Nonviolence a potent weapon
By: Seema Sengupta
India is celebrating her 68th year of independence at a critical juncture of time and history. Amid an atmosphere of tension and violence that has gripped several corners of the globe today, one frail man who shaped the destiny of India is being desperately missed.
Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of non-violence could have altered the charged-up and acrimonious global scenario drastically had he been around today. He would have surely made a huge difference in a boiling Middle East too where even innocent children are bearing the brunt of violence.
Bapu (father), as Gandhi is popularly called in India, was greatly influenced by Islam. He considered Islam as a great religion and strongly believed that it spread in the world because of the the sacrifices that Islamic scholars of that period made, thus refuting the Western claims that the faith was spread by sword.
In 1926, Gandhi said: “I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind and became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.”
Gandhi even exhorted the Indian leadership to follow the normative messages of tolerance, equality and simplicity enshrined in the verses of Holy Qur’an for guiding the nation to glory.
Gandhi’s faith in justice, compassion and righteousness is very akin to the teaching of Islam that enjoins the followers to work for common good. He was particularly concerned about the Palestinian issue and sought an amicable settlement to prevent unnecessary bloodbath. In a 1936 essay, Gandhi wrote: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”
Gandhi, a proponent of non-violence, was against violent reprisal and India’s freedom movement is a testimony of his conviction. Compassion was his most potent tool to fight injustice, inequality and oppression. He urged the Jews to win over the Arab hearts.
“There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs if the Jews will only discard the help of the British bayonet,” insisted Gandhi.
“As it is, they are co-shares with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them” insisted this fascinating leader of the 20th century.
Mahatma Gandhi wholeheartedly supported the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. He sincerely urged the Jews, who claim to be the chosen race, to prove their title by selecting the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth.
“Every country is their home including Palestine not by aggression but by loving service,” declared Gandhi. He was convinced that the Jews have the capacity to refuse to be treated as the outcast of the West, to be despised or patronized. Gandhi somehow had a conviction in his heart that “a Jew can command the attention and respect of the world by being the chosen creation of God and not somebody who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God.”
They have that capacity to add to their many achievements the surpassing contribution of non-violent action. Surely, humanity will be the victor once the hard-line elements on all sides realize the importance of embracing peace, and which is the cardinal principle of Islam too.
Gandhian non-violence policy, after all, was not a strategy but a way of life that one must live and practice seriously. Gandhi’s works and views attracted thousands around the world, including this writer’s grandfather, who looked upon this grand old man of India’s independence movement as a guiding light. Gandhi lived up to their expectations by all means and surely Middle East can be no exception. Conflict in the Arab world, like violence elsewhere, has a manifestation of hate, prejudices and selfishness.
An ideal solution, in the words of Gandhi, would be to befriend each other, work out a mutually acceptable solution and live in peace eternally thereafter. But it is easier said than done since nation states and even humanity have been divided along ideological and religious line for long. Hence, the time has arrived for the Arab nations to pledge that they will no longer allow themselves to be utilized as a pawn in global power politics but will be governed by ethics and compassion instead.
Who knows the people and the leadership in volatile Middle East may discover a Gandhi amongst them who will not only usher peace and prosperity in the region permanently but also build strong interpersonal and international relationship based on the universal principles of mutual respect, understanding and appreciation?
Seema Sengupta is a Kolkata-based journalist and columnist.