not “a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness”. On the contrary, the nonviolence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness.
Young India 8/10/1925

Referring to ambulance work in South Africa:

My repugnance to war was as strong then as it is today; and I could not then have, and would not have, shouldered a rifle.
Young India 5/11/1925

But the light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through Truth and nonviolence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act nonviolence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form.
Young India 13/9/1928

I would not yield to anyone in my detestation of war.
Young India 7/2/1929

In Switzerland after the Round Table Conference:

Q. How could a disarmed neutral country allow other nations to be destroyed? But for our army which was waiting ready at our frontier during the last war we should have been ruined. A. At the risk of being considered a visionary or a fool I must answer this question in the only manner I know. It would be cowardly of a neutral country to allow an army to devastate a neighbouring country. But there are two ways in common between soldiers of war and soldiers of nonviolence, and if I had been a citizen of Switzerland and a President of the Federal State, what I would have done would be to refuse passage to the invading army by refusing all supplies. Secondly, by enacting a Thermopylae in Switzerland, you would have presented a living wall of men and women and children, and inviting the invaders to walk over your corpses.
Young India 31/12/1931

In the 1930s Gandhi advised several governments and their citizens to resist aggression by nonviolent means. This included Abyssinians, Czechoslovaks, Chinese, Jews in Germany, Poles, Norwegians, French, Britons, as well as Indians.

The following is typical:

I shall take up the Abyssinian question first. I can answer it only in terms of active, resistant nonviolence. Now nonviolence is the activist force on earth, and it is my conviction that it never fails. But if the Abyssinians had adopted the attitude of nonviolence of the strong, i.e. the nonviolence which breaks to pieces but never bends, Mussolini would have had no interest in Abyssinia. Thus if they had simply said: ‘You are welcome to reduce us to dust or ashes, but you will not find one Abyssinian ready to cooperate with you’, what could Mussolini have done? He did not want a desert. Mussolini wanted submission and not defiance, and if he had met with the quiet, dignified and nonviolent defiance that I have described, he would certainly have been obliged to retire. Of course it is open to anyone to say that human nature has not been known to rise to such heights. But if we have made unexpected progress in physical sciences, why may we do less in the science of the soul?

Harijan 14/5/1938

A different situation faced the Jews as they were not a country but a minority in Germany. Their plight produced one of Gandhi’s most powerful statements:

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 ever there could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton destruction of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war.

… Can the Jews resist this organised and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless or forlorn? I submit that there is.

… 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 might, 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 Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were 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.
 Harijan 26/11/1938

In 1940 Gandhi addressed the British:

I appeal for cessation of hostilities, not because you are too exhausted to fight but because war is bad in essence. You want to kill Nazism. You will never kill it by its indifferent adoption. Your soldiers are doing the same work of destruction as the Germans. The only difference is that perhaps yours are not as thorough as the Germans. If that be so, yours will soon acquire the same thoroughness as theirs, if not much greater. On no other condition can you win the war. In other words, you will have to be more ruthless than the Nazis. No cause, however just, can warrant the indiscriminate slaughter that is going on minute by minute. I suggest that a cause that demands the inhumanities that are being perpetrated today cannot be called just.
Harijan 6/7/1940

This was written as the Battle of Britain was about to commence yet how accurate the prediction of the war’s development proved to be. Of course what Gandhi advocated for other countries he advocated for the Indians although they had no government of their own:

I have written these lines for the European powers. But they are meant for ourselves. If my argument has gone home, is it not time for us to declare our changeless faith in nonviolence of the strong and say we do not seek to defend our liberty with the force of arms but we will defend it with the force of nonviolence?
Harijan 22/6/1940

The previous year after the war in Europe had begun he had written:

So far as I can read the [Congress] Working Committee’s mind after a fairly full discussion, the members think that Congressmen are unprepared for nonviolent defence against armed invasion. This is tragic. Surely the means adopted for driving an enemy from one’s house must, more or less, coincide with those to be adopted for keeping him out of the house. If anything, the latter process must be easier. The fact, however, is that our fight has not been one of nonviolent resistance of the strong. It has been one of passive resistance of the weak. … My position is, therefore, confined to myself alone. I have to find out whether I have any fellow-traveller along the lonely path. If I am in the minority of one, I must try to make converts. Whether one or many, I must declare my faith that it is better for India to discard violence altogether even for defending her borders. For India to enter into the race for armaments is to court suicide. With the loss of India to nonviolence the last hope of the world will be gone. I must live up to the creed I have professed for the last half a century, and hope to the last breath that India will make nonviolence her creed …
Harijan 14/10/1939

Nearly a year after WWII began Gandhi wrote:

The present war is the saturation point in violence. It spells to my mind also its doom. Daily I have testimony of the fact that Ahimsa was never before appreciated by mankind as it is today. All the testimony from the West that I continue to receive points in the same direction. The Congress has pledged itself to Ahimsa however limited. I invite the correspondent and doubters like him to shed their doubts and plunge confidently into the sacred sacrificial fire of Ahimsa.
Harijan 11/8/1940

A week later:

I believe all war to be wholly wrong.
Harijan 18/8/1940

He continued in this vein until he was arrested in August 1942 after the launch of the Quit India campaign and remained incarcerated until May 1944. After the war ended he wrote:

If the Government had not arrested me in 1942 I would have shown how to fight Japan by nonviolence.
Harijan 9/6/1946

A few months before his assassination this report appeared:

A friend had asked if the division of the army and the retention of British officers had Gandhiji’s approval. The friend should first ask whether Gandhiji approved of the army at all. As it was, the military expenditure in free India would probably be more, not less, than before. Gandhiji could never be a party to it. He viewed the military with apprehension. Could it be that India would also have to pass through the stage of military rule? For years they had said that they did not want any army. He stood by that statement even today, but the others did not.
Harijan 3/8/1947

At an interview at Scottish Church College:

One of the scientist members of the staff then asked Gandhiji what scientific men should do if they were now asked by the free Indian Government to engage in researches in furtherance of war and the atom bomb? Gandhiji promptly replied, “Scientists to be worth the name should resist such a State unto death”.
Harijan 24/8/1947

I suggest that we hear the true Gandhi in these quotations; certainly the Gandhi that I admire. How far India has travelled away from the path of Gandhi! Of course his message is for everyone irrespective of nationality.


These quotations are taken from the two volume Nonviolence in Peace and War published by Navajivan Publishing House in Ahmedabad, the first volume published in 1942 and the second in 1949. Navajivan (‘new life’) Trust was founded by Gandhi in 1929 to spread his ideas. It is a pity that this particular title has long been out of print.

Pax Gandhiana: Is Gandhian Nonviolence Compatible with the Coercive State? By Professor Anthony Parel

George Paxton is a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation, an author and Editor of the Gandhi Way

What Happened at The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration Review

at St Ethelburga’s on 30th January 2012

By Mark Hoda, Chair & Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

It was really heartening to see such a large audience gather at St Ethelberga’s on a cold January evening. They heard  though provoking reflections on the environment and sustainability from a range of faith perspectives as well as on Gandhi’s influence on the green movement today, which continues to draw inspiration from his philosophy and satyagraha strategies.

Anglican Priest Father Ivor opened proceedings with a quote often attributed to Gandhi that “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need buy not anyone’s greed”. He also quoted from Tagore and the Upanishads before offering the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, who he said had much in common with Gandhi.

Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Graham Davey, set out how the Quaker Testimonies of simplicity, truth, equality and peace relate to care for the environment by espousing the values of moderation, sustainability and non violence and concern for the depletion of non renewable resources. The Quaker Book of Discipline calls for us to rejoice in God’s world but to appreciate that we are not its owners but its custodians.

Gandhi Foundation and Environmental Law foundation founder, Martin Polden, offered observations on the teachings of Judaism. He quoted the Old Testament’s injunction to “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and everything that moves on the Earth”. He said this should be read in conjunction  with chapter 2 verses 7-8, where Adam first appears, and is expressed to be ‘planted’ in the Garden of Eden, with a duty to ‘cultivate and keep it’, i.e. serve it and conserve it. Throughout the Torah, there is the injunction to take account of cultivation and obey good husbandry, said Polden.

He explained how Gandhi was influenced by the Jewish community in South Africa and how the 12th century philosopher Maimonides influenced E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Guide for the Perplexed’. As a lawyer, Polden has worked with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists “on issues that concern the region and where each marks the other with respect and recognition of each as human beings, with the key of living together, as distinct from stereotypes”.

Martin Polden also said that our prayers with GF President Lord Attenborough, who is unwell. Trustee John Rowley also collected messages from the audience to send to him.

Reverend Nagase from the London Peace Pagoda, said that in Buddhism, there are two paths open to attain  Buddhahood; creating the  pure land, and to lead the people to the teachings of Buddhism. “When people become peaceful and affectionate, the land in which they live is also bound to become peaceful and affectionate in accordance…It may seem as if the path is separated into two: the land and the people, yet originally both are the realisations of a single truth”.

Reflecting on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, Rev Nagase said “If the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but  if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure, in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of people’s minds. It is the same with a Buddha and a common  mortal. While deluded, one is called a ‘common mortal’, but once  enlightened, is called a ‘Buddha’. Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if it is polished”.

Madhava Turumella from the Hindu Forum explained how he stayed at Gandhi’s Sevagram ashram after graduating from university. He said he found serenity there and appreciated the many faiths that influenced Gandhi. This religious pluralism in Turumella’s branch of Hinduism which believes in the universality of humanity and harmony with other belief systems. He echoed previous speakers when he said that the earth does not belong to anyone. He said all life is interconnected and we must not covet or steal its resources. He said that this is precisely what is happening today, however, and it is causing great damage to our world.

Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Omar Hayat, speaking about Islam, also echoed much of what previous speakers and highlighted the great commonality between faiths. Muslims are guided by the Koran and the teachings and conduct of the Prophet and Hayat gave examples of both to explain the faith’s environmental perspective. The Koran states that man is not at the centre of the world, but just one part of the environment. Islam emphasises the unity of creation and equality of all creation and the role of man as a trustee of the earth and its resources and calls for humility. The current environmental crisis reflects mankind’s spiritual crisis.

The teachings of the Prophet, emphasise that the earth must not be exploited or abused and flora, fauna and animals have equal rights to man as God’s dependants. Hayat concluded with a quote from Prophet Mohammed “Act in your life as though you are living forever and act for the Hereafter as if you are dying tomorrow”.

Green London Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, explained the impact that Gandhi has had on modern environmentalists. Johnson said Gandhi was one of the first public figures to warn of environmental damage, warning of the consequences of pollution of air water and grain, and he described him as “A patron saint of the green movement”.

He said that Gandhi’s contemporary influence was based on his emphasis on sustainability, social justice, democratic participation and non-violence.  Johnson felt that Gandhi would approve of modern London’s multi-ethnic society but not the massive gap between rich and poor. Gandhi would understand the reason behind the current Occupy movement in the capital.

Gandhi’s non-violent methods have inspired civil rights movements across the world and are fundamental to the green movement today. Johnson said that we have a long way to go to realise Gandhi’s vision but his philosophy is as relevant as ever.

John Dal Din, representing the Catholic faith, like Father Ivor, offered a Franciscan prayer – the Canticle of Creation. He talked of the deep links between St Francis and Gandhi.

Ajit Singh explained the influence of the Sikh faith on Gandhi. He posed the question what is the world and our place within it. Quoting Guru Nanak and Sikh morning prayers, he said that God creates and sustains the earth but mankind is responsible for it and all its life forms. All life is interconnected and any damage done to the earth is damage to me, said Singh.

David Fazey from Village Action India talked about a month-long Ekta Parishad (an indian grassroots movement) Satyagraha march in October in India in which 100,000 people will participate. It is inspired by Gandhi and is being staged to highlight the plight of Indian rural communities who are being denied rights to their land, water and forests. This march builds on the Janadesh march in 2007.

Fazey said that if the March is to be successful, it must be witnessed and he called on all those present to raise awareness of the event. A leaflet on the march was circulated and further details are available at

There were further impromptu contributions at the end of the event; Margaret Waterward highlighted a march of 450 slum children dressed in Khadi in Kolkata the previous day, calling for education and a future free of poverty; a from a representative of the Jain faith, Sagar Sumaria, highlighting the environmental damage created by our demand for consumer electronics, such as mobile phones. A peace petition was also circulated on behalf of Newham Mosque.

Mark Hoda concluded the event by thanking Omar Hayat and GF Friend Jane Sill for all their help in organising this year’s Multifaith Celebration.

Speech given by Martin Polden at the Multifaith Celebration 2012

Speech given by Madhava Turumella at the Multifaith Celebration 2012

Speech given by Omar Hayat at the Multifaith Celebration 2012

Doing Small Things With Great Love – by Bill Palethorpe

With as always (but particularly in our age of 24 hour news coverage) so many negative stories making the headlines is it any wonder that people increasingly feel powerless? Some decide not to get up in the morning whilst others turn to a hedonistic life. Well friends, as many Gandhi followers know, we all have the power and talents to act for the common good of other people, our non-human animal cousins and our beautiful ‘on loan’ planet. To quote Mother Teresa

“We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love”.

So with this in mind I would like to share with you three simple and inexpensive events that Eastbourne Quakers, vegetarians, military personnel, town councillors (including the mayor) and others, many of them complete strangers, have recently been successfully involved in.

i) During National Vegetarian Week last September local Quakers, vegetarians / vegans and friends ran two very successful simple outside vegetarian stalls. Organisations such as Viva!, Animal Aid, The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society, and Advocates for Animals, gave us lots of very interesting and colourful information and recipes plus posters and stall banners. Also friendly veggie companies were only too pleased to provide food samples as this is a very good form of marketing for them. We even persuaded a butcher delivering meat to local pubs to try several vegan dishes, he declared them all delicious and apologised for his day job! Buoyed up by our success we decided to repeat this event at a big pre-Christmas Eastbourne Street Party in December. Our local health food shop Sunny Foods offered us the use of part of their premises. The stall was extremely popular gaining us lots of contacts and converts with widespread local press publicity.

ii) Last Spring/Summer we had noticed foie gras on sale at the French Market that visits Eastbourne and many other towns throughout the Spring to Autumn months. Foie gras is produced from the diseased liver of a duck or goose that has been forced fed, causing the liver of the bird to swell up to ten times its normal size. A pipe is inserted down the throat of the bird and pulped maize pumped into their stomachs, frequently resulting in severe injury or death. We therefore decided to try and get the product banned from all council land and premises. It is illegal to produce it in the UK and an increasing number of other countries. Due to the free trade EU regulations however it can be imported from mainland Europe.

Duck Foie Gras

We approached Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) who advised us to write to them with several signatures. On reflection we decided to organise a petition. Within a few days friends, neighbours, sympathetic shop keepers etc. had signed and we presented this in person to EBC. After months of discussion and meetings including providing them with excellent information from animal welfare charities they agreed to debate it at a full Cabinet meeting at the Town Hall on 31st March 2010. Prior to this they had watched a graphic DVD.

Quaker friends attended the Meeting and were amazed at the welcome we received and at the supportive speeches made by council officials and town councillors. Imagine our joy when the vote was taken and the LibDem and Conservative councillors joined forces and voted unanimously for an immediate ban. One councillor regretted that EBC had not already banned it and has now offered to approach trade organisations to influence their members to stop stocking the product at hotels, restaurants and other outlets. We have received a great deal of positive publicity both locally and nationally including a feature in The Herald (2nd and 9th April 2010) the main widely circulated local paper and The Friend the weekly Quaker publication.

iii) Lastly but by no means least a similar group of us in conjunction with the animal welfare charity Animal Aid of Tonbridge agreed to mount a local campaign to enable us to lay a purple poppy wreath in memory of all the millions of innocent non-human animals that have served and died in wars and armed conflicts. Some of us had already visited the beautiful Animals War Memorial in Park Lane central London. This is a powerful and moving tribute to all those brave animals which was unveiled six years ago on the 90th anniversary of the start of WW1.

Our format was broadly similar to our foie gras campaign. EBC agreed in principal to our request to take part in the formal Remembrance Sunday Parade and to lay a purple poppy wreath. However the final decision rested with the Eastbourne Combined Ex-Services Association Wreath Laying Committee. Much to our surprise we started gathering support from many ex-service men and women as well as individual residents and local organisations. These included the local branches of Quaker Concern for Animals; Vegetarian and Vegan Societies; Viva! and Animal Aid plus East Sussex Wildlife Animal Rescue.

Again imagine our delight when in October the Wreath Laying Committee met for the final time before Remembrance Sunday and unanimously voted in favour of us permanently taking part in the official memorial parade with the laying of our purple poppy wreath at its conclusion. Some purists may say that we should not get involved with a military parade but as Quakers say “cooperation is better than conflict”. Once again our campaign produced a lot of good publicity both locally and wider afield. The town centre Sainsbury’s has now granted us the week prior to Remembrance Sunday for selling purple poppies and giving out relevant information.

No doubt many Gandhi friends are involved in similar enterprises to the three examples above. However do please contact myself or the organisations direct (just Google them!) if you care to join any of these particular peaceful campaigns. Good news as well as bad can travel fast nowadays.

You can reach Bill Palethorpe at

Te Whiti o Rongomai: A Forerunner of Gandhi – by Helena Nielson

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi are all well known as advocates of peace, but not many people, even in New Zealand, have heard of Te Whiti, a Maori leader who practised nonviolent resistance against the British Empire two generations before Gandhi. It is unclear whether Gandhi was inspired by Te Whiti’s philosophy and actions but there is evidence that he heard about him from two Irish visitors who had visited Parihaka, Te Whiti’s model community in New Zealand. This article is an attempt to acknowledge and honour Te Whiti’s life and achievements.

Te Whiti o Rongomai

Te Whiti o Rongomai

Te Whiti o Rongomai was born in the early nineteenth century in Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. As the son of a minor Maori chief, he was educated in Maori traditions and learnt to read and write at a Catholic missionary school. His favourite book in the Bible was Revelations and, in adult life, he often used quotations from the Bible.

The mid nineteenth century saw a period of relatively peaceful coexistence between the Maori and what were small numbers of European settlers. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British government and many Maori chiefs giving Britain sovereignty over New Zealand in return for the protection of Maori rights and resources. The meaning of the Act was however, interpreted differently by both sides and is still being contested in New Zealand courts a hundred and sixty years later.

Maori resistance to selling land, however, provoked twelve months of fighting in Taranaki in 1860 and 1861. Neither side was able to force a victory and an uneasy truce existed when, in 1862, the ship Lord Worsley was shipwrecked off the Taranaki coast. A crowd of Maori were waiting for the survivors as they reached the shore. Despite a peaceful reception, one of the white passengers called out to those remaining on the Lord Worsley to throw all the ammunition on board into the sea to prevent its falling into the hands of the Maori. The situation began to turn ugly until two Maori chiefs arrived and took control. One of these was Te Whiti, who killed a bullock to feed the passengers and then sent word to New Plymouth, the nearest town, to say that the passengers were safe. Te Whiti then organised for his men to escort the passengers safely to New Plymouth. The other Maori chief was Te Ua, whose cult followers, in 1864 at the battle of Sentry Hill, went to fight against the white settlers with their right hand raised believing that the Christian God would protect them. Many were consequently killed.

George Grey had become Governor of New Zealand for a second term in 1861. In his earlier period of office he had learnt Maori and organised for their traditions and myths to be written down, thus earning the respect of many Maori. The situation, however, was different in 1861 as New Zealand now had its own elected parliament. In the three years after 1861 the white population doubled. White settlers in the North Island were eager to take over Maori land and in 1863 The Suppression of Rebellion Act was passed stating that any Maori fighting to retain their land was a rebel and therefore could be detained indefinitely without trial. This Act was quickly followed by The New Zealand Settlements Act, which allowed the Government to take over any land claimed by so-called rebels.

Seizure of Maori land

Three million acres were seized mainly in Taranaki leading to renewed fighting. Te Whiti took no part in the ensuing wars and when his village was burnt in 1865 he took his people inland and set up the town of Parihaka. Parihaka was run as a model community. Te Whiti and his fellow leader Tohu Kakahi argued that the Maori should refuse to sell land to the white settlers but should live in peaceful coexistence and reject the use of violence. Te Whiti was a very charismatic leader who was very knowledgeable and loved to talk in metaphors. On the 18th of every month a meeting was held in Parihaka attended by many Maoris from outside the town and even some white individuals. Te Whiti’s followers used the white feather of the albatross as a symbol of their peaceful intentions.

Although Te Whiti welcomed other Maoris into Parihaka, he refused to become involved in any plans for armed resistance to the seizure of their lands. There is a story that when Titokowaru, the great Maori warrior came to Parihaka with his armed followers, Te Whiti stopped him and said “Titokowaru the man is welcome, but when Waru the man comes to Parihaka, Waru the warrior must stay at home.” Titokowaru pointed to the armed warriors behind him and asked Te Whiti arrogantly “Who is behind you? “ “God” replied Te Whiti. At this Titokowaru told his men to lay down their arms and was welcomed into the town.

By the end of the 1870s Parihaka was a thriving community with a population of approximately 1500. Self sufficient in food, they also grew cash crops and used the latest agricultural equipment. Many European visitors praised the village for its orderliness and industry.

Although Maori land had been confiscated in the 60s, few European settlers had bought land there. So in 1878 the colonial government came up with a plan to survey the land prior to selling it off to some of the many settlers who were arriving on assisted passages from the United Kingdom. The surveyors cut through Maori fences and trampled cash crops, so Te Whiti organised for his followers to plough up grasslands belonging to existing European farmers. This enraged the white population and some members of the colonial government were determined to teach the Maori a lesson. An MP Major Harry Atkinson wrote in the local paper that, “he hoped if war did come, the natives would be exterminated.”

Te Whiti commanded that the ploughers should resist arrest and violence passively, saying “Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work.”

As the ploughers were arrested, others immediately took their place. A commission was set up to try to resolve the issue but although they reported that it was a puzzle why the land had been confiscated when Te Whiti had never been a rebel, it still recommended that the surveying and sale of land should continue. The interim report from the commissioners stated that, “the story (of how the Maori had been treated) ought to fill us with shame”.

In 1880 Native Minister Bryce, known to the Maori as Brycekohuru or Bryce of the murders, insisted that a road was built north towards Parihaka. At first Te Whiti offered the labourers food as a sign of hospitality and was offered beer in return. But when Bryce ordered the road to be built through cultivated fields, refusing to fence it off so that livestock would not eat growing crops, Te Whiti ordered that fences should be erected and the road blocked. The road builders destroyed these fences and Parihaka fencers remorselessly kept rebuilding them. In total 420 ploughers were arrested and 216 fencers. Several later died in prison on the South Island.

Taking advantage of the absence of the British governor in 1881, parliament passed a proclamation giving Te Whiti 14 days to expel all non residents and to accept the reserves set aside for him, which would be sold by the government with Parihaka receiving rents for them. Te Whiti refused to sign.

Nonviolent resistance continues

On 5th November Bryce, the native Minister, along with a group of 2674 armed men, made up of volunteers as well as armed constabulary, rode to Parihaka. Croumbie-Brown, a newspaper reporter from the Christchurch Lyttleton Times, hid in one of the Parihaka houses and filed a full report of what happened, much to the annoyance of the government who had refused to allow any media to be present.

The militia were met by a group of 200 young boys, who sang and performed a haka or action routine. Then came a group of young girls skipping. Around 2,500 adults had been sitting in silence since midnight and 500 loaves had been baked to feed the militia. “If war comes, what can we do but look on and laugh” said Te Whiti.

The Riot Act was read but met by silence, which continued for an hour. After this Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and taken away. The Maori remained silently where they were until nightfall. Next day the militia returned and began destroying the town and dispersing the Maori. Te Whiti and Tohu were never brought to trial as the politicians feared they would not be found guilty. Instead they were removed to Christchurch prison in the South Island. Christchurch had been founded in 1839 as a model community of Anglicans based on the city of Oxford. Here the two Maori leaders were admired by many of the city elders. They were given tweed suits and a meal of tinned lobster and taken on outings to show off the advanced technology and ‘civilisation’ of the European settlers. Te Whiti when asked if he had been impressed said he had liked the river. He claimed, “ …indeed the Pakeha (white settlers) did have some useful technology but not the kindness of heart to see that Maori also possessed much great technology, which if Pakeha were prepared to adopt, would lead to stability and peace and the building of a great new society”.

Parihaka restored

In 1883 after the British governor in New Zealand had pleaded the Maoris’ case in the House of Commons in London, Te Whiti and Tohu were released and taken back to Parihaka. Here they helped rebuild the village in a modern mixed European and Maori style. Both leaders continued to live there until their deaths in the early 1900s.

The political and social context for Te Whiti’s passive resistance differed in significant ways from Gandhi’s, three generations later. The Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 had given Great Britain sovereignty over New Zealand and the Maori rights as British citizens. In 1854 a New Zealand Parliament met for the first time and the British crown showed little interest in this small colony 12,000 miles away. Te Whiti was fighting for the right of Maori to live independent lives on their own lands but in peaceful coexistence with European settlers who were arriving in boatloads on assisted passages. His fight was with these settlers and their leaders rather than with the full might of the British Empire.

Given the difficulties and limitations of international communication at the time, Te Whiti’s passive resistance received less media attention in Britain and the wider world than Gandhi’s. His actions did not fit the white settler view of the colonisation of New Zealand and so were largely ignored by white historians until recently.

However as with Gandhi, powerful opinion in both the colony and London was divided as to the rights and wrongs of the Maori case. Several Maori challenged the government’s land claims in the courts and by personal entreaty to Queen Victoria. Unlike Gandhi, Te Whiti refused to take part in these actions.

Te Whiti and his followers in Parihaka lived simply but were not averse to using modern, European technology. They willingly offered hospitality to any European settlers even opponents. Large crowds came to hear Te Whiti speak, as he was a gifted and charismatic orator.

Te Whiti believed not only in total nonviolence, or ahimsa, but also in satyagraha, or civil disobedience, by resisting the surveying of Maori land through the actions of the ploughers and the fencers. He argued that Maoris should never sell their land but his vision was that Maoris would continue to live according to their traditional customs and beliefs in peaceful coexistence with European settlers. His traditional Maori spirituality was combined with a sound knowledge and belief in the Christian bible.

For these beliefs Te Whiti was willing to spend time in prison and to put his own and his followers lives at risk. As Gandhi said “I am willing to die for many causes but not to kill”.

Gandhi is officially recognised in India as “The father of the nation”. Te Whiti certainly does not receive such recognition in his homeland except perhaps amongst the Maoris. The European settlers continued taking over Maori land, and in the twentieth century many Maoris were forced to move to the cities, thereby often losing touch with their tribe and traditional customs. Discrimination often also led to unemployment, poverty and other social problems.

However, almost one hundred years after Te Whiti’s civil disobedience campaign against land seizures, New Zealand was forced to acknowledge the injustices that had been committed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1975 led to formal apologies and the setting up of a Tribunal to settle Maori land claims.

Significant places regained their Maori place names. Aoraki – Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand returned to the Ngai Tahu tribe, who the same day gave it back to the nation, their mana restored. Mana, an important concept in Maori culture, refers to authority or reputation and it is keeping this alive within the Maori communities that is perhaps Te Whiti’s greatest legacy.

Further Reading

Scott, Dick. Ask That Mountain: The Story of Parihaka. Auckland: Heinemann/Southern Cross. 1975.
Riseborough, Hazel. Days of Darkness: Taranaki 1878-1884. Revised ed. Auckland: Penguin 2002.
Walker, Peter. The Fox Boy London: Bloomsbury. 2001.
King, Michael. The Penguin History of New Zealand Auckland: Penguin 2003.
The Lyttelton Times November 7th 1881.

Helena Nielsen, a former social work tutor and present peace activist came across the story of Te Whiti during a two month stay in New Zealand.

The Symbolism of the White Feather in History

The white feather in history has been both a symbol of peace and paradoxically a symbol of cowardice.
As a symbol of cowardice, the Oxford University Dictionary dates the first appearance of the term “showing the white feather” as 1795. The term comes from cock fighting, when a white feather indicated cross breeding and therefore inferior fighting ability.

In 1902 A E W Mason wrote a story about a British officer whose resignation, being seen as a sign of cowardice, led to his receiving four white feathers, three from fellow officers and one from a lady. Ashamed the officer goes to fight in the British Sudanese war of 1882 and then returning to England gives back the feathers.

Following this story, a month after the outbreak of the First World War, a retired Admiral, Penrose Fitzgerald, formed a band of 30 women to give educated men who were not in uniform a white feather to encourage them to enlist and set an example to the working class. The custom soon caught on throughout the country but became unpopular when disabled men or those in essential industries were mistakenly given feathers. The government responded by casting a badge with King and Country on it for those legitimately entitled not to enlist.

Allegedly the first recorded use of the white feather as a symbol of peace was inEaston, New York State. In 1775, Quakers there, when faced with a crowd of Indian warriors, decided to sit in silence to show that they were peaceful. After searching the meeting-house for weapons, the Indian Chief attached a white feather above the door of the meeting-house to show others that the Quakers were not to be harmed.

The white feather is still displayed as a symbol of peace by the community of Parihaka which holds an international peace conference every year in memory of Te Whiti and Tohu’s passive resistance.

Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict: What we can learn from Gandhi – by Norman G. Finkelstein

The following article was delivered as the Tans Lecture, Maastricht University, Netherlands on 13th November 2008. The numbers in brackets mark footnotes.

“This lecture will divide into three parts.  First, I will lay out the terms of the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Second, I will sketch Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance.  Third, I will assess the relevance of Gandhi’s doctrine for the Israel-Palestine conflict.  I will argue that a moral legal consensus is a prerequisite for Gandhi’s doctrine to succeed.  In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict such a consensus does exist, and consequently those seeking a just and lasting peace might benefit from giving Gandhi’s doctrine a serious hearing.

I.  What is the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

One of the best kept diplomatic secrets is that a broad international consensus has long existed on how to settle the Israel-Palestine conflict. (1)   Although this conflict has been depicted as among the most intricate, the authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies in the world in fact concur on the basis of its resolution.  In the jargon of the so-called peace process, the “final status” issues are supposed to be so intractable that they need be deferred until the last stage of negotiations.  These final status issues include borders, East Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees.  The documentary record shows, however, that, on the terms for resolving these allegedly “controversial” issues, Israel and the United States stand virtually alone.

The United Nations General Assembly annually votes on a resolution titled, “Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine.”  This resolution uniformly includes these tenets for “achieving a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”:

  1. “Affirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”;
  2. “Affirming also the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the territory occupied since 1967 and of Israeli actions aimed at changing the status of Jerusalem”;
  3. “Stresses the need for: (a) The realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination; (b) The withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”;
  4. “Also stresses the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948.”

Here is the recorded vote on this resolution the past decade:

UN voting record on "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine"

Fig. 1: UN voting record on "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine"

In 2004 the International Court of Justice rendered a landmark advisory opinion on the legality of the wall Israel has been constructing in the West Bank.(2)   The Court inventoried these “rules and principles of international law which are relevant in assessing the legality of the measures taken by Israel”:

  1. “No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”;
  2. “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967” have “no legal validity.”

In its subsequent deliberations on “whether the construction of the wall has violated those rules and principles,” the Court found that:

[B]oth the General Assembly and the Security Council have referred, with regard to Palestine, to the customary rule of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”….It is on this same basis that the [Security] Council has several times condemned the measures taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem.

As regards the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination,…the existence of a “Palestinian people” is no longer in issue….[Its] rights include the right to self-determination.

Israel has conducted a policy and developed practices involving the establishment of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.

Not one of the 15 judges sitting on the ICJ registered dissent from these basic principles and findings.  It can scarcely be said however that they evinced prejudice against Israel, or that it was a “kangaroo court” (Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz).(3)   Several of the judges, although voting with the majority, expressed profound, perhaps undue, sympathy for Israel in their respective separate opinions.  If the judges were nearly of one mind in their final determination, this consensus sprang not from collective prejudice but the factual situation: the uncontroversial nature of the legal principles at stake and Israel’s uncontroversial breach of them.  Even the one judge voting against the 14-person majority condemning Israel’s construction of the wall, Thomas Buergenthal from the U.S., was at pains to stress that there was “much” in the advisory opinion “with which I agree.”  On the crucial question of Israeli settlements he stated: “Paragraph 6 of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention…does not admit for exception on grounds of military or security exigencies.  It provides that ‘the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.’  I agree that this provision applies to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and that their existence violates Article 49, paragraph 6.”

A broad international consensus has also crystallized upholding the Palestinian “right of return.”  We have already seen that the annual United Nations resolution, supported overwhelmingly by member States, calls for a settlement of the refugee question on the basis of resolution 194, which “resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return.”(4)   In addition, respected human rights organizations “urge Israel to recognize the right to return for those Palestinians, and their descendants, who fled from territory that is now within the State of Israel, and who have maintained appropriate links with that territory” (Human Rights Watch), and “call for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return” (Amnesty International).

The documentary record clearly demonstrates that whereas the global community has consistently registered its support in numerous forums for a two-state settlement based on a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 border, and a resolution of the refugee question based on the right of return and compensation, Israel and the United States have consistently rejected such a settlement.  The Arab League has unanimously supported a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border and a “just” resolution of the refugee question based on 194, and Hamas has endorsed a settlement on these terms,(5)  while the Palestinian Authority has not only accepted the terms of the global consensus but expressed willingness to make major concessions.(6)   The challenge for those seeking a just and lasting peace is to get Israel and the United States to respect international law and public opinion.  A possible strategy is the one pioneered by Gandhi, to which I now turn.

II.  What is Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence?

Before sketching Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance or satyagraha(7)  I must enter several caveats.  Gandhi’s collected works come to some 90 volumes, each of which runs to 500 pages.  Due to time constraints I was able to peruse only 23 of these volumes,(8)  as well as a raft of anthologies,(9)  biographies and scholarly studies.  Accordingly my remarks will be partial in a single and perhaps double sense.  They won’t encompass the full scope of his reflections.  My reading intentionally focused on the period 1933-1942 when Gandhi’s doctrine was put to the severest tests.  It is also arguable that because of this circumscribed reading I will have missed crucial transitions and ruptures in his thought, presenting a snapshot of a mind at work rather than the moving picture.  Here, it seems I am on firmer ground, however.  Gandhi lived a long, rich life, and one relentlessly subjected to self-scrutiny.  Nonetheless he remained remarkably consistent in his bedrock beliefs.(10)   He acknowledges local errors(11)  and reversals of judgment(12)  but there are no “Gods that Failed” recantations or “Second Thoughts” revelations.  His one systematic philosophical exposition is a modest, seemingly eccentric volume titled Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) which he quickly penned in 1909.(13)   Rereading this book 30 years later, Gandhi expressed full satisfaction with it.(14)

To be sure, Gandhi’s concrete application of his doctrine appears replete with contradictions.  Asserting that “my nonviolence cannot deviate from what is practical,” Gandhi could sanction “calling in the army and having a handful of men shot” to stop inter-communal rioting.(15)   The world’s most famous exponent of nonviolence recruited an ambulance corps for the British side in the Boer War and Zulu War,(16)  again offered to raise an ambulance corps to serve the British army during World War I, and then recruited Indians to take up arms and fight in the war.(17)   Throughout his life he averred that such active wartime partisanship did not contradict his commitment to nonviolence.(18)   It must be said that on this point (and many others), the defenses he adduced for his practical activity did not carry conviction.(19)   Although trained as a barrister, Gandhi was not a persuasive arguer.  Interrogated by a shrewd critic, he seldom had a compelling repartee and more often than not lapsed into mumbo-jumbo,(20)  although, humble as he indubitably was, Gandhi seemed always to believe that he had bested his interlocutors.(21)   He was also given to render sweeping verdicts on competing philosophies such as socialism although conceding that “I have read no books on the subject.”(22)

Gandhi liked to quote Emerson, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”(23)   Regrettably for the little minds endeavoring to interpret his work, Gandhi was a consistent exponent of this quip.  He can maintain that “in any examination of moral conduct, the intention is the chief ingredient,”(24)  and simultaneously maintain it is right that “we normally look at the action and not at the intention.”(25)   He can deplore as a species of violence “a living wall of pickets in order to prevent the entry of persons into picketed places,”(26)  yet at the same time suggest to an Indian correspondent whose seat at the cinema was grabbed by a British soldier to “deliberately so to stand as to obstruct the view of the usurper.”(27)   He can state in one breath that even in “the classical instance of the defenseless sister or mother who is threatened with molestation by an evil-minded ruffian,” use of violence would not be permissible,(28)  yet in the next breath state that he would “defend” use of violence “against the whole world if I found myself in a corner when I could not save a helpless girl from violation.”(29)  He can avow that his “sympathies are wholly with the Allies” during World War II because “this war is resolving itself into one between such democracy as the West has evolved and totalitarianism as it is typified in Hitler,”(30)  and that “There is a fundamental difference between Fascism and even this imperialism which I am fighting,”(31)  yet simultaneously avow that “Hitlerism and Churchillism are in fact the same thing,” and that “I must fight Nazism and Fascism equally with the enslaving British imperialism.”(32)   He can praise the decision of French statesmen not to resist Nazi aggression because “the cause of liberty becomes a mockery if the price to be paid is wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty,”(33)  yet also assert that “no greater evil can befall a country than that it should lose its independence,”(34)  and that nations occupied by the Nazis, as well as German Jews, should elect annihilation rather than cooperate with the occupiers.(35)

To his credit it must nonetheless be said that Gandhi never shied away from giving critics of his pronouncements and policy a fair hearing.  In conveying an intellectual or political dispute, he did not rig its terms to favor him or create straw men.  It should perhaps also be noted in his defense that Gandhi conceived himself “essentially a man of action and a reformer,” a “practical reformer,”(36)  and that “no one is able to act upon a great principle, like that of nonviolence, in its entirety.”(37)   Logical consistency no doubt figured as a low priority compared to getting things done.

Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine is not altogether amenable to rational analysis for other reasons as well.  He never produced a programmatic or systematic guide on satyagraha.  One has to piece together its theory and practice from scattered, often contradictory, confusing and obscure fragments.  He indifferently conflated categories and collapsed distinctions.  Moreover, Gandhi’s doctrine was steeped in religious faith.  “It is faith that sustains me, and it is faith that must sustain the other satyagrahis.”(38)   Although eager to recruit satyagrahis for the struggle, Gandhi was emphatic that communists and other nonbelievers need not apply.(39)   When he decided to embark on civil disobedience or a fast, it was not after a secular reckoning of the “balance of forces,” but after an “inner urge,” “inner voice,” or “gift from God” prompted him.(40)   Gandhi denoted nonviolence a “science,”(41)  and conceived satyagraha not as a closed system but ceaseless experimentation in a perpetual and always incomplete search for truth.  But his was a science not susceptible to external proof or refutation; its power drew from the “efficacy of the incalculable force of inscrutable divinity.”(42)   If it failed to produce the desired outcome, this demonstrated not an inadequacy of the theory but an impurity lurking in the soul of its human agents.(43)   He might be right, but it is hard to figure how one could prove him wrong, just as one is rendered impotent before his ex cathedra pronouncements and saccharine homilies such as nonviolence, buoyed by the assistance of God, being the most potent of forces in the world.(44)   Gandhi asserted proprietary right over this science as “the author of satyagraha and general in satyagraha action,”(45)  the “sole authority on satyagraha” and the “most experienced satyagrahi.”(46)   He was uniquely privy to the mysteries of satyagraha;(47)  one could not argue with him about it—“I am confident that God has made me the instrument of showing the better way”;(48)  one could only march lock step—or elect not to—behind him.(49)   Gandhi eschewed all sectarian “isms,” including “Gandhism”—“I love to hear the words: ‘Down with Gandhism.’  An ‘ism’ deserves to be destroyed.”(50)   But the not altogether satisfying substitute he offered was a doctrine that often had the feel of autocratic whimsy.  He had an (as it were) party line not just on sexual abstinence but on “idle jokes” (opposed), “innocent pleasantries” (perhaps),(51)  and reading in the toilet (opposed).  He sometimes sounds like Stalin pronouncing on linguistics, although deviationists might be banished from his Ashram but not deported to the Gulag.(52)

It further warrants notice that the better known aspects of Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine such as civil disobedience and non-cooperation, which I will focus on in this lecture, were for him the least significant.(53)   He situated satyagraha in a matrix of practical, diurnal activities, what he called the “constructive program,”(54)  that formed the “foundation for civil disobedience.”(55)   Its constituents embraced ridding Hinduism of the “blot” of untouchability, fostering Hindu-Muslim unity, and promoting use on a mass scale of the spinning wheel (tcharka) and handspun cloth (khadi).  On this (as it were) material basis, he believed, Indians could forge unbreakable bonds of unbounded love that transcended religious sect and class, thereby rendering political confrontation with Great Britain superfluous; complete independence (purna swaraj) would thence like a ripe fruit drop into India’s lap, and the nonviolent future of India would be safeguarded.  “If we learn to love one another, if the gulf between Hindu and Muslim, caste and outcaste, and rich and poor is obliterated,” Gandhi predicted, “a handful of English would not dare to continue their rule over us.”(56)

All of which is to say, Gandhi would almost certainly fault my exercise in today’s lecture for denaturing his doctrine: a rational core of satyagraha cannot be extracted from the religious content coursing through it and the religious renaissance presupposing and ensuing from it.  “It is impossible that a thing essentially of the soul,” he intoned, “can be imparted through the intellect.”(57)   Nonetheless, speaking as a resolute nonbeliever and rationalist, I am convinced that he has something useful to say on the subject of nonviolent resistance.  It will be for you to decide whether I am right.

What is satyagraha?

The “votary” of nonviolent civil resistance, according to Gandhi, “must not be violent in thought, word or deed,”(58)  in fact, must be “incapable of feeling or harboring anger.”(59)   The animating impulse of Gandhi’s doctrine is not however a negative “non”-principle but the affirmative or “active” principle of “unadulterated love—fellow-feeling,”(60)  which in turn springs from “faith in the inherent goodness of human nature,”(61)  and the belief that “what holds good in respect of yourself holds good equally in respect of the whole universe.  All mankind are alike.”(62)   Love, he professed, was the dominant factor in human existence—“Had violence, i.e., hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago”(63) —whereas the apparent omnipresence of violence is an optical illusion— “History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul.”(64)   Just as “families and even clans” manage to resolve conflicts nonviolently due to the binding powers of love, so can “humankind” which is “one big family.”(65)   Gandhi’s faith in the essential goodness of humankind stretched credulity to its limits.  During World War II he wrote a “Dear Friend” letter to Hitler in which he averred not “to believe that you are the monster described by your opponents,” albeit acknowledging that “many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity.”(66)

Because love informs it, satyagraha excludes violence.  It also eschews inflicting indirect, non-physical forms of coercion such as fear and “embarrassment.”(67)   Rather it should rely exclusively on the “self-purification” that comes of self-suffering—“the more innocent and pure the suffering the more potent it will be in its effect”(68) —to arouse from its slumber the conscience of wrongdoers in order “to convert, not to coerce”(69)  them.  In another iteration, he invests in the transforming powers not of self-suffering per se but the “upwelling of love and pity towards the wrongdoer.”(70)

Gandhi deplored resort to violence on both personal/moral and political/pragmatic grounds.  It corrupts the individual who is degraded to the level of a beast—“That which distinguishes man from all other animals is his capacity to be nonviolent”(71) —but it also corrupts the goal of enlightened political action.  However just the cause, because means and ends are ineluctably intertwined—“The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree”(72) —the use of violence as a political weapon cannot but bring forth a power configuration in which the “strong and mighty” dominate and the “blind, the halt and the maimed” remain disenfranchised:(73)  “violence may destroy one or more bad rulers, but…others will pop up in their places.”(74)   Even—or especially—in the face of Axis aggression, the use of armed force was to be opposed because the Allies could inflict a defeat on the Axis only by becoming “stronger than they are, and therefore worse and more ruthless”;(75)  “that would mean no deliverance from Nazism,”(76)  but “superior Nazism.”(77)   Victor will have become vanquished, while “such a victory must mean another preparation for a war more inhuman than the present, as this one had proved more inhuman than the last.”(78)   On both practical and theoretical levels, Gandhi’s argument is wanting.  While hardly ideal, the Allied states emerging from World War II did not exactly mirror let alone surpass in brutality Nazi Germany.  In addition, Gandhi postulates that nonviolent resistance could not produce inferior results to violent resistance: “either the enemy comes to terms with you, then you win without blood; or the enemy annihilates you.  This last solution is not worse than what a violent war in any case brings about.”(79)   He willfully ignores the real possibility that nonviolence will have failed to stop the Nazis, whereas violence, however costly, will have succeeded short of the Allies’ total annihilation.  It is more difficult to counter Gandhi’s assertion that, once having imitated Nazi methods, a cause “cannot be called just”(80) —except to eke out exiguous distinctions between Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

Gandhi did not, however, unqualifiedly repudiate violence.  Until and unless he converted others to his beliefs, Gandhi accepted the validity of current norms.  Thus, while personally unable to condone it, he did acknowledge the legitimacy of resorting to violence in a righteous cause; “self-defense is everybody’s birthright.”(81)   In the face of personal insult,  and “if you feel humiliated, you will be justified in slapping the bully in the face or taking whatever action you might deem necessary to vindicate your self-respect.”(82)   And although “not defending the Arab excesses” during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt in Palestine, and although “wishing they had chosen the way of nonviolence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country,” Gandhi nonetheless maintained that “according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”(83)

However much he deplored violence, Gandhi did deem it much preferable to inaction in the face of injustice.  Should one be incapable of nonviolently resisting an outrage, the only honorable option would be to resist violently, whereas flight would be wholly shameful.  For, if there was one thing Gandhi detested more than violence, it was “mute submissiveness”(84) —and what was yet worse, such submissiveness masquerading as nonviolent resistance.  He regarded not violence but pusillanimity and effeminateness as the most contemptible of personal failings while he prized the virtues—which a true satyagrahi perforce nurtured—of courage and manliness: “The fundamental thing to be borne in mind is that people should, under no circumstances, be cowardly or impotent”; “it is unmanly to run away from danger.”(85)   Gandhi tersely defined the “aim of the satyagraha struggle” he led in South Africa as being “to infuse manliness in cowards.”(86)   In a scalding denunciation of ersatz nonviolence, and in a passage that might easily have been cribbed from Nietzsche, Gandhi lectured:

Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of resistance.  A helpless mouse is not nonviolent because he is always eaten by pussy.  He would gladly eat the murderess if he could, but he ever tries to flee from her.  We do not call him a coward, because he is made by nature to behave no better than he does.  But a man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a mouse, is rightly called a coward.  He harbors violence and hatred in his heart and would kill his enemy if he could without being hurt himself.  He is a stranger to nonviolence.  All sermonizing on it will be lost on him.  Bravery is foreign to his nature.  Before he can understand nonviolence he has to be taught to stand his ground and even suffer death in the attempt to defend himself against the aggressor who bids fair to overwhelm him.  To do otherwise would be to confirm his cowardice and take him further away from nonviolence.  Whilst I may not actually help anyone to retaliate, I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence so called.  Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it is fraught with danger to one’s life.  As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief….Self-defense…is the only honorable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.(87)

And again, in another Nietzschean flourish:

Hence I ask you, is our nonviolence the nonviolence of the coward, the weak, the helpless, the timid?  In that case, it is of no value.  A weakling is a born saint.  A weak person is obliged to become a saint.  But we are soldiers of nonviolence, who, if the occasion demands, will lay down their lives for it.  Our nonviolence is not a mere policy of the coward.  But I doubt this.  I am afraid that the nonviolence we boast of might really be only a policy.  It is true that, to some extent, nonviolence works even in the hands of the weak.  And, in this manner, this weapon has been useful to us.  But, if one makes use of nonviolence in order to disguise one’s weakness…, it makes a coward of one.  Such a person is defeated on both fronts.  Such a one cannot live like a man and the Devil he surely cannot become.  It is a thousand times better that we die trying to acquire the strength of arm[s].  Using physical force with courage is far superior to cowardice.  At least we would have attempted to act like men.(88)

Gandhi heaped praise on the “reckless courage” that soldiers displayed in battle and wanted “to learn…the art of throwing away my life for a noble cause”;(89) on the “example of Sparta,” because “though they were an armed people and also few, they laid down their lives but would not leave their places”;(90)  and on the typical “Pathan [Pashtun] boy” because he is “fearless.  If there is bloodshed he does not hide himself in his house.  He finds pleasure in fighting.  He does not stop to think that he might be injured or even killed.  He is never afraid of being hurt.  I have seen one standing unmoved in the midst of blood gushing from his many wounds.”(91)   On the other hand, Gandhi (mistakenly) criticized the German Jews for pretending to nonviolence yet nourishing violent revenge on the Nazis (“There is no nonviolence in their hearts.  Their nonviolence, if it may be so called, is of the helpless and the weak”),(92)  and the cowardice of his disciples who elected milder to evade severer sanctions (“The nonviolence of the person who went to jail to avoid a worse fate harmed him and disgraced the cause which he used as a shelter to escape death”).(93)   But he also freely conceded in poignant detail his own failure to rise to the heroic standard he set.(94)

In addition, Gandhi rejected nonviolence borne of weakness as being politically ineffectual.  If the votaries of nonviolence abjure force only from dread of violent retaliation, then the wrongdoer has every right to dread what might ensue should they attain power and acquire its instruments.  In order to convince the wrongdoer that one’s nonviolence was not born of weakness, one needed manifest a willingness to forego violence even when no prospect of violent retaliation impended, say, where the votaries of nonviolence outnumbered and outgunned the wrongdoer.  The nonviolence of “India as a nation…is that of the weak,” Gandhi lamented.  “If she were nonviolent in the consciousness of her strength, Englishmen would lose their role of distrustful conquerors….If we, as Indians, could but for a moment visualize ourselves as a strong people disdaining to strike, we should cease to fear Englishmen whether as soldiers, traders or administrators, and they to distrust us.”(95)   And again: “The moment Englishmen feel that although they are in India in a hopeless minority, their lives are protected against harm not because of the matchless weapons of destruction which are at their disposal, but because Indians refuse to take the lives even of those whom they may consider to be utterly in the wrong, that moment will see a transformation in the English nation in its relation to India.”(96)   Yet, it would appear that practical realities—think of inmates in a concentration camp—would often preclude such a demonstration of strength.  It will also be noticed Gandhi’s naïve premise that the fundamental barrier dividing British and Indians was psychological (“fear”) and not a material clash of interests.

In any event, on both personal/moral and political/pragmatic grounds, Gandhi insisted that true nonviolent resistance had to be yet more brave and strong than violent resistance: only such nonviolence could redeem its votary and convert the wrongdoer.  “An army of nonviolence exposes itself to all the risks that an army of violence does,” he declared.  “Only the latter expects to retaliate even when it is not the aggressor.  An army of nonviolence runs risks without the wish to retaliate”;(97)  “I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed with his breast bare before the enemy.”(98)   Such an “army” had to accept—indeed embrace—the prospect of mutely subjecting itself to mass slaughter.(99)   Into the valley of death it must headlong march, unarmed yet “smilingly”(100)  and “cheerfully”;(101)  “if we are to train ourselves to receive the bullet wounds or bayonet charges in our bare chests, we must accustom ourselves to standing unmoved in the face of cavalry or baton charges.”(102)   “Wherein is courage required,” he rhetorically asked, “in blowing others to pieces from behind a cannon or with a smiling face to approach a cannon and to be blown to pieces?  Who is the true warrior—he who keeps death always as a bosom-friend or he who controls the death of others?”(103)   “What I shall expect of you,” he lectured the “officers” of his army, “is that even if someone subjects you to the most inhuman tortures, you will joyfully face the ordeal and make the supreme sacrifice with God’s name on your lips and without a trace of fear or anger or thoughts of revenge in your hearts.”(104)   And in a macabre peroration, he avowed, “That nation is great which rests its head upon death as its pillow.”(105)   It might be said of Gandhi that he created a cult of the dead.  “Whilst therefore I tender my sympathy to the parents of the two brave lads who lost their lives,” he said following the murder of these disciples,

my inmost desire is to congratulate them for the finished sacrifices of their sons, if they would accept my congratulations.  A warrior’s death is never a matter of sorrow, still less that of a satyagrahi warrior.  One of the lessons that a nation yearning for freedom needs to learn is to shed several fears of losing title, wealth, position, fear of imprisonment, of bodily injury and lastly of death.(106)

How satyagraha works

Although he asserted that satyagraha was not just nonviolent but also non-coercive, the means Gandhi deployed in his civil resistance campaigns actually ranged on a continuum alloying coercion and abnegation.(107)  At one pole was what he called “non-cooperation” that rendered society ungovernable for political elites  and enterprises insolvent for economic elites.(108)  Insofar as the satyagrahi faced the loss of a paycheck, punitive sanctions, even internment and death, non-cooperation also entailed varying degrees of self-suffering.(109)   At the opposite extreme was a tactic such as fasting which plainly contained a large component of self-suffering but which was also coercive, however vehemently Gandhi might deny this.(110)   Occupying the middle ground between these poles were various forms of civil disobedience, which contained equal parts coerciveness (breaking the law) and self-suffering (going to jail, paying fines).  In the ensuing remarks I put to one side a very powerful if latent form of violence lurking in all of Gandhi’s activities, which he was fully aware of and which he fully exploited: if the British didn’t acquiesce in his nonviolence, they would have to cope with wholesale violent resistance: “I have claimed in private correspondence with English friends that it is because of my incessant preaching of the gospel of nonviolence and my having successfully demonstrated its practical utility that so far the forces of violence, which are undoubtedly in existence…, have remained under complete control.”(111)

The coercive potency of non-cooperation such as a general strike for getting the lords of the land to see the light requires little elucidation.(112)   Gandhi stressed that even non-cooperation “must have its roots in love.  Its object should not be to punish the opponent or to inflict injury upon him….we must make him feel that in us he has a friend and we should try to reach his heart.”(113)   And again: “We do want to paralyze the Government considered as a system—not, however, by intimidation, but by the irresistible pressure of our innocence.”(114)   He did allow that as a “practical” matter even if non-cooperation sprang from the “nonviolence of the weak”—i.e., not from love but from fear of violent retribution—it could still be efficacious “if a sufficient number of people practice it.”(115)   But Gandhi adamantly refused to concede that, however much “love” and “innocence” might assuage the abrasiveness of a conflict,(116)  it remains that the operative factor at play in non-cooperation is coercive.(117)

The focus of Gandhi’s creed, however, was the transformative power of pristine self-suffering, and here yet more problems arise.  He believed that such suffering would put on public display the “human dignity”(118)  of the victim and thereby “quicken the conscience,”(119)   strike a “sympathetic chord,”(120)  and “evoke by his truth and love expressed through his suffering” the “inherent goodness of human nature”;(121)   “the world is touched by sacrifice,”(122)  “it can tame the wildest beast, certainly the wildest man.”(123)   The satyagrahi will then be well-placed to “mobilize public opinion against the evil which he is out to eradicate, by means of a wide and intensive agitation”;(124)  “success is the certain result of suffering of the extremist character, voluntarily undergone.”(125)

It is not clear however why suffering in and of itself—or, for that matter, allied with “love”—would convert the alleged wrongdoer.  Were the “pro-life” half of the American population to engage in civil disobedience or even a fast unto the death, the “pro-choice” half would hardly be converted by such a spectacle.  For, it is not suffering alone that touches but suffering in the pursuit of a legitimate goal.  The recognition of the legitimacy of such a goal presumes however a preexisting consensus according to which what the victim seeks he justly deserves.  Gandhi accordingly referred to the victim’s “innocence.”(126)   It is innocence in a double sense: of means—the victim’s suffering results from unilateral violence inflicted by others—and of ends—the victim seeks a right that cannot in good conscience be denied because it jibes with the “normal moral sense of the world”;(127)  the more incontrovertible the ends, the more self-suffering as a means will resonate with “enlightened public opinion.”(128)   In this light it is to be doubted the efficacy of self-suffering before wrongdoers who are convinced, either due to an inimical interest or inimical ideology or—what’s often the case—both, that the demands of the victim lack justice.  Gandhi himself acknowledges that his adversary might be as convinced in the rightness of his opinions as Gandhi is of his own (“I realize what may appear to me prejudice may be enlightenment to others”);(129)  that he must be open to the possibility that his interlocutor might be right and he wrong (“The royal road of nonviolence consists of…willingness to understand another’s point of view with an unprejudiced mind”);(130)  and that in any event a sincerely-held opinion cannot easily be dislodged (“It is difficult to combat an honest belief, however erroneous it may be”).(131)  But then why should one suppose that the alleged wrongdoer will be converted by the suffering of those in pursuit of an admittedly doubtful goal?  On its own, self-suffering might induce some degree of pity but it surely won’t induce fundamental concessions.  Gandhi makes the commendable point that if the goal turns out to be mistaken, one’s suffering will have done no harm to the alleged wrongdoer: “He does not make others suffer for his mistakes.”(132)  But it does not alter the fact that hardened self-interest or ideology will almost certainly stifle the voice, inner or outer, of justice.  The point I want to make here finds vivid illustration in this passage from Gandhi: “Our triumph consists in thousands being led to the prisons like lambs to the slaughter-house.  If the lambs of the world had been willingly led, they would have long ago saved themselves from the butcher’s knife.  Our triumph consists again in being imprisoned for no wrong whatsoever.  The greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory.”(133)   If the injustice is morally assimilable, then innocence can, and likely will, prick the conscience.  But did millions of innocent Jews being led to the crematoria “like lambs to the slaughter-house” prick the Nazi conscience?  It might be said that they did not go voluntarily—theirs was “nonviolence of the weak” (under the circumstances how could it be otherwise?)—but if the Nazis could morally rationalize the extermination of one million Jewish children—whose innocence of means and ends could be purer?—it is probable that they would also have rationalized self-immolation.

