A Definition of Ahimsa

“The term nonviolence is a literal translation of the Sanskrit word ahimsa that frequently appears in Buddhist and Hindu literature. It is composed of the negative prefix a-, and the noun himsa meaning the desire to harm or to do violence to another living being. Ahimsa is therefore the absence of all desire for violence, that is to say respect for all living beings in thought, word, and deed . . . Ahimsa expresses a liberation from the desire for violence.”
Jean-Marie Muller


Active Nonviolence in Palestine and Israel

by David Hartsough

Cover art courtesy Cambridge University Press; cambridge.org

When people think of Palestine and Israel, they often picture Palestinians as suicide bombers and terrorists while the Israeli military are seen as bombing whole neighborhoods in Palestine. The violence and counter-violence and endless war has created a hopelessness about any peaceful future for the Holy Land.

However, during a month-long stay in Palestine and Israel recently, I found something else. I found something very positive and hopeful and perhaps the key to a peaceful resolution of this tragic conflict — and a possible path toward a peaceful future for both peoples.

I found that violence is not the whole story. Endless checkpoints, 26-foot high walls, and the great fear and mistrust between many Israelis and Palestinians are grimly persistent features of life there. But there is also an alternative to this cycle of destruction being forged on both sides. There is a larger story beyond the script of retaliatory violence – a story of a growing nonviolent movement that both Palestinians and Israelis are building.  It is this larger story that I would like to share.

Active Nonviolence is alive and well in Palestine and Israel! The interfaith delegation I co-led to this region witnessed, first hand, many Palestinians who are engaged in active nonviolent resistance to the occupation of their lands in the West Bank. Weekly nonviolent demonstrations have been held in many villages, including Bil’in, Nil’in, Al Ma’sara, Walaja, as well as in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, some for more than five years. Israelis (including Combatants for Peace and Anarchists Against the Wall), and Internationals, (including Christian Peacemaker Teams, Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and Michigan Peace Teams) actively participate in these weekly actions. There is a deeply inspiring commitment by Palestinians throughout the region to keep struggling nonviolently even when Israeli soldiers shoot powerful tear-gas canisters and grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, concussion bombs and even live ammunition at the unarmed villagers.

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A Lifetime of Nonviolent Activism: The Street Spirit Interview with David Hartsough, Part 1

by Terry Messman

Covert art courtesy PMPress.org

Street Spirit: Looking back at a lifetime of nonviolent activism, can you remember the first person who helped set your life on this path?

David Hartsough: Gandhi. My parents gave me Gandhi’s book, All Men Are Brothers, on my 14th or 15th birthday. And Martin Luther King who I met when I was 15.

Spirit: Why was Gandhi’s All Men Are Brothers such an inspiration?

Hartsough: Because he said that nonviolence is the most powerful force in the world, and he believed that, and he practiced it. His entire life was made up of his experiments with nonviolence, his experiments with truth. He took nonviolence from being kind of a moral, theological, philosophical idea, and showed it could be a means of struggle to liberate a country. That was a great model for me that nonviolence is not just morally superior to killing people, but was a more effective way of liberating people. Also, his belief that all people are children of God. We are all one. We’re not black versus white, Americans versus Russians, good guys versus bad guys. We’re all brothers and sisters. I took that seriously and that’s what I believe.

Spirit: What was your first involvement in a social-change movement as a young activist?

Hartsough: When I was 14, there was a Nike missile site near where I lived in Philadelphia. This was when people were hiding under their desks in school or going into air raid shelters to try to be safe when we had a nuclear war — which is absolutely ridiculous. So I organized other young people to have a vigil at this Nike missile site over Thanksgiving. We fasted and we walked around with our picket signs in front of the place, and that’s where my FBI record started.

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A Lifetime of Nonviolent Activism: The Street Spirit Interview with David Hartsough, Part 2

by Terry Messman

Logo courtesy of www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org

 “Governments have the power to throw us in jail and shoot at us and intimidate us,
but they don’t have the power to kill our spirits.” David Hartsough

Spirit: David, when were you hired as staff organizer for the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco?

Hartsough: I was hired in 1973 to be part of the Simple Living Program. My wife Jan and I shared the staff position. Then I began the American Friends Service Committee [AFSC] Nonviolent Movement Building Program in 1982.

