One of Our Favorite Definitions of Nonviolence

“Nonviolence is a direction, not a separating line. It has no boundaries.”
Thich Nhat Hahn


Gene Sharp’s Ideas are Breaking Through: The Peace Magazine Interview with Gene Sharp

by Metta Spencer

Book jacket courtesy Oxford University Press;

Metta Spencer: It has been eight years since I last interviewed you for the magazine. Since then people around the world have begun to listen to you.

Gene Sharp: Yes, I was just now invited to a Washington journal — Foreign Policy — who will publish something about people who had some response in the world in the last year. That kind of invitation never happened a few years ago.

Spencer: I know. In fact, let’s begin by reviewing the changes in your own thinking. As I recall, you started off as a graduate student in sociology working on a masters thesis and have managed to turn into Gene Sharp, the guy on the front page of the New York Times. Let’s start at the time when you began to realize that nonviolence was a special set of practices that could be developed into useful procedures.

Sharp: Ah yes! One thing that was in the master’s thesis was a typology of nonviolence. I classified six or seven belief systems, of which one was called “nonviolent resistance.” That’s a different category but it was in with the others. (Today I don’t even like the term “nonviolence” except for very special uses.) That typology went through several revisions and one was published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, which was an entirely new publication at the time. In it I took out nonviolent struggle as a separate category. That was a breakthrough in my thinking — that people didn’t have to have the belief in order for them to act.

I remember one time in the basement of the Ohio State University library. I was looking through old Indian newspapers on the conflict — I think it was the 1930 campaign — and the evidence was there: These people did not believe in nonviolence as an ethic! That was a shock. I thought: Oh dear! We didn’t have copy machines then. I had to copy the whole thing by hand and I thought; should I copy that down? It’s not supposed to be that way. But my focus on reality won out, fortunately, and I copied it down. Later I realized that it wasn’t a problem. It was a breakthrough, an opening! People didn’t have to believe in order to use this form of action! Therefore, it was open to almost everybody. That breakthrough was in about 1950 or ’51.

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Palestinian Nonviolence: The January 2015 Peace Magazine Interview with Mubarak Awad

by Meir Amor

Meir Amor: About 15 years ago you and I had a discussion that was published in Peace Magazine. The editors of Peace think it would be good to have another talk. So let me ask you first: Does your approach to nonviolence have a religious basis? Do Jewish or Muslim religious authorities consider it compatible with their teachings?

Photo of Mubarak Awad, 2014, by Meir Amor; courtesy

Mubarak Awad: Personally, I do it from a Christian perspective. For me, it’s time for us all to learn not to kill or destroy. But I did not push that belief on any Israelis or any Muslims. However, I did study Islam and nonviolence a lot, and I thought it would be great to have a Muslim who was interested in nonviolence so we could have a strong campaign. At that time I was interested in Faisal Husseini (1), a great Muslim who believed in nonviolence. I bought a lot of books about a Muslim who had been with Gandhi — Abdul Ghaffer Khan (2), who said that Islam is a nonviolent religion. I was doing that because the majority of Palestinians are Muslim. We held conferences studying Islam and nonviolence — discussing what jihad really means and Sufism in Islam. Sufis are like the Quakers in Christianity; they believe in peace.

There are many Sufis in Islam, who accept the challenge of nonviolence. It’s a big struggle for them — not only between the Palestinians and Israelis or Arabs and Israelis, but also between themselves, for them to be nonviolent at home and active in nonviolence in their community. They can see that we human beings have brains, not just guns, and can resolve any conflict, however big, by debating, by forgiveness, by conciliation.

But in the past twenty years the world has moved toward radical religion in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. That allows a minority within each religion to start dictating what religion means in a fundamentalist way. Many Muslims want to go back to a caliphate or to Mohammed. Some of them want to be more fundamentalist or more conservative.

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Nonviolence in the Middle East: The Fall 2000 Peace Magazine Interview with Mubarak Awad

by Meir Amor

Palestinian nonviolence marchers, Bil'in Village. Credit: Creative Commons/Michael Loadenthal; courtesy

Meir Amor: Why did you become a leader in the nonviolent Palestinian struggle?

Mubarak Awad: Palestinians had hardly any understanding of nonviolence. Gandhi had not been given a lot of attention in the Muslim world because he was against the creation of Pakistan, an Islamic state. So in the Arab mind nonviolence is just surrendering to the one who has more power.

Before I was expelled from Israel in 1988, my first initiative with Palestinians was to try to develop an educational program of nonviolence in Islam. I went to India to find a Muslim who worked with Gandhi: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, (1) who brought his village of Pathans into a struggle, forming a nonviolent army to help Gandhi. I wrote a book about him and met with religious leaders in Palestine, Israel, and Egypt. I found interested Muslims — most of them Sufis. In Islam, the Sufis are like Quakers in Christianity. In some places they are regarded as heretics. They pray; they dance; they act as if they have oneness with God. In Islam you cannot do that, so the Sunnis and Shiites don’t accept them as real Muslims. They are the ones who started writing about Islam and nonviolence.

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Blues for Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Terry Messman

Martin Luther King, Jr.; courtesy

Two of the most inspiring currents in modern American history came together when Muddy Waters and his electrifying Chicago blues band traveled to Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., on May 18, 1968, to play a benefit concert for the poor people and civil rights activists camped out in a shantytown in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.

Both of the mighty rivers that converged on that fateful day in the nation’s capital — the river of song and the river of justice — had their headwaters in the state of Mississippi, in two of the nation’s most poverty-stricken areas.

The river of song had its source at the ramshackle wooden shack where Muddy Waters lived and labored and first played the blues; while the river of justice had its headwaters in Marks, Mississippi, the small town in Quitman County where Martin Luther King, Jr. first saw the full extent of childhood poverty and hunger.

“Justice is like a Mighty Stream”

The two rivers had joined together in Resurrection City, the encampment created by the Poor People’s Campaign in May 1968. One of Dr. King’s most oft-cited passages from the prophet Amos likens justice to a “mighty stream.” Five years earlier, Dr. King had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the massive March on Washington in August 1963 while standing at the same location where Resurrection City now stood. He had quoted Amos in his speech: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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The Little Fir Tree: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Editor’s Preface: Manfred Kyber (1880-1933) was born in Riga, now the capital of Latvia, but then a part of Russia. His family was German and when he was still a small boy they moved back to Germany. He studied philosophy at the University of Leipzig and later moved to Berlin where he published a novel, poetry, and theater criticism. He married Elisabeth Boltho, a Theosophist through whom he met Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and mystic, and became associated with the anthroposophical movement, which Steiner led. Kyber was not only a pacifist but an outspoken early proponent of animal rights. As well as poetry and novels, he published several volumes of fables and fairy tales, many of which have been translated into English. See the note at the end for links and further details about the translation and translator. Please note that we have also posted two other fairy tales by Kyber, “The Daily Work before Sunrise”, and “The Key of Heaven”.  WJJ

Illustration courtesy

Once upon a time, deep in a forest of firs, there was a little fir tree who yearned to be a Christmas tree. But that is not as easy as most things in the community of trees, because Saint Nicholas is very firm in regard to his policies, and allows only those trees which have been duly recorded in his book to go into towns and cities as Christmas trees.

The book is frightfully thick, as is proper for a good old saint, and Saint Nicholas takes it with him into the woods on clear cold winter nights and records which trees are to be chosen for the Christmas celebrations.

And the trees, thrilled that they have been chosen for Christmas Eve festivities, bow before him in gladness to thank him, and then the saint’s halo glows, and that is very beautiful, and very solemn.

Now this little fir tree deep in the forest of firs yearned to be a Christmas tree. But for many years Saint Nicholas, when passing by the little fir tree in the clear cold winter nights, had said nothing, absolutely nothing. The poor little fir tree had not been noticed, and so he became very, very sad, and began weeping and weeping, and all his branches trickled with tears.

When someone weeps so much that he begins trickling, someone is bound to hear it. Indeed, this weeping could be heard by a small gnome. He wore a green moss cloak, had a grey beard, and a flame-red snout, and lived in a dark hole.

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The Key of Heaven: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Perugino, “Christ giving Peter the Keys to Kingdom of Heaven”; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

Once upon a time, there was a very great and powerful king who ruled over many lands. All the treasures of the earth belonged to him, and he sported daily with the precious gemstones of Ophir and the roses of Damascus. But with all his great wealth and his great kingdom, there was still one thing he lacked, and that was the key to the gate of heaven.

He had sent out a thousand messengers to search for the key of heaven, but none could bring it to him. He had asked many wise men who had come to his court where one might find the key of heaven, but none of them had known the answer. Only one, a man from India with strange eyes, who smiled, pushing aside the precious gems of Ophir and the roses of Damascus with which the king sported, said to him: “All the treasures of the earth may be received as presents, but each person must seek individually for the key of heaven.”

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Gandhi in the Postmodern Age

by Sanford Krolick and Betty Cannon

Poster art; courtesy

The theory of nonviolence as an offspring of democracy is still in its infancy. Mohandas Gandhi, the master of this philosophy and its methods, was educated in Britain as a lawyer and learned well the principles of democracy. Throughout his years in South Africa and in the campaign for Indian independence, his efforts in dealing with conflict were consistent with the basic beliefs of democracy. While others fought revolutions promising that victory would bring democracy, Gandhi brought about revolutions using democratic principles and techniques; his victories were signified by the acceptance of democracy. Gandhi never tired of talking about the means and ends, claiming that the means used in settling the dispute between the Indian people and the British Government would determine the type of government India would evolve. He was fond of saying that if the right means are used, the ends will take care of themselves.

Gandhi called his philosophy satyagraha. In the United States it has been called nonviolence, direct action, and civil disobedience. These terms are inadequate because they only denote specific techniques Gandhi used. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will use nonviolence to designate the philosophy and resisters to designate those who adopt this philosophy and carry out its methods.

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The Daily Work before Sunrise: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Cover art for Kyber’s fairy tales; courtesy

Once upon a time, there was a blacksmith’s workshop and a blacksmith who labored there each day.

This blacksmith was unique, because his daily work was finished before sunrise.

It is a very difficult kind of daily work, which this blacksmith does. A person doing this kind of work becomes weary and sad. And one becomes calm and patient because of it, too. This kind of labor takes a lot of strength. Because someone who does this kind of work lives alone, and hammers in the twilight.

Now it was night, and the blacksmith was not at his forge. The fire-spirit in the chimney slept too. Only the fire-spirit’s breath faintly glowed off and on, glimmering under the ashes, and now and then scattering sparks around in the darkness. But the sparkles soon went out. Only a small gleam of light remained, and when it flickered, it cast glowing light beams that seemed to hurry here and there on the floor and walls, as if wandering and seeking something in the darkness of the smithy.

The relaxed bellows let its great stomach hang in plain glum folds, though when it is folded it becomes slimmer. It reminds us of how a stout master can grow skinny all of a sudden. One could have laughed about this, but in the smithy there was no one who understood how to laugh.

The anvil turned his fat head with its sharp pointed nose slowly in each direction, and looked at the old pieces of iron which would be hammered today. It was not much to look at. Only a few worn pieces huddled together. They lay in a corner, and they were dirty and dusty, like folks who have a long and difficult journey behind them.

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The Practical Application of Nonviolence

by Reginald Reynolds

Editor’s Preface: Reginald Reynolds (1905-1958) was a British journalist and general secretary of the London based No More War Movement (1933-37). He was a friend and supporter of Gandhi, and a staunch critic of British imperialism in India, which he articulated in his controversial The White Sahibs in India [1937], and also in Why India [1942]. During WWII he was a conscientious objector, and served in a mobile hospital unit. Reynolds was a great admirer of the American Quaker preacher, John Woolman, whose works he edited for a new English edition, and whom he cites below. See the notes at the end for archival references, and further information. This is the unpublished text of a speech delivered by Reynolds at the seventh triennial WRI conference, Braunschweig, Germany, in July of 1951. JG

Reginald Reynolds c. 1930; courtesy

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” These words, which were first brought to my attention in a letter received recently, and which I have since seen in an article, have been ringing in my mind ever since I arrived at this conference, and frankly what I am going to say to you now is merely the possibly confused reflections which have been going on in my mind since I read these words.

To me they express, in the most terse and epigrammatic manner, a philosophy, which I have been evolving myself over a period of years. “There is no way to peace, peace is the way”, and I believe that pacifism, as I understand the word, is an attempt to realize, in terms of life, the meaning of that simple epigram.

We are asked continually by non-pacifists, whether we hope, by our methods and by our movement, to prevent war. I don’t know what answer you give – I always say “of course we hope, but we do not expect.” And we do not base our belief in nonviolence on any calculation regarding the possibility of stopping war by a method of war resistance.

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Training for Nonviolent Action

by Don Lorenzo Milani

Don Milani with his students; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Don Lorenzo Milani (1923-1967) was born in Florence and became renowned as an educator of children from poor families, and an outspoken and controversial conscientious objector. His mother, Alice Weiss, was Jewish and a cousin of Edouardo Weiss, one of Freud’s earliest disciples. He was raised as an agnostic, but at the age of twenty he converted to Catholicism and was later ordained a priest. Besides his pacifist writing he also published in 1965, Letter to a Teacher (Lettera a una professoressa), which denounced the inequalities of class-based education systems “favouring the rich over the poor”. The book was in fact written cooperatively by Milani and eight student dropouts, and took a year to complete. It is considered one of the great Italian pedagogical works. In this book and in his classes he insisted on teaching conscientious objection, or what he termed “going against the grain” history. A useful article about Milani may be found at this link. JG

Introduction by Devi Prasad [1965]

Don Milani is an outspoken and intellectual person with deep political understanding. He is a parish priest and lives in Barbiana nearly 50 kilometres north of Florence, a place in the hills not easily accessible. When I went to meet him last August I felt it could not have been just chance that a priest like Don Milani is placed in such an isolated village. I later learnt that Church authorities sent him there after the publication of his book Pastoral Experience. He is perhaps too dangerous to be allowed to live in a central place where many more people can come in contact with him.

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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