I will now illustrate these propositions on consensus, interest and ideology with Gandhi’s key political interventions during the period I have concentrated on for this lecture:

Discrimination and immorality.  Gandhi expressly launched his satyagraha campaigns for social reform in the knowledge that a majority—however latent—supported his agenda.  The point of the campaign was not to create ex nihilo a constituency, but through self-suffering to “quicken the conscience” of an already existent broad consensus, “cultivating and ascertaining the opinion” of this natural constituency, and thereby bringing to bear the “force of public opinion.”(134)  Thus, in undertaking to remove the “blot” of untouchability by opening the doors of Hindu temples to the Harijans (“children of God”),(135)  Gandhi presumed that a majority of Hindus supported such a reform but needed the stimulus of satyagraha—fasting, picketing, prayers—to act finally on their consciences: “The whole idea of my fast is based on the belief that a large section of the people favor temple-entry, but they do not voice it.”(136)  (To be sure, the campaign against untouchability turned brutal and bloody, Gandhi meanwhile declaring, “Loss even of a few hundred lives will not be too great a price to pay for the freedom of the ‘untouchables.’  Only the martyrs must die clean.”)(137)  Likewise, in his campaign to rid India of the scourge of alcoholic consumption, Gandhi banked on the belief that “public opinion” could be consolidated around such a reform.(138)  When challenged why he did not also wage campaigns to rid India of other morally debasing indulgences such as gambling and the cinema, Gandhi candidly responded, “The drink evil has been recognized as such by the people of this land.  But the other evils are more or less fashionable.”(139)   And again: “These vices were fashionable and therefore were not capable of being dealt with like prohibition.  I claim to be a practical reformer.  I know almost instinctively what vices are ripe for being publicly dealt with.”(140)   Put otherwise, absent a prior consensus no amount of self-suffering would move public opinion to do the right thing.  Gandhi did also profess that self-suffering would “finally break the wall of prejudice”(141) of those violently opposed to his social reforms—“the hardest heart and the grossest ignorance,” “the stoniest heart of the stoniest fanatic”(142) —and “melt the hearts” of those profiting from vice.(143)  Yet, the thrust of his campaigns was clearly to energize a latently sympathetic public via self-suffering, and utilize this “force of public opprobrium”(144) in order to democratically overrule or socially isolate or force the capitulation of or reach a principled compromise with(145) the diehards.

Economic inequality.  Gandhi cast himself as the voice of India’s impoverished “dumb millions”:(146)  “I unhesitatingly say that I am a people’s man.  Every moment of my life I feel for the starving millions.  I live and am prepared to lay down my life to relieve their sufferings and mitigate their miseries.”(147)  He conceived swaraj as not just political independence (“mere transfer of power”), but “complete deliverance of the toiling yet starving millions from the dreadful evil of economic serfdom” and “independence of the poorest and the lowliest in the land”; “unless poverty and unemployment are wiped out from India, I would not agree that we have attained freedom.”(148)  He also adopted a stringent, austere code of what constituted just deserts in a well-ordered society: “A thing not originally stolen must nevertheless be classified as stolen property if we possess it without needing it”; “each man shall have the wherewithal to supply all his natural needs and no more”; “all amassing or hoarding of wealth, above and beyond one’s legitimate requirements, was theft.”(149)  Eliminating “the cruel inequality that obtains today”(150)  constituted a prerequisite for eliminating societal violence: “A nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists.”(151)

However, as against the demand of Indian socialists and communists to expropriate large property-holders and nationalize the means of production, Gandhi championed the “theory of trusteeship,” according to which large property holders would be persuaded through nonviolent civil resistance to use their “excess”(152)  wealth for the betterment of society; “I do not believe that the capitalists and landlords are all exploiters by an inherent necessity or that there is a basic or irreconcilable antagonism between their interests and those of the masses.”(153)   I will not here argue the merits of Gandhi’s alternative,(154)  but rather the practicability of the means he proposes for realizing it.  Occasionally Gandhi invests in the power of the laborers’ self-abnegation to convert property-owners from ruthless exploiters to enlightened guardians.  The property-owners will come to realize after “kind”(155)  gestures that they should not “squander [their] gains in luxurious or extravagant living, but must use them” for the poor:(156) “If we treat these rich people with decency, they would fulfill the expectations we have of them”; “If we win their confidence and put them at their ease we will find that they are not averse to progressively sharing their riches with the masses”; “We should struggle against them in the same way and for the same reason, as lovingly and reluctantly and with as much respect and politeness as we do against our blood-relations.”(157)  Moreover, he makes out that the irrational “fear and distrust” of the rich are the sole barriers to reconciliation with the poor.(158)   But when pressed hard Gandhi conceded that no precedent exists for his trusteeship proposal and that it was based on a giant leap of faith.(159)   Indeed, aren’t capitalists convinced—and, for all anyone knows, rightly—that the system is fair, rewarding the enterprising few and penalizing the slothful many?  However, Gandhi also instructs workers to organize and mobilize—that is, to realize their latent power—in order to get property-owners to equitably distribute their ill-gotten gains: “What is necessary is that laborers or workers should know their rights and should also know how to assert them”; “When the workers are better organized and more self-sacrificing, their power would grow.  You are not conscious of your strength and therefore you are oppressed”; “As soon as laborers are properly educated and organized and they realize their strength, no amount of capital can subdue them.  Organized and enlightened labor can dictate its own terms.”(160)   If the “rich” cannot be persuaded “to become guardians of the poor in the true sense of the term and the latter are more and more crushed and die of hunger,” then Gandhi advocated “nonviolent non-cooperation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means”: “The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor in society.”(161)  What Gandhi refused to acknowledge, however, is that although he abjured “so-called class-conflict,” counseling instead that “landlords and capitalists” be “persuaded and converted,”(162)  his practical prescription ultimately relied not on the beneficence of self-suffering but on the coercion of raw (if nonviolent) power.

Aggression and occupation.  In order to combat Axis aggression during World War II Gandhi advised conquered nations to lay down their arms and simply refuse to cooperate with the occupiers.  Once the Axis powers realized that they could not make profitable use of the annexed territories without the enslaved population’s acquiescence they would withdraw: in the face of “quiet, dignified and nonviolent defiance,” the “tyrant will not find it worth his while to go on with his terrorism,” and “he would certainly have been obliged to retire.”  Here was a tactic that made ultimate appeal not to the consciences or hearts of the occupiers(163) but their balance-sheets, i.e., rational self-interest.(164)  Where achievement of Axis goals required not the cooperation but removal of the occupied populations, or their outright extermination,(165) Gandhi alternatively professed that self-suffering could “melt”(166)  even Hitler’s heart, because “human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love.”(167)   Yet, if Hitler was genuinely persuaded of the necessity of lebensraum and the lethal iniquity of the Jews, why should suffering allied to love convert him?  Gandhi himself was apparently less than fully convinced of the efficacy of his tactic—at any rate in the here and now—for he also counseled Jews to go if need be mutely to their deaths, and believed that such a dignified demise would be their ultimate salvation: “If the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre [of Jews by Hitler]…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 the God-fearing, 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.”(168)   Perhaps so, but if the goal was to melt Hitler’s heart in the promise of earthly deliverance, then self-suffering must be reckoned a colossal failure.(169)   Of course, it might be argued that whatever recourse European Jewry made its fate was sealed while nonviolent resistance would have been most redemptive.(170)   But that is a matter apart from whether self-suffering is a viable tactic against ideological fanatics.

In this context it merits recalling that Gandhi’s nemesis in the epic struggle for Indian independence, Winston Churchill, was hardly persuaded by Indian suffering to dismantle the British Empire.  Between interest-cum-ideology on the one side, and the suffering of the Indian masses on the other, the former proved decisive.(171)  “The English Ministers are pursuing what they believe to be an honest policy,” Gandhi acknowledged.  “It is their honest belief that British rule in India has been, on the whole, for her good.  They honestly believe that under it India has advanced.”(172)  Should it then surprise that—contrary to Gandhi’s expectations—the self-suffering of Indians manifestly failed to touch British imperialists or that it failed to get “British commerce with India…purified of greed” and put on “terms of mutual help and…equally suited to both”?(173)  To be sure, although Gandhi spoke of wanting to “convert the administrators of the system,” he nonetheless qualified, “the conversion may or may not be willing.”(174)  And again: “to convert them or, if you will, even to drive them out of the country.”(175)  In fact, he conceived the struggle against British imperialism in terms of making India ungovernable through a combination of nonviolence, which neutralized British bayonets by rendering use of them an embarrassment, and non-cooperation, which nullified British authority by flouting it: “Whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by nonviolent non-cooperation”;(176)  “If, notwithstanding their desire to the contrary, they saw that their guns and everything they had created for the consolidation of their authority were useless because of our non-use of them, they could not do otherwise than bow to the inevitable and either retire from the scene, or remain on our terms, i.e., as friends to co-operate with us, not as rulers to impose their will upon us.”(177)  However much he professed otherwise,(178)  Gandhi did not endeavor to “quicken the conscience” of British imperialists but rather to coerce them, albeit nonviolently, into submission through “force of will.”(179)  But it is also true that he held out the hope of the “conversion” of the British “nation”—i.e., “public opinion”—through self-suffering: “I have deliberately used the word conversion.  For my ambition is no less than to convert the British people through nonviolence, and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India” (emphasis in original).(180)   The imperialists might have to be driven out, but the conscience of the people might yet be pricked.  Indeed, British public opinion could serve as a critical weapon for coercing dyed-in-the-wool British imperialists to leave India.

III.  What can supporters of a just peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict learn from Gandhi?

Before answering this question, a few preliminary remarks are in order.  Neither I nor anyone else has the right to tell Palestinians that they must renounce violent means to end the occupation.  As already noted, during the Arab Revolt in the 1930s Gandhi asserted that “according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”  I cannot see grounds for revising this judgment, except to note that the “accepted canons” today would mean the current laws of war (e.g., the inadmissibility of targeting civilians).  In fact, if they cannot find the moral reserves to practice nonviolence, according to Gandhi, then it is not only the right but the duty of Palestinians to hit back, and hit back hard, those who have wrecked their lives and violated their persons.  Palestinians are not obliged to acquiesce in assaults on their human dignity; quite the contrary, they have a responsibility to defend their dignity against such assaults, nonviolently if they can, violently if they must.  It might also be recalled that for Gandhi “no greater evil can befall a country than that it should lose its independence.”(181)  If I propose that Palestinians adopt Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance, it is not because they should be held—or hold themselves—accountable to a higher ethical standard, but rather because of a compelling pragmatic insight of his.  There is nothing violence can accomplish, Gandhi maintained, that nonviolence cannot accomplish—and with lesser loss of life.  As a general proposition, it is obviously impossible to prove.  Could the Allies have defeated Hitler had they resorted to nonviolent civil resistance, and with fewer than 60 million dead?  We will never know.  On the other hand, Palestinians suffered some 5,000 dead (1,000 minors) during the second intifada, and the Israelis 1,000 dead (160 minors).  Apart from the dubious blessing of Israel’s redeployment in Gaza, Palestinians have little to show for the violent resistance; indeed, nearly all the reckonings after eight years of bloodletting fall squarely in the debit column.  It is at least arguable that the balance-sheet would have been better had Palestinians en masse adopted nonviolent civil resistance.

But didn’t Palestinians embrace this strategy during the first intifada, and didn’t it fail?  True, the first intifada was overwhelmingly nonviolent,(182)  although Israel hardly responded in kind.(183)  However, it is fundamentally mistaken to reckon the uprising a failure.  The surpassing courage, integrity, humanity, solidarity and sheer cleverness of the Palestinian people during those years—which I had the unforgettable honor of personally witnessing—threw the Israeli occupation army into professional, morale and moral disarray from which it has never fully recovered,(184)  while Israel’s brutal methods of repression caused it to suffer a public relations disaster of the first magnitude.(185)  If the Palestinian leadership under Yasir Arafat had not subverted the first intifada, stifling its élan and subordinating it to a dead-end diplomatic game, the outcome might have been different.  As it was, Israel entered into negotiations with the PLO and subsequently signed the Oslo Accord because the intifada had rendered the occupation untenable except through the conscription of Palestinian collaborators.(186)

We have already seen that a crucial prerequisite for the successful prosecution of nonviolent resistance is a preexisting public consensus on the legitimacy of its goals.  We have also seen that such a consensus has crystallized in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  The international community has enjoined Israel’s full withdrawal from the territories it occupied in June 1967 and a resolution of the refugee question based on the right of return and compensation.  The challenge now—in Gandhi’s words—is to “cultivate” and “quicken” the conscience of this public.  In practical terms, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories would have to rivet international public opinion on the brutality of the occupation by resorting to nonviolent civil resistance; in the meantime their supporters abroad must publicize the factual record showing that international opinion—whether registered in its most representative bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, or its most enlightened bodies such as the International Court of Justice and respected human rights organizations—agrees on how to resolve the conflict, and that the only obstacles to its settlement are Israel and the United States.

It must be said here that significant lessons can be learned from the history of Zionism.  The Zionist movement made sure that each of the documents that conferred—or appeared to confer—international legitimacy became a veritable household reference.  Its leaders grasped how critical such legitimacy was in winning over public opinion and thereby achieving their goal.  Were it not for the concerted and sustained campaign of Zionist publicists, it is inconceivable that a one-sentence declaration uttered 90 years ago by a nondescript British foreign minister named Arthur Balfour, or a United Nations General Assembly resolution passed 60 years ago recommending the partition of Palestine, would still command near-universal recognition.  Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban famously said of the Partition Resolution that it was Israel’s “birth certificate.”  He did not exaggerate.  It ascertained that the State of Israel was not a bastard child of the international system but rather its legitimate and—at any rate, morally—irrevocable offspring.  It might also be noticed that the Zionist movement never rested on its laurels.  Just as it required discipline and organization to extract each of its certificates of legitimacy, so it also required tenacity to preserve these gains.  Neither the Balfour Declaration nor the Partition Resolution came easy, and renewed battles ensued after both victories against powerful forces that wanted to rescind them.(187)  The contrast with the Palestinian independence struggle could not be starker.  Each year the United Nations General Assembly issues the Palestinian people yet another birth certificate.  The General Assembly is far more representative of humankind today than it was in 1947, and the vote favoring a Palestinian state is consistently lopsided whereas the Partition Resolution just barely passed.  In addition, on nearly all the critical issues—borders, East Jerusalem, settlements—the Palestinians won a resounding victory and Israel suffered a resounding defeat in the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Considered as a certificate of legitimacy the near-unanimous ICJ opinion manifestly carried far greater weight than the unilateral declaration of a British government.  Yet—and herein lies the great tragedy—how many people even know of the annual General Assembly votes and the ICJ opinion?  These landmark victories, achieved largely due to the inhuman suffering and superhuman steadfastness of the Palestinian people, have been criminally squandered one after another.

A massive mobilization of Palestinians building on the non-cooperation tactics of the first intifada (commercial and tax strikes, popular committees) could again make the Israeli occupation ungovernable.  Is it so far-fetched to imagine an “army” of Palestinian satyagrahis converging on the Wall, their sole “weapons” a pick in one hand and a copy of the ICJ opinion in the other?  The ICJ stated that the Wall was illegal and must be dismantled.  The Palestinians would only be doing what the world should already have done a long time ago.  Who could fault them for enforcing the law?  No doubt Israel would fire on Palestinians and many would be killed.  But if their supporters in North America and Europe publicized the ICJ opinion, and if Palestinians found the inner wherewithal to persevere nonviolently, it seems probable that far, far fewer than 5,000 Palestinians would be killed before Israel were forced to desist.  No one writing abroad from the comfort and safety of his study can in good conscience urge such a strategy that entails so much death.  But Gandhi’s point nonetheless stands: if Palestinians have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay the ultimate price, doesn’t it make sense for them to pursue a strategy that has a better likelihood of success at a smaller human price?

A high profile publicity campaign in the West complementing nonviolent Palestinian civil resistance in the Occupied Territories would enhance the prospects of its success.  If the campaign targeted Israeli intransigence as the sole obstacle to a settlement, it would pave the way for making of Israel a pariah state, and then the implementation of sanctions against it.  The tenability of such a sanctions campaign depends, however, on international public opinion being first (or simultaneously) primed with knowledge of both the consensus for resolving the conflict and Israel’s refusal to abide it.  Such a campaign also cannot possibly succeed if Palestinian goals do not command international legitimacy, such as the occasional calls for eliminating the “Zionist entity” and embracing a “one-state” solution, which enjoy exactly zero international support.  Again, innocence of means does not suffice; innocence of ends is also requisite.  One might want to counter that the consensus is not the solution but part of the problem, and must be changed.  Perhaps so, but then Palestinians suffering under occupation should be informed that they will have to endure it for many more generations to come.  For, it is no small task to reconfigure enlightened public opinion where legitimacy is largely built on precedent.  Every call for a Palestinian state (including the 1988 Palestinian declaration of independence) has referred back to the unfinished business of the Partition Resolution.  Where is the legal or moral precedent for dismantling the “Zionist entity”—the birth certificate of which was signed by the United Nations—or a “one-state” solution—which the Partition Resolution superseded?  It required 70 years of Zionist colonization and organizational will, the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations mandate, the Nazi holocaust, and the decline of the British Empire to create a global mandate for the Partition Resolution.  It would take a comparable summoning of human and material resources, and fortuitous constellation and alignment of historical circumstances, to undo it.

A nonviolent civil disobedience campaign in the Occupied Territories garnering visible international support will almost certainly open up fissures in Israeli society.  To be sure, the Palestinians will perforce be practicing a “nonviolence of the weak.”  If they (again) resort to nonviolence, it will not be because they “love” their Israeli oppressors, but because violent resistance failed.  It must be conceded that herein lies a drawback of Palestinian nonviolence.  For, Israelis will not be convinced that Palestinians, once acquiring the machinery of a state and the accouterments of power, won’t use them against Israel.  From the outset they will know that Palestinian nonviolence is not an axiom but—to quote Gandhi—“mere policy.”  Nonetheless, Gandhi acknowledged that, although Indians themselves had practiced a “nonviolence of the weak,” the tactic was still able to produce positive (if somewhat limited) results.  Those sectors of Israeli society cultivating a liberal self-image will perforce be shamed by the “force of public opprobrium” in the West.  Many other Israelis will simply calculate on grounds of self-interest: if anarchy reigns in the Occupied Territories, if the occupation army gets bogged down in an intractable war of nerves with peaceful demonstrators, if, like South Africa and South Africans during the Apartheid era, Israel and Israelis are reviled abroad, then the occupation is no longer worth the price.  No doubt the diehards in Israeli society won’t budge.  The self-suffering of Palestinians will no more “melt” the hearts of the ideological settlers and the generals than the self-suffering of Indians melted Churchill’s heart or the self-suffering of Jews would have melted Hitler’s heart.  But a critical mass favoring a full Israeli withdrawal presumably would bring forth an Israeli leader ready and able to pull out, just as in France during the Algerian war.

Gandhi translated satyagraha as “hold on to the truth.”  Herewith is our challenge: to hold on to the truth that what Israel has done to the Palestinians is wrong; to hold on to the truth that Israel’s refusal, backed by the U.S., to respect international law and the considered opinion of humankind is the sole obstacle to putting an end, finally, to their suffering.  We can win if we hold on to the truth, and if, as the Negro spiritual put it with cognate wisdom, we “keep our eyes on the prize, and hold on.”  That is, if we keep remembering what the struggle—the prize—is all about: not theoretical fad or intellectual provocation, not holier-than-thou radical posturing, but—however humdrum, however prosaic, by comparison—freeing the Palestinian people from their bondage.  And then to hold on, to be ready for sacrifice and for the long haul—do I dare mention the example of Hezbollah’s heroic resistance?—but also, and especially, to be humble in the knowledge that for those of us living in North America and Europe, the burdens pale next to those borne daily by the people of Palestine.  Whenever I harbor doubts about holding on, whenever I contemplate moving on in life, I see in my mind’s eye a dear friend and comrade who lives in Hebron where he is the field representative for an Israeli-based human rights organization, and hear his words in my head.  My friend Musa, who grew up in a refugee camp, told me once, “The past 38 years should have been the best in my life.  But I honestly cannot remember a single happy day.”  To forsake those trapped in abject distress would be yet more wrong.  Where was the world during the Nazi holocaust?, we still ask.  Where is the world now?  Has the Palestinian struggle gone on too long?  Has it become boring and passé?  Has the time come to move on?  But the Palestinian people continue to be ground under, the merciless Israeli juggernaut keeps pressing on, confiscating yet more land, demolishing yet more homes, destroying yet more lives.  The time now is not to move on—but to hold on!

The Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire once wrote, “There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.”  Late in life, when his political horizons broadened out, Edward Said would often quote this line.  We should make it our credo as well.  We want to nurture a movement, not hatch a cult.  The victory to which we aspire is inclusive, not exclusive; it is not at anyone’s expense.  It is to be victorious without vanquishing.  No one is a loser, and we all are gainers if together we stand by truth and justice.  “I am not anti-English; I am not anti-British; I am not anti-any government,” Gandhi insisted, “but I am anti-untruth—anti-humbug, and anti-injustice.”(188)  Shouldn’t we also say that we are not anti-Jewish, anti-Israel or, for that matter, anti-Zionist?  The prize on which our eyes should be riveted is human rights, human dignity, human equality.  What, really, is the point of ideological litmus tests such as, Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist?  Indeed, it is Israel’s apologists who thrive on and cling to them, bogging down interlocutors in distracting and endless intellectual sideshows—What is a Jew? Are the Jews a nation?  Don’t Jews have a right to national liberation?  Shouldn’t we use a vocabulary that registers and resonates with the public conscience and the Jewish conscience, winning over the decent many while isolating the diehard few?  Shouldn’t we instead be asking, Are you for or against ethnic cleansing, for or against torture, for or against house demolitions, for or against Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, for or against discriminatory laws?  And if the answer comes, against, against and against, shouldn’t we then say, Keep your ideology, whatever it might be—there’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory?

May we all, seekers of truth, fighters for justice, yet live to join the people of Palestine at the rendezvous of victory.

Thank you.”

Norman G. Finkelstein
New York City
November 2008


(1) For extensive documentation, see Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history, updated edition with a new preface (Berkeley: 2008), pp. 323-55, and Norman G. Finkelstein: A Farewell to Israel: The coming break-up of American Zionism (forthcoming).  For the critical background, see esp. Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: 1983), chap. 3.

(2) For extensive analysis of the ICJ opinion and full references, see Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 227-270.

(3) Ibid., p. 200.

(4) For analysis of the U.N. record on the Palestinian refugees, and full references for statements in this paragraph, see ibid., pp. xxii-xxiii, 349-51.

(5) Mouin Rabbani, “A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal, Part II,” Journal of Palestine Studies (summer 2008).

(6) Norman G. Finkelstein, Dennis Ross and the Peace Process: Subordinating Palestinian rights to Israeli “needs” (Washington: 2007).

(7) For the origin and meanings of the term, see Stanley Wolpert, Gandhi’s Passion: The life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi (Oxford: 2001), p. 66.

(8) I will be citing from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.  Hereafter: CW.

(9) I will be citing from Mahatma Gandhi: The essential writings, edited with an introduction and notes by Judith M. Brown (Oxford: 2008).  Hereafter: EW.  I will also be citing from M.K. Gandhi, Non-violent Resistance (Satyagraha) (Mineola, NY: 2001).  Hereafter: NR.

(10) CW, v. 70, p. 203.

(11) CW, v. 69, pp. 291-92, CW, v. 73, pp. 276-77.

(12) CW, v. 71, pp. 315-16.

(13) I will be citing from M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, edited by Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: 1997).  Hereafter: HS.

(14) CW, v. 70, p. 242.

(15) CW, v. 66, p. 438; cf. CW, v. 67, p. 285.

(16) Gandhi tried convincing British authorities during the Zulu War to arm his Indian volunteers but they refused.

(17) On the last point, see Wolpert, p. 97.

(18) CW, v. 68, p. 269; cf. NR, p. 132; but cf. Wolpert, p. 137.

(19) CW, v. 63, pp. 373-74. CW, v. 72, pp. 29-21.

(20) One early critic of his fairly observed, “I do not think that on the whole your argument is coherent or that the various statements and opinions you express have any real dependence upon one another” (“Wybergh to Gandhi,” 3 May 1910, reproduced in HS, pp. 139-40).

(21) Gandhi’s modesty also did not prevent him from issuing statements on behalf of the “All-India Women’s Conference” to their British “sisters” (CW, v. 74, pp. 114-16, 132).

(22) CW, v. 71, p. 257.

(23) CW, v. 67, p. 284.

(24) CW, v. 55, p. 411.

(25) CW, v. 72, p. 433.

(26) CW, v. 67, p. 284; cf. CW, v. 53, p. 216, CW, v. 54, p. 416, CW, v. 68, pp. 457-59.

(27) CW, v. 71, p. 205.

(28) CW, v. 68, pp. 81-82.

(29) CW, v. 71, p. 225; cf. CW, v. 75, p. 339.

(30) CW, v. 70, p. 204; cf. CW, v. 70, p. 237, CW, v. 75, p. 272.  Gandhi also supported the Allies because they were victims of Axis aggression fighting defensive wars (CW, v. 71, pp. 10-11, CW, v. 72, p. 377).

(31) CW, v. 76, pp. 400-1.

(32) CW, v. 75, p. 10, CW, v. 74, p. 27; cf. CW, v. 69, p. 122, CW, v. 72, p. 60, CW, v. 73, pp. 73, 85, 254, CW, v. 74, pp. 17, 115, CW, v. 75, pp. 37, 45, 72, 205.

(33) CW, v. 72, p. 187.

(34) CW, v. 59, p. 45.

(35) CW, v. 67, p. 76, CW, v. 68, pp. 137-41, 205, CW, v. 69, p. 290, CW, v. 72, pp. 188, 230.

(36) CW, v. 70, p. 224, CW, v. 73, p. 208.

(37) CW, v. 74, p. 330.

(38) CW, v. 73, p. 407.

(39) CW, v. 69, pp. 226-27.

(40) CW, v. 71, p. 306, CW, v. 73, pp. 91, 156; cf. also EW, p. 48 (“I do not depend upon my intellect to decide upon any action.  For me the reasoned course of action is held in check subject to the sanction of the inner voice”).  He was not however oblivious to political realities on the ground; rather the contrary (CW, v. 71, p. 338, CW, v. 74, p. 279).

(41) But see NR, p. 109, for Gandhi’s modest claims for satyagraha as a “science.”

(42) CW, v. 74, p. 2.

(43) CW, v. 72, p. 230; cf. CW, v. 61, p. 113, NR, pp. 286-87; but cf. also CW, v. 73, p. 175.

(44) CW, v. 72, p. 307; see CW, v. 62, p. 29, for his “five simple axioms of non-violence,” and CW, v. 63, p. 262, for his enumeration “without argument [, of] the implications and conditions of success of nonviolence.”

(45) CW, v. 73, p. 31; cf. CW, v. 72, p. 434.

(46) NR, pp. 300-1.

(47) NR, p. 323: “Anyone whose fast is related to satyagraha should seek my permission and obtain it in writing before embarking on it.  If this advice is followed, there is no need for framing rules, at any rate, in my lifetime.”

(48) CW, v. 73, p. 53.

(49) NR, p. 302: “A volunteer exercises his reason when he chooses his general, but after having made the choice, he does not waste his time and energy in scanning every instruction and testing it on the anvil of his reason before following it.  His is ‘not to reason why.’”

(50) CW, v. 71, p. 258.

(51) CW, v. 73, p. 444.

(52) A bit of the Big Brother also lurked in Gandhi.  He agreed that members of his Ashram should keep “a personal diary of their work, thoughts and ideas…, and place them before [him] for his perusal so that he could know the mind and work of each and every Ashramite, and make necessary suggestions” (CW, v. 73, p. 416, fn1, CW, v. 74, pp. 291-92).

(53) CW, v. 72, p. 450, CW, v. 75, p. 137.

(54) CW, v. 72, pp. 378-81, CW, v. 75, pp. 146-66; cf. CW, v. 66, p. 105, for an inclusive notion of “nonviolence…[t]hat means perfect communal cooperation and friendship, the eradication of untouchability, willing restraint of the addicts to the drink and opium habits,…”

(55) CW, v. 74, p. 150.

(56) CW, v. 68, p. 59; cf. CW, v. 73, pp. 388, 426; cf. also EW, p. 15.

(57) CW, v. 67, p. 123.

(58) CW, v. 67, p. 437.

(59) CW, v. 68, p. 45.

(60) CW, v. 68, p. 189.

(61) CW, v. 69, p. 73.

(62) CW, v. 68, p. 29.  Gandhi did not extend his doctrine of nonviolence to “sub-human species” on the pragmatic grounds that his was not a religious program but a political one designed to convert a broad constituency, although he himself “would not kill insects, scorpions or even snakes.  Nor should I under any circumstances take meat” (CW, v. 72, pp. 454-55; cf. CW, v. 61, p. 95, CW, v. 73, p. 385).

(63) CW, v. 71, p. 408; cf. HS, p. 89.

(64) HS, p. 90.

(65) CW, v. 67, pp. 436-37; cf. also EW, pp. 324-26, and NR, p. 179.  To illustrate love’s power to overcome tyranny, Gandhi often pointed to the metamorphosis of his own spousal relations: although “I literally used to make life hell for her,” eventually “her guileless simplicity conquered me completely” (CW, v. 68, p. 46; cf. CW, v. 68, p. 204).

(66) CW, v. 73, p. 253.  The British suppressed publication of what Gandhi continued to believe was a “good letter” (CW, v. 73, p. 288).

(67) CW, v. 69, p. 69, CW, v. 72, p. 456, CW, v. 75, p. 60; cf. EW, p. 335, NR, pp. 32, 72, 149.  However, he seems to consider the “shaming” of a wrongdoer legitimate (EW, pp. 206, 336).  He also considers assaults on property or even scaling walls enclosing private property as “pure violence” (CW, v. 71, p. 403; cf. NR, pp. 182, 185-86).  But he categorizes violent resistance in the face of impossible odds—a woman fending off a rapist with her bare hands, an unarmed man being tortured by a gang, or Polish resistance to the Nazi aggression—as nonviolent apparently because the violence is largely symbolic (CW, v. 72, pp. 388, 434, CW, v. 74, p. 368).

(68) CW, v. 69, p. 73.  Cf. HS, p. 146: “The function of violence is to obtain reform by external means; the function of passive resistance, that is, soul-force, is to obtain it by growth from within; which, in its turn, is obtained by self-suffering, self-purification” (“Gandhi’s reply to Wybergh,” 10 May 1910).

(69) NR, p. 87.

(70) CW, v. 71, p. 225.

(71) CW, v. 66, p. 421, EW, p. 56.

(72) EW, p. 58.

(73) CW, v. 72, p. 229.

(74) CW, v. 59, p. 42; cf. CW, v. 72, p. 136; cf. also HS, pp. 77-78, esp. footnotes 151, 152, and NR, p. 238.

(75) CW, v. 75, p. 441; cf. CW, v. 72, pp. 214, 229.

(76) CW, v. 72, p. 214.

(77) CW, v. 73, pp. 26-27; cf. CW, v. 73, p. 324.

(78) CW, v. 72, p. 221.

(79) CW, v. 75, p. 441.  For this argument in the instance of nonviolence failing to fend off a rapist’s assault, see CW, v. 68, pp. 81-82.

(80) CW, v. 72, p. 229.

(81) CW, v. 68, p. 57.  However, according to Gandhi, once having adopted the creed of nonviolence, one forswore the option of violent retaliation (CW, v. 74, pp. 64, 75, but cf. CW, v. 74, pp. 297-98 which seems to contradict this).

(82) CW, v. 71, pp. 224-25.

(83) CW, v. 68, pp. 137-38; cf. CW, v. 68, p. 203, where Gandhi similarly defends Chinese armed resistance to Japanese aggression.  A full discussion of Gandhi’s views on the Palestine conflict falls beyond the scope of this lecture.  Suffice it to say that he rejected the tenets underpinning the Zionist colonization of Palestine: Jews had no biblical title to Palestine; they should seek their rights in the countries where they resided; if they did elect to go to Palestine, it could only be done with the acquiescence of the indigenous population; otherwise, “they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them” (CW, v. 68, pp. 137-38).

(84) CW, v. 66, p. 450.

(85) CW, v. 74, pp. 75. 83; cf. HS, p. 44.  Hind Swaraj is especially replete with denunciations of “unmanly,” “emasculated,” and “effeminate” conduct, and praise for “manhood,” “manliness” and “true men.”  It would be going too far afield to speculate on the roots of his cult of manliness.  Briefly, Hindus (like Jews) suffered the stereotype of physical weakness while Muslims benefited from the stereotype of physical strength (CW, v. 71, p. 72, EW, p. 199).  It was therefore perhaps inevitable that a movement of national revival, even one pledged to nonviolence, would (like Zionism) put an accent on martial values.  One might also notice Gandhi’s appropriation of military metaphors in which he typically depicts himself as the “general” of an “army of nonviolence” using “nonviolent arms.”

(86) EW, p. 315.

(87) CW, v. 61, pp. 265-66.  For the obvious parallels in Nietzsche, see his Genealogy of Morals.

(88) CW, v. 66, p. 420.  Cf. CW, v. 69, pp. 313-16:

For I cannot in any case stand cowardice.  Let no one say when I am gone that I taught the people to be cowards.  If you think my ahimsa [nonviolence] amounts to that, or leads you to that, you should reject it without hesitation.  I would far rather that you died bravely dealing a blow and receiving a blow than died in abject terror.…Fleeing from battle…is cowardice, and unworthy of a warrior.  An armed fighter is known to have sought fresh arms as soon as he loses those in his possession or they lose their efficacy.  He leaves the battle to get them.  A nonviolent warrior knows no leaving the battle.  He rushes into the mouth of himsa [violence], never even once harboring an evil thought.  If this ahimsa seems to you to be impossible, let us be honest with ourselves and say so, and give it up….Cowardice is worse than violence because cowards can never be nonviolent.  So such people should learn to defend themselves….A person who has full faith in nonviolence should be a thousand times more fearless than an armed man….It is the duty of every believer in ahimsa to see that cowardice is not propagated in the name of nonviolence.