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War Resisters’ International: Founding Statements of Purpose

by War Resisters’ International

Editor’s preface: The following article comprises the WRI’s founding statement of purpose (1922), with important revisions in 1935 and 1937. This posting also inaugurates our most ambitious project thus far. In conjunction with WRI, London, we have started to undertake the research of the enormous WRI archive held in Amsterdam by the International Institute of Social History (IISG). The archive occupies 63.3 meters of IISG shelf space, with spill over material in approximately 40 other archives at IISG, and with material at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The purpose of our project will not be, of course, to post anything or everything, but rather to make a selection of material that bears on the influence of nonviolence on the early 20th century peace movements, and vice versa, especially the period c. 1910-1950, that is, from the years leading up to WWI, to the aftermath of WWII. Wherever possible, we shall also be providing our own pdf scans of the original material, in order to make the material more accessible to scholars. The pdf links will be noted at the ends of sections, or the ends of articles. Acknowledgments are at the end. JG

WRI broken rifle logo; courtesy wri-irg.org

Statement One (1921): War Resisters International. What it Is and What it Advocates

In many countries there are organisations of men and women who are pledged to refuse all war service. They are affiliated to an International Secretariat,  Paco [Esperanto for peace. Ed], Bilthoven, Holland. The basis of the international movement is simple but uncompromising. Members of the affiliated bodies are required to agree to this affirmation: “War is a crime against Humanity. I have therefore decided to support no kind of war, and to strive to remove all causes of war.”

War is a crime against Humanity.

Holding these views War Resisters welcome the proposal of a General Strike whenever war is threatened. They urge that the Trade Unions should agree to declare a strike as soon as their Governments order mobilisation of troops, and that the strike should be continued until the order has been withdrawn and other steps taken to settle the dispute.

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Nonviolence in Education

by Jean-Marie Muller

Photo, Jean-Marie Muller; courtesy histoiresordinaires.fr

On 10 November 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the period 2001–2010 “the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World” (Resolution 53/25). The General Assembly considered that “a culture of peace and nonviolence promotes respect for the life and dignity of every human being without prejudice or discrimination of any kind.” It furthermore recognised the role of education “in constructing a culture of peace and nonviolence, in particular the teaching of the practice of peace and nonviolence to children, which will promote the purposes and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.” The General Assembly went on to invite member states to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the practice of peace and nonviolence is taught at all levels in their respective societies, including in educational institutions.” There may well be good reason to celebrate the fact that the representatives of the member states assembled in New York voted for such a resolution, but nonviolence is still alien to the culture we have inherited. The core concepts around which our thought is organised and structured leave little room for the idea of nonviolence; violence, on the other hand, is inherent in our thinking and behaviour. Nonviolence is unexplored territory. Our minds have such trouble grasping the concept of nonviolence that we are often inclined to deny its relevance. So a great deal of educational work remains to be done to prevent the United Nations resolution from going unheeded, and to ensure that the “culture of peace and nonviolence” to which it refers really does change the mindset of teachers and children.

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Book Review: The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era by Shawn Francis Peters

by Joseph Geraci

Dust wrapper art courtesy Oxford University Press

The Catonsville Nine protest has often been described as one of the most significant pacifist protests of the Vietnam War era, or, in the words of the actor Martin Sheehan, “arguably the single most powerful antiwar act in American history.” But was it nonviolent, and why should it matter to ask?

All of the Nine were catholic clergymen or laity and took their inspiration, as they said, from the Sermon on the Mount, Vatican Council II, and the recent encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”). They were grounded in the Christian pacifism of Tolstoy and Dorothy Day, and influenced by the social message and call to action of Liberation Theology.

As Shawn Francis Peters writes in his arresting history, The Catonsville Nine (Oxford University Press, 2012), “They framed their protest as a call to rouse their church from its slumber regarding peace and social justice issues.” And as one of the Nine, Tom Melville declared, “Our church has failed to act officially, and we feel that as individuals we’re going to have to speak out in the name of Catholicism and Christianity.” The protest action was rich in symbols; it resembled a ritual. As they set fire to the nearly 400 draft files with their own homemade napalm, they spoke of the flame as “more than a mechanism for destroying the draft files. It was an enduring Christian symbol that evoked Pentecost.” Daniel Berrigan prayed that the flame would “light up the dark places of the heart, where courage and risk were awaiting a signal, a dawn.”

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Constructive Program: Building a New India

by Allwyn Tellis 

Editor’s Preface: This article is Chapter One of Allwyn Tellis’s unpublished PhD thesis on Gandhi’s constructive program. The notes at the end of the article give details about the text, biographical information, a link to the complete thesis, and acknowledgments. JG

Gandhi poster courtesy, A Future without War; afww.wordpress.com

In a three-part series of articles beginning in September 2006, The New York Times documented the severe water supply crisis that India has been facing for several decades, and that threatens only to get worse as the population increases, the available resources shrink, and the powers that be remain hopelessly ill-equipped and often callously indifferent. The opening article calls attention to the Indian government’s  “astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.” (1) This doomsday scenario can be extrapolated onto other basic services such as food supply, air quality, sanitation, health, education, and shelter. As India emerges as a promising “tiger” in the twenty-first century global economy, the majority of her population still leads a subhuman existence forever poised on the brink of epidemics, famines, and genocidal conflicts.

