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