Cf. also CW, v. 58, p. 2, CW, v. 61, p. 316, CW, v. 66, pp. 432, 439, CW, v. 67, pp. 11-12, 437, CW, v. 71, p. 235, CW, v. 74, pp. 92-93, 297-98.  Cf. EW, p. 199:

My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected.  Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice.  I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes.  Nonviolence is the summit of bravery.  And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence.  As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence.  I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice.  Those Hindus who ran away from the post of duty when it was attended with danger did so not because they were nonviolent, or because they were afraid to strike, but because they were unwilling to die or even suffer any injury.  A rabbit that runs away from the bull terrier is not particularly nonviolent.  The poor thing trembles at the sight of the terrier and runs for very life.  Those Hindus who ran away to save their lives would have been truly nonviolent and would have covered themselves with glory and added luster to their faith and won the friendship of their Mussalman assailants, if they had stood bare breast with smiles on their lips, and died at their post.  They would have done less well, though still well, if they had stood at these posts and returned blow for blow.  If the Hindus wish to convert the Mussalman bully into a respecting friend, they have to learn to die in the face of the heaviest odds.

Cf. also NR, pp. 132-33:

I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence.  Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force, which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence….Hence…do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence.  I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.  But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment….But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless where it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature.  A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her.

(89) CW, v. 65, p. 361; cf. CW, v. 74, p. 28, CW, v. 75, pp. 325-26.

(90) CW, v. 66, p. 423.

(91) CW, v. 66, p. 436.

(92) CW, v. 68, p. 191; but cf. CW, v. 69, pp. 291-92.

(93) CW, v. 72, p. 224.

(94) CW, v. 66, p. 436, CW, v. 66, p. 449.

(95) CW, v. 62, pp. 29-30; cf. CW, v. 63, p. 59, CW, v. 66, p. 406.

(96) NR, p. 154.

(97) CW, v. 66, p. 398.

(98) EW, p. 348.

(99) CW, v. 66, p. 407; cf. CW, v. 66, p. 447.

(100) CW, v. 66, p. 437.

(101) CW, v. 67, p. 437.

(102) NR, p. 259.

(103) HS, p. 93.

(104) CW, v. 67, p. 422.

(105) HS, pp. 94-95.

(106) NR, p. 262.

(107) For Gandhi’s own delineation of the various forms of satyagraha, cf. NR, p. 214.

(108) NR, p. 121.

(109) CW, v. 74, pp. 164-65.

(110) Gandhi’s defense of public-spirited fasts as non-coercive did not always carry conviction.  He posited a distinction between selfless fasts aimed at the betterment of others (non-coercive) versus selfish fasts aimed at one’s own betterment (coercive).  But if the alleged wrongdoer does not concur on the faster’s goal, he will surely and perhaps rightly—who’s to say whether the goal is desirable?—experience the fast as coercive.  Gandhi himself conceded that, however sincere, the faster might be wrongly motivated and therefore morally culpable and, relatedly, that only a thin line separates selfless from selfish aims.  His fallback defense that one must trust the judgment of an experienced satyagrahi such as himself scarcely helps.  Gandhi also asserted that moving someone to act (or not act) by virtue of a fast is not more coercive than someone being moved to act (or not act) by virtue of one’s love of Jesus or love of one’s family and friends.  Yet, it would seem that the coerciveness of a private voice emanating from within is of a different order from the coerciveness of a public spectacle bombarding one from without.  On these and related points, see CW, v. 53, pp. 228-230, 259, CW, v. 55, pp. 410-13, CW, v. 56, p. 369, CW, v. 72, p. 458, CW, v. 73, pp. 91, 156; cf. NR, pp. 183, 313-24, 331.

(111) NR, p. 154; cf. also NR, pp. 222, 229.

(112) But cf. EW, pp. 260-61, where Gandhi opposes an Indian boycott of British goods on the grounds that “it is rooted in ill-will and a desire for punishment”; cf. also NR, p. 145.

(113) CW, v. 68, p. 30.  For a related, slightly bizarre, scenario of Gandhi’s in which tenants cede to a voracious landlord more of their property than he demands or can use, thereby converting him due to cooperation (ceding the property), non-cooperation (refusing to work any of the land), and love (giving him more than he requests), see CW, v. 72, pp. 226-27.

(114) NR, p. 131.

(115) NR, pp. 134-35; cf. NR, p. 155.

(116) For Gandhi’s belief in the power of love to disarm an adversary, cf. CW, v. 68, p. 57.

(117) For Gandhi’s sophistic defense of non-cooperation as non-coercive, cf. NR, pp. 166-69; cf. also EW, p. 335.

(118) CW, v. 68, p. 140.

(119) CW, v. 55, p. 412.  Gandhi is not altogether consistent to which faculty or organ satyagraha appeals.  Apart from touching the conscience, he variously speaks of wanting “to touch the hearts” and make an “appeal to the highest in man”; “appealing to their reason and to their hearts”; “mere appeal to reason does not answer where prejudices are age-long and based on supposed religious authority.  Reason has to be strengthened by suffering and suffering opens the eyes of understanding” (CW, v. 54, p. 417, CW, v. 55, p. 258, CW, v. 56, pp. 197-98, 254, CW, v. 58, p. 159, CW, v. 67, p. 195;  NR, pp. 178, 181, 191, 202).

(120) NR, p. 35.

(121) NR, p. 88.

(122) NR, p. 252.

(123) NR, p. 286.

(124) NR, p. 77; cf. NR, p. 191.

(125) NR, p. 275.

(126) CW, v. 68, p. 20.

(127) EW, p. 249.

(128) NR, p. 213.

(129) CW, v. 53, p. 170; cf. v. 55, p. 1; cf. NR, pp. 6 (“For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other”), 20 (“People differ as to the justice or injustice of particular laws”), 193 (“I want you to feel like loving your opponents, and the way to do it is to give them the same credit for honesty of purpose which you would claim for yourself”).

(130) CW, v. 69, p. 212; cf. NR, p. 193 (“we consider our ends to be pure and, therefore, selfless.  But who is to determine where selflessness ends and selfishness begins?  Selflessness may be the purest form of selfishness….And immediately we begin to think of things as our opponents think of them, we shall be able to do them full justice”).

(131) CW, v. 60, p. 50.

(132) HS, p. 91; cf. NR, p. 3.

(133) EW, p. 357.

(134) CW, v. 67, p. 350, CW, v. 53, p. 164.

(135) The coinage was suggested to Gandhi by untouchables, and he adopted it.

(136) CW, v. 53, p. 493.  Cf. CW, v. 53, pp. 2, 7.  Gandhi sometimes used more cautious language, such as “the present campaign is directed towards cultivating and ascertaining the opinion of caste Hindus.”

(137) NR, p. 187.

(138) NR, p. 241.

(139) CW, v. 70, p. 106.

(140) CW, v. 70, p. 224.

(141) NR, p. 189.

(142) NR, pp. 190, 197.

(143) NR, pp. 326, 336.

(144) CW, v. 67, p. 284.

(145) In the case of temple-entry, Gandhi was at pains to stress that it was necessary to “accommodate the minority” opposed to such a reform because “mutual toleration is the law of the human family” (CW, v. 53, pp. 2-3, 7).  He proposed granting Hindu fundamentalists limited hours or spaces of prayer in the temples with no untouchables around.

(146) NR, p. 304.

(147) CW, v. 71, p. 359; cf. CW, v. 73, p. 317; cf. also EW, pp. 238, 263.

(148) CW, v. 73, pp. 279, 336, EW, p. 184.  Cf. HS, p. 113, EW, pp. 153 (“My ambition is much higher than independence.  Through the deliverance of India, I seek to deliver the so-called weaker races of the earth from the crushing heels of Western exploitation in which England is the greatest partner.”), 277.

(149) EW, pp. 91, 94, NR, p. 351.

(150) EW, p. 164.

(151) CW, v. 75, p. 158; cf. also EW, p. 86 (“No one has ever suggested that grinding pauperism can lead to anything else than moral degradation”).

(152) CW, v. 61, p. 183.

(153) CW, v. 58, pp. 217-18.  It cannot be ignored that wealthy Indians heavily subsidized Gandhi’s various campaigns and projects.

(154) Gandhi conceived capitalism as a system of exploitation and insofar as he opposed such exploitation Gandhi conceived his goal as proximate to that of the Indian left (CW, v. 58, pp. 29, 247, CW, v. 67, p. 352).   However, critics of capitalism opposed it not just because it was exploitative but also because capitalist production was inherently geared to profit-making rather than human needs.  Gandhi’s theory of trusteeship failed to address this critique.  On the other hand, it must be said that Gandhi’s critique of the perils of nationalization by a “soulless” State incarnating “violence in a concentrated and organized form” (CW, v. 59, pp. 318-20; cf. CW, v. 61, p. 183) did not lack cogency and his leftist critics would have done well to heed it.

(155) CW, v. 58, p. 218.

(156) CW, v. 58, p. 247.

(157) CW, v. 58, pp. 151-52, 218, CW, v. 63, p. 404.

(158) CW, v. 55, pp. 427-28.

(159) See CW, v. 69, p. 219:  “It may be asked as to how many trustees of this type one can really find.  As a matter of fact, such a question should not arise at all.  It is not directly related to our theory.  There may be just one such trustee or there may be none at all.  Why should we worry about it?  We should have the faith that we can, without violence or with so little violence that it can hardly be called violence, create such a feeling among the rich.  We should act in that faith.”  Cf. CW, v. 71, p. 28, CW, v. 72, p. 400.

(160) CW, v. 58, p. 36, CW, v. 58, pp. 121-22, CW, v. 58, pp. 75-76, CW, v. 60, p. 254; cf. CW, v. 59, p. 140, CW, v. 67, p. 135.

(161) CW, v. 72, p. 401.

(162) CW, v. 58, p. 29.  Gandhi demagogically dismissed class conflict as a “catchword” and “slogan” that was “imported from the West” and alien to “Eastern traditions” (CW, v. 58, p. 219; cf. CW, v. 58, p. 248); but cf. CW, v. 62, p. 46, where Gandhi qualifies, “The correspondent is wrong in suggesting that I do not believe in the existence of class struggle.  What I do not believe in is the necessity of fomenting and keeping it up.  I entertain a growing belief that it is perfectly possible to avoid it.”

(163) But compare CW, v. 68, pp. 137-41, where Gandhi purports that the “essential nature” of the invading Nazi and Soviet forces “would have made them desist from a wholesale slaughter of innocents” if the Poles had disarmed.

(164) CW, v. 68, p. 204, CW, v. 67, p. 76; cf. CW, v. 62, p. 29, CW, v. 72, p. 188.  But Gandhi also speculated that even if the occupying Axis power slaughtered the non-cooperating captive population, such an eventuality would ultimately have been preferable to the population violently resisting.  Thus, “the Czechs may be annihilated for disobedience to orders,” but “that would be a glorious victory for the Czechs and the beginning of the fall of Germany” (CW, v. 68, p. 205; cf. CW, v. 67, p. 405, where Gandhi says that even if the Czechs perish, they will still have preserved their “soul, i.e., honor”); “You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions….You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds….you will allow yourself, man, woman and child to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them” (CW, v. 72, p. 230; cf. also NR, p. 361, where Gandhi speculates that an army might once be able to massacre an army of satyagrahis “but would not be able to repeat that experience”).  In another scenario Gandhi speculates that non-cooperation would not result in mass slaughter because Hitler does not want to exploit Britain but rather to vanquish it (“admit defeat”), and if denied the adrenaline stimulus of a hunt “he will lack the zest to kill you.  Every hunter has had this experience. No one has ever heard of anyone hunting cows” (CW, v. 72, p. 383; cf. EW, p. 358—“The wrongdoer wearies of wrong-doing in the absence of resistance.  All pleasure is lost when the victim betrays no resistance”).  In yet another scenario Gandhi asserted that even if the occupying power did not withdraw, fewer would have been killed had the captive population refused to cooperate while the nation as a whole would have emerged morally superior:

Imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: “You need not make your scientific preparation for destruction.  We will meet your violence with nonviolence.  You will therefore be able to destroy our nonviolent army without tanks, battleships and airships.”  It may be retorted that the only difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he has gained after a bloody fight.  Exactly.  The history of Europe would then have been written differently.  Possession might (but only might) have been then taken under nonviolent resistance, as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold barbarities.  Under nonviolence only those would have been killed who had trained themselves to be killed, if need be, without killing anyone and without bearing malice towards anybody.  I daresay that in that case Europe would have added several inches to its moral stature.  And in the end I expect it is the moral worth that will count.  All else is dross. (CW, v. 72, p. 188; cf. CW, v. 67, p. 415)

(165) CW, v. 68, p. 205.

(166) CW, v. 68, p. 189.

(167) CW, v. 68, p. 205.  Cf. CW, v. 68, p. 189 (“If the Jews…adopt active nonviolence, i.e., fellow-feeling for the gentile Germans deliberately, they cannot do any harm to the Germans and I am as certain as I am dictating these lines that the stoniest German heart will melt”), CW, v. 68, pp. 191-92 (“Sufferings of the nonviolent have been known to melt the stoniest hearts.  I make bold to say that if the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes from nonviolence, Herr Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced”), CW, v. 68, p. 277 (“I do not despair of [Hitler] responding to human suffering even though caused by him.  But I must refuse to believe that the Germans as a nation have no heart or markedly less than the other nations of the earth”), CW, v. 69, p. 122 (“They [Fascists and Nazis] belong to the same species as the so-called democracies or, better still, war-resisters themselves.  They show in their family circles the same tenderness, affection, consideration and generosity that war-resisters are likely to show even outside such circles.  The difference is only of degree….It is therefore a matter of rule of three to find out the exact amount of nonviolence required to melt the harder hearts of the Fascists and the Nazis, if it is assumed, as it is, the so-called democracies melt before a given amount of non-violence”), CW, v. 71, p. 407 (“even a Nero is not devoid of a heart.  The unexpected spectacle of endless rows upon rows of men and women simply dying rather than surrender to the will of an aggressor must ultimately melt him away and his soldiery”), CW, v. 72, p. 307 (“indeed it is not quite inconceivable that the loving sacrifice of many may bring an insane man to his senses.  Instances are not wanting of absolutely insane people having come back to their senses”), CW, v. 72, p. 361 (“Nonviolent action, if it is adequate, must influence Hitler and easily the duped Germans.  No man can be turned into a permanent machine”), CW, v. 73, p. 321 (“I must adhere to my faith in the possibility of the most debased human nature to respond to nonviolence….I will not belittle the power of nonviolence or distrust the Fuhrer’s capacity to respond to true nonviolence”).

(168) CW, v. 68, p. 139.  Cf. v. 69, p. 290:

It is highly probable that, as the writer says, “a Jewish Gandhi in Germany, should one arise, could function for about five minutes and would be promptly taken to the guillotine.”  But that will not disprove my case or shake my belief in the efficacy of ahimsa [nonviolence].  I can conceive the necessity of the immolation of hundreds, if not thousands, to appease the hunger of dictators who have not believed in ahimsa….Sufferers need not see the result during their life time.  They must have faith that if their cult survives, the result is a certainty.

Cf. CW, v. 67, p. 405, where Gandhi concedes that Hitler might not show pity, and CW, v. 73, p. 322, where he speculates that “if the Fuhrer attacked India,” he might unrepentantly slaughter Indians refusing to cooperate, but nonetheless, “I am quite clear that these satyagrahis facing the army will go down in history as heroes and heroines at least equal to those of whom we learn in fables or cold history.”

(169) However heartless Gandhi’s prescription might appear in retrospect, it deserves notice that Nazi persecution of the Jews was one of the very few issues not bearing directly on India on which Gandhi repeatedly and forcefully spoke out, asserting, for example: “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….If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified” (CW, v. 68, p. 138).

(170) CW, v. 68, p. 139.

(171) Arthur Herman, Gandhi and Churchill: The epic rivalry that destroyed an empire and forged our age (New York: 2008); for Churchill’s loathing of Gandhi and mockery of his nonviolent resistance, see pp. 509-11, 525.

(172) CW, v. 60, p. 50.

(173) NR, p. 227.

(174) CW, v. 66, p. 104.

(175) EW, p. 197.

(176) CW, v. 73, p. 254.

(177) CW, v. 66, p. 104.

(178) NR, p. 357 (“By self-suffering I seek to convert [the Englishman], never to destroy him”).

(179) EW, p. 197.

(180) NR, p. 227, NR, p. 74, HS, p. 115; cf. NR, p. 285.

(181) CW, v. 59, p. 45.

(182) See Finkelstein, Farewell to Israel, chap. 4.  A leading American academic authority estimated “nonviolent forms of struggle” at “85 percent of the total resistance,” and that “the 15 percent or so of the uprising that is constituted by low-level violence involves chiefly stone throwing” (Gene Sharp, “The Intifadah and Nonviolent Struggle,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Autumn 1989), p. 7).

(183) Some 1,124 Palestinians and 75 Israelis were killed between December 1987 and September 1993 (Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A critical analysis of Israel’s security and foreign policy (Ann Arbor: 2006), p. 264).

(184) Martin van Creveld, The Sword and the Olive: A critical history of the Israeli defense force (New York: 1998), pp. 350-51, 261-63; Maoz, Defending the Holy Land, pp. 259-61.

(185) Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Intifada: The Palestinian uprising—Israel’s third front (New York: 1989), p. 317.

(186) See Finkelstein, Farewell to Israel, chap. 6, citing Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli cabinet member Natan Sharansky.

(187) The struggles after the 1917 Balfour Declaration climaxed in the 1930 Passfield White Paper effectively annulling the Balfour Declaration, which was then reversed by British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald’s letter (1931) to Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, and then the 1939 British White Paper again effectively annulling the Balfour Declaration but coming too late to abort creation of a Jewish state.  In the case of the 1947 Partition Resolution, influential members of the Truman administration lobbied soon after the U.N. vote for its rescission in favor of U.N. trusteeship over Palestine, and then for a truce that deferred the declaration of a Jewish state.

(188) EW, p. 349.

Albert Schweitzer and Indian Thought – by Rasoul Sorkhabi

“He [Albert Schweitzer] is the only Westerner who has had a moral effect on this generation comparable to Gandhi’s. As in the case of Gandhi, the extent of this effect is overwhelmingly due to the example he gave by his own life’s work.” Albert Einstein

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), the renowned Christian theologian, philosopher, musician, physician, author, and the winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, was one of the great minds of humanity and one of the reputed activists of world peace in the twentieth century. When I was a young boy, Dr Schweitzer’s story of how he left a comfortable life in Europe to establish and work in a hospital in Africa and to help the needy people represented for my generation a role model of compassion and self-less service to humanity. However, as singers, actors, and entertainers are increasingly becoming heroes among the young generation, the Forest Doctor’s life story and philosophy is gradually fading away from the public memory. Nonetheless, I hope, his heritage will survive in history and will influence those who listen to their inner voices and are touched by the sufferings of humanity and the beauties of life on Earth. In my research on Dr. Schweitzer, I have noted his deep connections to Indian religious philosophy. This is a less investigated but an illuminating aspect of Schweitzer’s life with a message for our time and of significance for scholars who are interested in the history and philosophy of peace movements.

A Sketch of Schweitzer’s Life
Albert Schweitzer was born on 14 January1875 in Kayserberg, Upper Alsace, Germany (now Haut-Rhin department in France). “Schweitzer” means Swiss, referring to Albert’s Swiss ancestors who went to Germany in the seventeenth century. His father and maternal grandfather were pastors who taught the young Albert the art of playing and building the organ – an interest he carried throughout this life. (Schweitzer was an authority on J S Bach’s music, and records of his playing Bach are available.) He studied theology and philosophy at the University of Strasbourg in France, obtaining his PhD in 1899. For a number of years, he taught at the Theological College (Seminary) of Saint Thomas at Strasbourg and later wrote books on the life and works of Jesus Christ and Saint Paul. In 1905, Schweitzer decided to study medicine at the University of Strasbourg in order to go to Africa as a physician missionary. He obtained his degree in medicine in 1912, and the same year he married Helene Bresslau, a girl friend from his student years.

Despite much opposition and worries from his parents, colleagues and friends, Albert and Helene left for the French Equatorial Africa (the present Republic of Gabon) in 1913, and set up a clinic near an already existing mission station in Lambaréné. Schweitzer treated and operated thousands of patients, including many victims of African sleeping sickness, and took care of hundreds of lepers. There were several interruptions in their African life, especially during World War I (1914-18) when Albert and Helene were taken as prisoners of war to France. Nonetheless, they always returned to their hospital and a life full of service in Africa. (Schweitzer had fourteen trips between Africa and Europe.) Helene died in 1957 and Albert Schweitzer died on 4 September 1965 (aged ninety); both of them are buried on the hospital grounds in Lambaréné. They were survived by their only daughter Rhena Schweitzer Miller who administered the hospital for many years. The Lambaréné hospital still remains as an internationally supported health centre serving African patients, and as a symbol of human love in action.

Reverence for Life
Schweitzer described his life philosophy or “worldview” (Weltanschauung) as “ethical mysticism” or “the ethics of reverence for life.” He believed that all life forms possess “the will-to-live in the midst of will-to-live.” We know this from our own life as well as observing other living beings. Through our own experience and realization we appreciate the rights of all life forms and the sacredness of life itself. Schweitzer remarked that he first articulated the term “reverence for life” in September 1915 at sunset when he was sailing on the Ogowe River, some 48 miles from Lambaréné. Later, Schweitzer expounded upon his philosophy of life in speeches, interviews, articles and books, especially in The Philosophy of Civilization (1923).

How did Schweitzer develop the idea of “reverence for life” ? I suggest four sources. First, from childhood, Schweitzer was lovingly sensitive to the life and suffering of animals. In his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Schweitzer wrote:

“Already before I started school it seemed quite incomprehensible to me that my evening prayers were supposed to be limited to human beings. Therefore, when my mother had prayed with me and kissed me goodnight, I secretly added another prayer which I had made up myself for all living beings: Dear God, protect and bless all beings that breathe, keep all evil from them, and let them sleep in peace.”

Second, Schweitzer (brought up in a Christian family and educated in Christianity) was deeply influenced by Jesus’ teaching of love (“Love Thy Neighbour”) and Moses’ commandment of “Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Third, Schweitzer was impressed by Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy, especially his book, The World as Will and Idea (1819), in which the German philosopher argues that there is an intuitive “Will” in the world of living beings. He calls it “the Will to Live” (Willen zum Leben).

Fourth, both Schopenhauer and Schweitzer were influenced by Indian religious thinking, particularly by the idea of ‘ahimsa’ (‘not-harming’ or ‘non-violence’). Schweitzer, in fact, wrote a (less-known) book on Die Weltanschauung der Indischen Denken: Mystik und Ethik (Munich, 1935) (“The World View of the Indian Thinkers: The Mystical and the Ethical”) which has been translated into English as Indian Thought and Its Development (translated by Mrs C E B Russell, published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1936; reprinted by Adam and Charles Black, London, 1956). In that book, Schweitzer remarks:

“The laying down of the commandment not to kill and not to damage [ahimsa] is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind. Starting from its principle, founded on world and life negation, of abstention from action, ancient Indian thought – and this in a period when in other respects ethics have not progressed very far – reaches the tremendous discovery that ethics know no bounds! So far as we know, this is for the first time clearly expressed by Jainism” (p. 83). “If Jainism requires that the monk should suppress all emotions of hatred and revenge, the Buddha lays on him the further command, that he shall meet all living things, yea, the whole Universe, with a feeling of kindness” (p. 104). “The Buddha is the first to express the fundamental law that ethical spirit quite simply in itself means energy which brings about what is ethical in the world” (p. 106).

Schweitzer and Indian Thought
How did Schweitzer become interested in Indian religious thought? In the preface to Indian Thought and Its Development, Schweitzer confesses:

“Indian thought has greatly attracted me since in my youth I first became acquainted with it through reading the works of Arthur Schopenhauer.” He then acknowledges three persons: (1) Professor Moritz Winternitz of Prague (author of A History of Indian Literature, 1933) for “his great work on Indian literature” and for “giving me a fund of information in response to my questions”; (2) the British-Indian friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Charles F Andrews (author of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas, 1929) for discussions; and (4) Romain Rolland for his “penetrating studies on [Sri] Ramakrishna and [Swami] Vivekananda.”

In a letter dated 29 November 1964 to the then Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Schweitzer acknowledges his correspondence with several “Indian friends” including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru through Charles Andrews,and states that his own ideas “are consistent with Indian ideas” and that the ethics of respect for all living beings “existed for Indian thought for more than two thousand years” and is “first clearly expressed by Jainism.” (Quoted from Albert Schweitzer Letters, 1905-1965, edited by Hans Walter Bahr, p. 348.)

In 1965, four months before he died, Schweitzer wrote to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta [Kolkata]:

“I studied Indian philosophy early on, when I was attending the University of Strasbourg, Alsace, even though no course was being given on that subject. But then, around 1900, Europe started getting acquainted with Indian thought. Rabindranath Tagore became known as the great living Indian thinker. When I grew conversant with his teachings, they made a deep impact on me. In Germany it was the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who first recognized the significance of Indian thinking. A pupil of Schopenhauer was director of the Mulhouse Secondary School in Alsace, which prepared students for the university. [The school Schweitzer attended.] His name was [Wilhelm] Deecke. In this way I got to know Indian thinking at an early date. And by the time I completed my doctoral examination in philosophy, I was familiar with Indian thought. By then I was teaching at the University of Strasbourg. Focusing as I did on the problem of ethics, I reached the conclusion that Indian ethics is correct in demanding kindness and mercy not only toward human beings but [also] toward all living creatures. Now the world is gradually realising that compassion for all living creatures is part of true ethics.” (Albert Schweitzer Letters, 1905-1965, p. 351)

Schweitzer’s Indian Thought and Its Development has 16 chapters: (I) Western and Indian thought; (II) The rise of world and life negation in Indian thought; (III) The teaching of the Upanishads; (IV) The Samkhya doctrine; (V) Jainism; (VI) The Buddha and his teaching; (VII) Later Buddhism in India; (VIII) Buddhism in China,Tibet and Mongolia; (IX) Buddhism in Japan; (X) The later Brahmanic doctrine; (XI) Brahmanic world-view in the laws of Manu; (XII) Hinduism and Bhakti mysticism; (XIII) The Bhagavad Gita; (XIV) From the Bhagavad Gita to modern times; (XV) Modern Indian thought; and (XVI) Looking backward and forward.

Schweitzer also wrote Chinese Thought and Its Development, which still remains unpublished. In passing I should mention that Schweitzer’s attitude toward Indian religions was not always positive or factual. In Indian Thought and Its Development, Schweitzer emphasizes over and over that Indian religions have mainly adopted a nihilistic outlook of “world and life negation”, while Christianity is based on the idea of “world and life affirmation.” One should note that the Western knowledge of Indian religions in the early twentieth century was very limited. Schweitzer himself did not live and study in India and his knowledge and criticism of Indian religions were thus those of a Western-Christian outsider, albeit intellectual and spiritual, confined to his own time and place. In reference to Schweitzer’s analysis of Indian religions as nihilistic, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in his book Eastern Religions and Western Thought comments:

“To divide peoples into those who will not accept the world at all and those who will accept nothing else is hardly fair.”

Ahimsa is the Way
What I find very significance in Schweitzer’s life and philosophy is his reafirmation of the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) developed over 2500 years ago in India. Schweitzer did not base his philosophy of “reverence for life” on any scientific finding or metaphysical debate; he regarded one’s own life experience and realisation as a basis for “ethical mysticism.” Perhaps the following poem by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Sa’di summarizes Schweitzer’s idea of “reverence for life”:

Do not harm that ant that carries a little grain;
It has life and life is sweet.

Rhena Schweitzer Miller once remarked:

“One day I asked my father, “You have done so much for Africa. Has it given you anything in return?”

He said,

“Yes, nowhere else could I have found the idea of reverence for life than here.”

Our world is facing violent conflicts and brutality fuelled by religious extremism, dirty politics, personality cults, inhuman nationalism, and economies based on never-ending greed. The root causes of all this bloodshed, cruelty and suffering are the same old vices: Self-centred views, prejudices, hatred, limitless desires, and little appreciation of life and nature. Given this grave situation, Schweitzer’s philosophy of “reverence for life” as a way of loving and appreciating this sacred planet on which we are privileged to live, and the Indian idea of ahimsa as a humane way of resolving our conflicts peacefully and making a better world gains a new significance. It is thus appropriate to close this essay with a quote from Albert Schweitzer himself:

“Ethics are complete, profound, and alive only when addressed to all living beings. Only then we are in spiritual connection with the world … Profound love demands a deep conception and out of this develops reverence for the mystery of life. It brings us close to all beings. To the poorest and smallest, as well as all others. We reject the idea that man is ‘master of other creatures,’ ‘lord’ above all others. We bow to reality. We recognize that all existence is a mystery, like our own existence. The poor fly which we would like to kill with our hand has come into existence like ourselves. It knows anxiety, it knows hope for happiness, it knows fear of not existing any more. Has any man so far been able to create a fly? That is why our neighbor is not only man: my neighbor is a creature like myself, subject to the same joys, the same fears, and the idea of reverence for life gives us something more profound and mightier than the idea of humanism. It includes all living beings” (Quoted in The Schweitzer Album, edited by Erica Anderson, 1965, p. 174).

Rasoul Sorkhabi graduated from universities in India and Japan, doing his Ph.D. thesis on the geology of the Himalayas. He is currently a Research Professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City where he lives with his wife Setsuko. The couple published articles on Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Rumi, and the Dalai Lama. This article was first published in the UK monthly Yoga & Health, April 2006, and has been slightly modified by the author for The Gandhi Way. He can be contacted at Copyright: Rasoul Sorkhabi (2006, 2008).

Martin Luther King Jnr: The Civil Rights Movement and Gandhian Philosophy – by Michael Lewin

Gandhi’s long-standing commitment to, and promotion of passive resistance eventually paved the way for full Indian independence in 1948. The long and arduous struggle that he had engaged with, for over fifty years, finally culminated in the end of British imperialistic rule that had gripped Indian life for centuries. At this historical point Gandhi’s political and spiritual standing in the international community reached an all time high; totally unprecedented in the era of modern politics. His life, his struggle, his achievements were powerfully unique – inspiring and enriching so many others, not only in his own country but throughout the wider world. His legacy – based on deeply nourishing, spiritual values – came to inspire and influence a young, black student who was studying at a theological college in America and helped to support and guide a black population in their quest for greater equality.

“His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” – Martin Luther King in his formative student years

Only a few weeks after Gandhi was assassinated at a prayer meeting in the grounds of Birla House, New Delhi, Martin Luther King Jnr was being ordained at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King had graduated from Morehouse College the year before, and was set on furthering his studies and pursuing the life of a minister like his father and grandfather before him. Whilst at Crozer Theological Seminary, King was exposed to the teachings of Gandhi. They made an immediate and marked impact on him influencing deeply, his work in the Civil Rights Movement.

On a Montgomery bus, in 1955, a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The driver of the bus, which operated under segregated laws, brought the vehicle to a stop. The police were called and Rosa Parks was arrested. This one, simple act of protest, carried out by one, single woman later grew into a campaign – the Montgomery Bus Boycott which prepared the ground for Martin Luther King Jnr to become a civil rights leader. All over the southern states at this time, segregation was a way of life that effectively created social, political and economic disadvantage for black people, and although there had been an history of protests before, this was the start of something qualitatively and quantitatively different. The campaign received widespread attention and eventually the Supreme Court declared that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional and therefore had to end. A decisive victory had been secured by King and his followers but this was not just a legal victory but a moral victory as well that involved an entire black community in enforcing the boycott.

The nonviolent approach of King’s activism, which was proving to be highly successful and sincerely regarded, was directly based on his study and understanding of Gandhi’s experience in South Africa and India. King was bringing a deep awareness of Gandhi’s spiritually pragmatic doctrine to the Southern States of America and beyond. Because of King’s interest in, and promotion of Gandhian ideals he was invited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to visit India in 1959. The trip went well, with King later stating that it made a profound and lasting effect upon him. On his return to America he recommenced his efforts in the civil rights struggle with renewed determination and vigour.

King worked tirelessly for the cause of justice over the years but increasingly became disenchanted with the criticism levelled at him, especially from predominantly white religious leaders who thought his actions were too radical and unsettling. Arrested for his participation in the Birmingham campaign (1963) King wrote his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’. This was an attempt to rebuke all the conservative clergymen who criticised his stand. He wrote:

“When you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in a airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when you are humiliated day in day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘coloured’, when your first name becomes ‘nigger’, your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs’ . . . then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

The campaign for civil rights, under King’s leadership, did continue, had to continue. In 1963 King led the March on Washington and delivered his rousing speech: “I have a dream . . .” A year later he visited Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest ever recipient of the award. In the Selma Protest of 1965, along with over seven hundred other marchers, King was arrested. Being a Nobel Prize winner this news made headlines around the world and brought to the attention of a mass audience what was really happening in America. Segregation was now fully under the spotlight as never before and despite the bombing of his home, the physical attacks on his life, the jail sentences and the death threats, King, with committed persistence and tenacity, carried on his work to pursue greater equality for the black community.

In Memphis, on 3 April 1968, on the eve of a planned march, King made one of his most stirring speeches:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The very next day King was shot dead.

The Forging of the Civil Rights Movement: The Gandhian Influence

“I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problems in the United States.” – Martin Luther King

Through his engagement with the civil rights movement King remained faithful to Gandhian ideals. He believed, from a Christian perspective, that justice would eventually prevail for the black community if people were prepared to stand up and unite in the noble cause of nonviolent resistance. His fundamental belief in this moral stance was unshakeable and informed all his work, but there were others, even among blacks, who questioned this approach.

Malcolm X, the Black Power leader, vehemently opposed King for adopting a conciliatory position with the white leadership of America. He believed that black people should stand up and fight for their rights in whatever way it was felt to be necessary – and this included meeting violence with violence. King’s spiritual values dictated the opposite – that you can only meet violence with nonviolence. King had realised, along with Gandhi, the spiritual truth expressed in many of the world’s religions that hate can only ever really be overcome and eliminated by the practice of love, and by no other means. But despite their differences, King did have a deep respect and regard for Malcolm X. He realised that the Black Power Movement, similar to the Civil Rights Movement, was only trying to challenge a system that for too long, had effectively created and recreated inequality and injustice for black people. Both Movements, at their core, wanted to advance the well being of black people and leave behind the repressive, growth denying forces of an unfair society. King clearly recognised this, his only criticism was on the methodological approach for dealing with this inequality and injustice. In his student days King thought differently:

“Prior to reading Gandhi,” he said, “I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. 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 and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.”

This was a decisive growth point for King, one which was to remain with him for the rest of his days. At the heart of Gandhi’s teachings, which King fully adopted, lay the sacrosanct notion that all life is sacred, a gift of God, and therefore had to be respected and protected at all costs – even that of the opposing ‘enemy’. King realised that it was only through adopting Gandhi’s policy of Satyagraha (truth force) that lasting, positive change could be implemented and so this was his journey, one of showing respect and dignity for ALL and it cost him dearly – the loss of his own life.


Even in today’s world there are still gross inequalities with unacceptable levels of poverty that plague our sense of decency and fair play. It’s a position that has been allowed to continue for too long. The challenge for us all, individually and collectively is to reach out and give of our best so that others may be allowed to flourish in a world that was created for all – every last one of us. This invitation to bring out the very best in others, and ourselves – to grow beyond the restrictive and limiting mindset that perpetuates a ‘them and us’ mentality – is an invitation to participate fully in the spiritual gift of life and who amongst us wants to withdraw from that gift, wants to ignore the sacrifice of lives given for others?

Gandhi and Peace Studies – by David Maxwell

This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way

What are Peace Studies ? They describe a new academic discipline first introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Peace Studies draw on subjects like anthropology, psychology, political science and ethics, but differ from them in stating a required outcome, Peace. In 1985 the idea of such a discipline drew flak from commentators like Roger Scruton who wrote in The Times newspaper :

“When the tide of drivel has swollen to such proportions that the University of Bradford can offer a first degree in a subject, peace studies, that does not even exist, it is surely time to ask whether there might be a better use of taxpayer’s money”.

Bradford replied:

“For the record there are university departments and research centres in the USA, West Germany, Canada, Holland, Finland, Sweden and many other countries.”

The first thirty years of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies was a time of remarkable growth. When it opened in 1974 there were 5 staff and 20 students who believed that peace could be studied, violent conflict prevented or resolved, and, in the long run, war as an institution abolished. The first Professsor, Adam Curle, successfully mediated to end the war in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. His last work before he died was helping the war-traumatised in former Yugoslavia. By 2002, 20 Peace Studies students had grown to 200 a year. Many were postgraduates. The number of PhD students is currently about 100. The external examiners recently gave the Department top grades in everything they assessed.

Students come from all over the world. They go on to jobs with NGOs, as diplomats, journalists, and consultants. Others move to other universities and teach similar courses, sometimes with different names e.g. Conflict Resolution or Transforming Conflict. Andrew Rigby teaches Reconciliation and Forgiveness at Coventry University. Gandhi would have approved of that ! There are frequent attempts to get new courses going, and the number of books on peace studies listed on Google demonstrates the potential – 4,000 books, with 3,500 of them best sellers. However, finding the funding for academics to set up and students to attend new courses requires more money and effort than buying a few popular books. Those tempted to give up, can find inspiration in Gandhi’s life story. Note the decades of strenuous preparation that preceded each major breakthrough.

Why the current explosion of interest in Peace Studies ? Consider this change. When Gandhi was born, wars were fought with footsoldiers and cavalry and no weapon more destructive than a cannon. Remember Tennyson’s poem of that period ? The Charge of the Light Brigade. By the end of Gandhi’s life one atom bomb dropped from one plane could wipe out a whole city. Gandhi, horrified by the atom bomb, wrote that it convinced him even more strongly that the way forward had to be a nonviolent one, not a military one. Gandhi’s greatness lay in a lifetime of actual experiments in nonviolence. He challenged us all in his dictum:

“Be the change you want to see.”

It is no accident that Peace Studies was first introduced as an academic discipline in its own right in 1950 in the Universities of Michigan and Oslo. Both Kenneth Boulding in Michigan and Johan Galtung in Oslo were admirers of Gandhi. After two atom bombs had abruptly ended World War II, far-sighted people could see the danger later so narrowly averted in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Studying International Relations as if war and peace were equally valid ways of conducting diplomacy had begun to seem questionable when large scale nuclear war could destroy life on earth. The new discipline of Peace Studies was about conducting international relations without resorting to war.

In the 50s the Rev Martin Luther King Junior studied Gandhi and took his nonviolent experiment further. His success showed that Gandhi’s method did not depend solely on the charisma of Gandhi himself or the Indian context of nationalism versus imperialism. Successful resistance to segregation by the black churches in the Southern States of the USA still had in common with Gandhi’s satyagrahas three major factors: disciplined nonviolence, religious conviction by those who made major personal sacrifices, and sympathetic support from wider public opinion fed by media reporting. The effect of the Civil Rights Movement was to add an ethnic relations dimension to Peace Studies.

I would like to talk briefly about the current job of one graduate who wrote his PhD at Bradford on Gandhi, Timmon Wallis. After working abroad as a peaceworker he currently trains and assesses peaceworkers for International Alert. Gandhi would have been delighted at the concept of training peace workers. His name for what he called a ‘peace army’ was ‘shanti sena‘. Gandhi insisted that peace requires the same courage and trained discipline as war. Peaceworkers need training in courage and discipline. Gandhi tried in his Ashrams and through his Constructive Work to provide some training so that people could go into nonviolent action fully prepared and supported. Peaceworkers UK currently provides five levels of competence in peace work and assesses responses of students by simulations of real situations.

A current development in the Peace Studies course at Tuft University, USA is that students are being asked to commit themselves to the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath which doctors make. They are required to promise to follow their studies by going into an ethical job and to make ethical choices in their future lives. Gandhi, who made solemn vows at key moments in his life including the vow to resist Indian Registration in Africa, would have approved of that. But reading of Tufts’ requirements does raise the question of how few ethical demands are made by academia generally of students. Gandhi vowed vegetarianism when he studied in London. He persuaded 3,000 to vow nonviolence in 1906. When he read Ruskin’s Unto This Last on a train journey in South Africa, it led to a dramatic personal change in lifestyle. It would be interesting to know whether some military sponsored students currently at Bradford University will complete the course able to feel that peace studies and military strategies can be mixed or tried in turn, or whether there is a whole religious or moral ethic behind peace studies, dependent on trust, dependent on consistency over time. The concept of mixing peace studies and war studies seem as dubious as trying to mix oil and water. Peace Studies ultimately respects life, whereas the bottom line in War Studies would appear to be the death of the less powerful.

Nonviolence and the Self-Cherishing Mind – by David Edwards and Matthew Bain

This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way

On 2nd December 2007 Media Lens were presented with the Gandhi International Peace Award by Denis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq and himself a recipient of the award in 2003.  Here Matthew Bain, a Friend of the Gandhi Foundation, asks David Edwards about the relationship between Media Lens’ work and the Gandhian principle of satyagraha.

Bain: In his struggles against oppression, Gandhi sought to break down the barriers between oppressors and oppressed, seeing them all as victims.  Whereas the oppressed often suffered from physical or economic degradation, the oppressors suffered from moral degradation. Is this theory relevant to Media Lens’ work ?

Edwards: The great Buddhist sage Shantideva said the “ancient enemies” of living beings, the real enemies, are greed, hatred and ignorance.  These are the three causes and effects of the self-cherishing mind.  It is greed, hatred and ignorance that lead people to believe their own suffering and happiness matter more than everyone else’s.  This leads us to put ourselves first and to ignore the consequences for others.  Many of the miseries of the world are rooted in this fundamental willingness to subordinate the interests of others to our own.

It’s tempting to see particular groups of people as the cause of all problems. But actually we’re all afflicted by the “ancient enemies”.  So, for example, people are outraged if someone expresses racist or sexist prejudice – these are rightly seen as sources of immense suffering.  But there is a far more deep-rooted prejudice – the bias whereby we see ourselves as far more important than all other people.  Geshe Lhundub Sopa does a good job of explaining what we know but don’t really recognise in ourselves:

“We think everything should focus upon us – all services and good things should be for me. Then of course we try to gain enjoyment, fame, wealth, and everything else that we feel is necessary for this me.  We become angry if we see that something might prevent us getting those things or if anyone else gets something better.  These feelings make us think, act, and speak in negative ways.  Everyone is subject to this problem: we all act from selfishness.” (Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 3, Wisdom Books, 2008, p.111)

We are almost always massively prejudiced in our own favour. We feel virtuous when we have one or two compassionate impulses, but it’s actually shocking how many of our thoughts are concerned with squeezing just a little more pleasure into our lives.  Not into other people’s lives, into our own.  We want the best for ourselves; we’re the centre of the universe.  The human universe never was heliocentric, it has always been egocentric.  Racial and sexual prejudices are sub-divisions of this ultimate bias.

Shantideva delivered his amazing “J’accuse!” to his own selfish mind as far back as the eighth century (Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala Publications, 1997)):

“O my mind, what countless ages
Have you spent in working for yourself?
And what great weariness it was,
While your reward was only misery!

“The truth, therefore, is this:
That you must wholly give yourself and take the other’s place.
The Buddha did not lie in what he said –
You’ll see the benefits that come from it.” (p132)

He added:

“And so it is that if I want contentment,
I should never seek to please myself.
And likewise, if I wish to save myself,
I’ll always be the guardian of others.” (p.134)

Shantideva was here doing nothing less than rejecting his own favouritism towards himself !  And this was not some kind of gesture or stunt – his work, The Way of the Bodhisattva, is a precise, step-by-step guide to actually achieving this result.  When he advises that we “take the other’s place,” he means that we should work for the benefit of others as though it were our own, rather than working for our own benefit.

That this aspiration can emerge in a product of nature “red in tooth and claw” is astonishing.  In my opinion, Shantideva’s words constitute the ultimate revolutionary statement – the complete rejection of self-interest out of concern for the welfare of others.

Shantideva was not advocating this as a matter of righteous, hair-shirted stoicism.  His point is that we need to replace the inevitable misery of the self-cherishing mind, of the “ancient enemies”, with the almost unimagined happiness of the compassionate mind liberated from greed, hatred and ignorance.  Of course the self-cherishing that Shantideva rejected is at the heart of all individual exploitation and of all exploitative systems of power.  It is self-cherishing that causes us to build and participate in these systems.

The claim is that thoughts pretty much obey the laws of Newtonian physics – they build psychological momentum in the absence of an opponent force.  The more we are angry, the stronger our anger becomes. On the other hand, the more we are compassionate, the more anger dissipates.  There is a marvellous quote that sums up the logic of self-restraint in a discussion on training the mind to become more patient: “It is not productive to one’s practice to become impatient with those who are impatient.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.284)

What we’re trying to do is to increase compassion in the world, to decrease self-cherishing.  This is achievable when we perceive greed, hatred and ignorance as the enemy.  When we perceive particular individuals as the enemy, we tend to achieve the opposite result.

Bain: Gandhi named his active method to combat oppression ’satyagraha’, meaning struggle for truth.  Satyagraha looks for the moral levers in the oppressor’s own psychology or mythology, and then discovers a way to pull them.  Gandhi was successful in pulling the levers in the British psychology.  As rulers of India we considered ourselves to be upholders of righteous constitutional rule, so when Gandhi allowed himself to be imprisoned by us he forced us to look in the mirror and see that we were not acting in accordance with our own self-image.  Do you believe that there are elements of satyagraha in Media Lens’ work?

Edwards: In his book, Web Of Deceit, the historian Mark Curtis showed how the mainstream media promote one key concept above all others: “Britain’s basic benevolence.”

( This provides an obvious lever for challenging exploitative power – the challenge to live up to the hype.

For example, in 2002, journalists like David Aaronovitch and Johann Hari claimed their real concern was for the welfare of the Iraqi people.  So we investigated how this compassion has manifested itself during the subsequent catastrophic occupation.  We examined to what extent they have drawn attention to the suffering of Iraqi refugees, to the patients dying in hospitals for the lack of the most basic equipment, to the small children dying from a lack of basic sanitation, and so on.

(See: and

The claim of humanitarian intent is a very powerful propaganda weapon for systems of concentrated power, but it does allow dissidents to offer a challenge in that moral arena.  And power is under pressure to provide credible answers, to be seen to live up to its own claims.  The fact is that people in our society do need to be persuaded to support violent interventions on humanitarian grounds.  If these claims are shown to be bogus, then powerful interests have much greater difficulty in waging war – they can’t railroad the population completely; they can’t afford for democracy to be exposed as a total sham.

Government support for the Iraq war went ahead against overwhelming public opposition in several countries in 2003, but at a very high political cost to the likes of Blair, Aznar and Bush.  It’s fair to say that Blair’s career was ruined by his mendacious campaign to manipulate Britain into war – his reputation has been demolished.  It’s hard now to remember just what a source of optimism he was for many people (liberal journalists in particular) before 2003.

Bain: Media Lens can only do so much.  What other ‘moral levers’ are out there, that you would like other people to pull?

Edwards: Especially on the left, I think people need to look to the moral levers in themselves.  It’s so easy to place all our trust in facts and rational argument to win the battle of ideas, to convince everyone of the need for progressive change.  But as discussed, the self-cherishing mind is highly adept at simply deflecting these facts and arguments from awareness.  We should also be seeking to strengthen the capacity for kindness, compassion, love, patience and generosity in ourselves and others.  We need a compassionate revolution, as opposed to a bomb-throwing revolution.  Basically the left needs to start meditating on these subjects.

People often think this means sitting cross-legged on a cushion and emptying the mind of thoughts.  But fully one-half of Buddhist meditation is called ‘analytical meditation’.  This type of meditation involves simply reflecting on these issues exactly as we’ve been doing here.  What are the disadvantages of the self-cherishing mind ?  Have I ever felt self-obsessed, really greedy for pleasure ?  What was the impact of indulging these thoughts on my sense of well-being ?  Where did they lead ?  Have I ever felt coldly indifferent to everyone else who just seemed to be a damned nuisance ?  How did I feel in those moments ?  Have I ever been really generous ?  Have I given something to someone solely out of an intention to make them happy with no thought of reward ?  How did I feel in those situations ?  How did other people react ?

A good place to start in this internal analysis is Matthieu Ricard’s book Happiness (Atlantic Books, 2006).  Geshe Lhundub Sopa gives an idea of how the mind can be trained:

“The way to meditate on love is similar to the manner of meditating on compassion.  Where compassion is wanting sentient beings to be free from misery, love is wanting them to possess happiness, enjoyment, and bliss.  So here we look at sentient beings, beginning with our relatives, and see that they do not even have worldly happiness …  Go back and forth, first thinking that sentient beings lack a specific thing and therefore they suffer this or that type of misery, and then wishing that they have the cause of happiness.  Think this way again and again and you will come to feel like a mother whose dear child is in need of many things.  A mother wants her child to have the things that will make him or her happy; she sincerely desires to help her child obtain these things.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.89)

This kind of repetitive practice gradually moves the momentum of the mind away from ruthless, unrestrained self-cherishing, towards kindness.  We can sensitise our minds to the suffering of others, to compassion.

Many of us think we’re prevented from trying harder to help others because of indifference.  But this couldn’t be more wrong.  The problem is not indifference; it’s our passionate dedication to serving ourselves.  Our problem is not laziness but that we’re working so hard to satisfy our desires, to indulge our egos, to get everything we want.

But the response to the self-cherishing habit is not to somehow just try harder, to whip ourselves into being more committed people.  Our self-cherishing minds will certainly not tolerate this for very long – it’s far too much like hard work.  We might manage for a while but pretty soon we’ll decide all this suffering is deeply unfair – ‘It’s not my fault the world’s full of suffering, and anyway what can one person really achieve ?’ – at which point we’ll likely disappear off to have some fun.

The solution is to challenge the false claims of the self-cherishing mind and to investigate the liberatory potential of the other-cherishing, compassionate, mind.

And there are real surprises here.  The principal one being that focusing primarily on our own happiness guarantees suffering for ourselves and others. Curiously, happiness lies in exactly the opposite direction.

Burma’s Freedom – Violence or Nonviolence?

A debate has arisen among members of the GF Committee over the justification of the use of military force in a good cause. Here are some of the email exchanges.

The Editor would like to hear from readers also on this topic which is central to Gandhian thought.

John Rowley:

I take my view from the Buddha, Gandhi, Bhikhu Parekh, and Burmese friends.

The Buddha said that if you knew that there was a man in a boat with others who intended to rob and kill his fellow passengers, then it was justifiable for you to kill him if there was no other way of preventing the crime. Gandhi said, I think, that if your family or your country was violently attacked then it was justifiable to defend both with violence if no other course worked.

Bhikhu Parekh says in his Hansard Society booklet Intervention and Democracy that armed intervention on strictly humanitarian grounds is justifiable if all other means have been exhausted.

My Burmese friends (and The Burma Campaign) totally agree with Bhikhu, and Buddhists ask those who advocate nonviolence in all situations to come in and experience extra-judicial killings, indiscriminate torture, child exploitation, slavery of innocent women, children, the old, the disabled. A single bullet can kill an experienced satyagrahi as easily as a new-born babe – if no one ever hears of either, what is gained when the perpetrator continues to live ? And if the whole world hears, who is to distinguish between either ? And if the whole world hears and does nothing, neither prepared to risk their own lives nor that of those they pay to risk death (soldiers), once again nothing is gained. Sanctions have proved ineffective in Burma as well.

For the time being, I rest my case. I do not think that everything Gandhi said or did was right especially as we are 60 years on since his last breath and thousands of miles away. I would have supported the execution of Saddam Hussain if that could have been achieved without any other person being hurt. As it happened, and only because we are still seduced by this illusion of the nationstate, we have ended up being responsible for the death of over a million people in Iraq simply because we did not take the trouble to try to understand the culture, politics and social interactions of all the people living there or consult them on how best we could help.

David Maxwell:

The strong sense of injustice at the treatment of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Burma by the military junta, and now the harsh treatment of protesting Burmese monks, makes it difficult not to want tough intervention, as a last resort. John knows the Burmese situation so well and feels so strongly, his frustration levels are understandably high.

But where might a violent last resort lead? Would not a definition of satyagraha which includes force as a last resort, devalue it ? Gandhi’s search for truth firmness was looking for a way to be firm without doing violence to others. He was only human and wavered in that search at times, but in his last three years the overwhelming force of the atom bomb steadied him in his conviction that civilisation was impossible without nonviolence. There could be no ifs and buts.

I heard at this year’s Conflict Research Society AGM a story about a leading military man lecturing at Bradford on conflict resolution. He spoke knowledgeably and enthusiastically about negotiation, mediation, restorative justice, etc, but when asked by a student for his personal definition of conflict resolution said it was all these things but ended his definition with these words – “backed up with overwhelming military force”. That was his bottom line, and those he dealt with knew it. The iron fist in the velvet glove? They did not have much choice. Agree or else! 

Gandhi’s line if I understand aright, was that he personally could not be violent whatever the cost, and could not support the violent actions of others, unless you see ambulance work (which may enable soldiers to return to violence, but that is their choice) as violent. There is a world of difference between seeing nonviolence as a tactic to use when you are weaker than others, and those who see nonviolence as a principle to keep to even when other ways are at your disposal.

Graham Davey:

On nonviolence, I think Gandhi was a bit ambivalent and I am still not quite prepared to rule out military action in all circumstances. Gandhi supported recruitment to the Indian Army when Japanese forces threatened to invade India, and the Tanzanian army saved more than a few lives when Idi Amin was deposed in Uganda. Having said that, I think statements from the Gandhi Foundation should not mention military action as a last resort because all to often it is threatened or used long before other methods of conflict resolution have been exhausted.

David Maxwell:

I take your point, Graham, about Gandhi’s uncertainty during the Second World War. His proposals for dealing with Hitler had seemed ineffective too. However, after the dropping of the atomic bomb, his conviction that nonviolence had to be the way came back very strongly. Unpack the implications of “not rule out military action in all circumstances” and what do you get? The need for military force always at the ready, trained and equipped and eager to justify their role. Give them the chance to use that role, they are very reluctant to then modestly fade into the background until ‘needed’ again. The price of dealing with Hitler was the rise of the industrial military complex which now offers to solve the recurring economic crisis of over production by wars causing mass destruction. That raises the new spectre of environmental unsustainability.

Graham Davey:

I agree with all you say, David, but don’t think that the non-pacifist position inevitably involves all the damage and wastage of militarism. I would envisage Britain having only a territorial army for use only under the auspices of the United Nations. Perhaps Switzerland is showing the right direction for European countries.

Antony Copley:

Gandhi began to experience the limitations of satyagraha as he confronted interstate conflict – his advice to Viceroy Linlithgow in 1939 was to let Hitler overrun Britain – he told the Jews to practise nonviolent resistance, and then horror of horrors he had to face Japanese invasion in 1942. His response in the end was the Quit India satyagraha – the Japanese would have no occasion to invade if the British left. Even so, he also let it be known that he would not resist any British presence in defending India if India were free. As Gandhians we have to confront the limitations of nonviolence in such extreme moments.

What do you think? Please write your comments below . . .



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 585 other followers