It seems that Mahatma Gandhi’s dire warning that a modernizing India could hope, at best, to be a “second or fifth edition of Europe and America” is becoming increasingly apparent. While India boasts the trappings of a twenty-first century economy and proclaims itself the largest democracy in the world, never before have so many millions of Indians been marginalized and alienated from the official frameworks of the state, political economy, and civil society. The indictments and reprimands that Gandhi hurled at the British Empire can be aimed with greater vehemence at the postcolonial Republic of India. Yet, every year, Gandhi Day is celebrated with a national holiday consisting of prayer meetings, ritual spinning bees, public sanitation drives, and the garlanding of statues of the Mahatma (great soul) or Bapu (father).

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“There is no such thing as Gandhism.”

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: In our continuing series on original texts, we are posting here Gandhi’s little known rejection of “Gandhism”. The editorial notes at the end give textual and other details. JG

Poster art courtesy Elevate to Great; e-2-g.com

There is no such thing as Gandhism, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. There is therefore no question of my leaving any code behind like the code of Manu [an ancient Hindu Lawgiver]. There cannot be any comparison between that lawgiver and me. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not by any means final. I may change them tomorrow if I find better ones.

I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both, on as vast a scale and as best as I could. In doing so I have sometimes erred and learnt by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me a series of experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence. By instinct I have been truthful, but not necessarily nonviolent. As a Jain Muni [Jain holy man] once rightly said, I was not so much a votary of Ahimsa as I was of Truth, and that I put the latter in the first place and the former in the second. For, as he phrased it, I was capable of sacrificing nonviolence for the sake of truth. In fact, it was in the course of my pursuit of Truth that I discovered Nonviolence. Our scriptures have declared that there is no Dharma [law] higher than truth. But nonviolence they say is the highest duty. The word Dharma, in my opinion, has a different connotation as used in the two aphorisms.

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The World Significance of Mahatma Gandhi

by Rev. Dr. John Haynes Holmes

Editor’s Preface: This is the text of a sermon John Haynes Holmes preached to his congregation at the Community Church, New York City in March 1922. It was published in pamphlet form in April of that year, and is one of the earliest extant US statements about the significance of Gandhi, although Haynes also mentions a previous sermon to his congregation some months before, which could not be retrieved. This continues our series of postings of original, historical documents. See the notes at the end for further textual and biographical information. JG

Portrait of John Haynes Holmes, courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

As I enter this morning upon the discussion of Mahatma Gandhi, of India, and of the universal significance of the work which he is doing in his native country, I am irresistibly reminded of the day, which was not so long ago, when I first had the pleasure of presenting this man to this congregation, and of declaring my conviction, the same now as it was then, that Gandhi is incomparably the greatest man now living in the world. How the situation has changed in these few months! At that time Gandhi’s name was practically unknown outside the borders of India. I hit upon it by the merest chance; and, although I came to feel upon the instant that here was a creative spiritual genius of the first order, my information was of the meagrest description. Furthermore, all endeavors to get additional information met with failure.

Today, however, Gandhi’s name is appearing on the first pages of all the newspapers. Scores of articles have been published in the magazines and reviews of this country, England and the continent. A great journal, the New York World, sends its leading correspondent to India to “spy out the land,” and he returns to write of Gandhi and his policy of nonviolence and non-cooperation. From almost utter obscurity, this man mounts in a few months to a fame as universal as it promises to be immortal. He holds today the center of the world’s attention. That position of primacy held so proudly by Woodrow Wilson in 1918 and 1919, and by Vladimir Lenin in 1920 and 1921, is now occupied by a little Oriental who has never held any official position, who seeks neither glory nor power, and who languishes this day behind the bars of an English jail.

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Gandhi’s Impact on the USA Peace Movement

by Charles C. Walker

Logo of UK-FOR; courtesy of for.org.uk

Gandhi’s influence on the peace movement  in the United States was felt as early as the 1920s. An effective exponent of Gandhi’s ideas was John Haynes Holmes, a prominent Unitarian minister and reformer, and an outspoken pacifist in World War I. He first set forth his discovery of Gandhi in a 1922 sermon titled “World Significance of Mahatma Gandhi” which was widely circulated. In another sermon the same year, “Who is the Greatest Man in the World Today?” this designation of Gandhi amazed many listeners, most of whom had never heard the name before. Gandhi’s autobiography was first published in America in the magazine Unity, which Holmes edited.

There were landmark books: by Romain Rolland in 1924, and three by C.F. Andrews published in 1930 and 1931. The Power of Nonviolence by Richard B. Gregg first appeared in 1934, and two revised editions were subsequently published. Probably no other book on nonviolence has been so widely read by U.S. pacifists, or so widely used as the basis for a study program.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi