The Pitfalls of Nonviolence as a Tactic

“Nonviolence has become a fad in some circles, and this fact may cause the great moral awakening started by Gandhi to stray into ‘techniques of nonviolence’, which is a new religion of ‘works’. These techniques, of course, should not be ignored. They can be used to obtain good results after all, but with the risk of forgetting that nonviolence is above all a witness to God. Should nonviolence become a mere method to ‘gain the whole world’ it would quickly be used by political parties for ends of dubious integrity. And then what would be left of it?”
André Trocmé


Enlightenment and Violence: How the Indian National Movement and Mahatma Gandhi Reshaped the Human Heritage of the Democratic Enlightenment

by Tadd Graham Fernée

Cover art courtesy

The sea changes in 20th century experience provide the ground for dismantling the often tacit colonial paradigm which erased non-Western viewpoints, and for incorporating the wider human experiences of modernity, development, progress, scientific achievement, secularism, the nation, justice, ethics and aesthetics. A case is made in my book, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-Making, for an Enlightenment ideal grounded in identifiable values committed to nonviolent conflict resolution, rather than a single cognitive worldview claiming a ‘new’ monopoly on ‘truth’. Modern science, in itself, yields no fixed picture of things, nor provides the comfort of a single fixed worldview. It follows that the Enlightenment heritage should shift from totalizing epistemic claims to the ethical core of Enlightenment in nonviolence. Where claims to total truth or moral certitude justify mass murder – even on grounds of modern secular ideologies – the Enlightenment has been fundamentally betrayed. From this perspective, the book is an auto-critique of the many-sided universal Enlightenment heritage. It comparatively studies nation-making patterns, experiments and revolutions in terms of the criterion of non-violence as an ideal normative value.

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The Enlightenment’s Unfinished Business: Adding Gandhian Values to Nation-Making

by William J. Jackson

19th century print of the Enlightenment, courtesy

Tadd Graham Furnée’s new book, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-Making, causes readers to consider some timely issues. I will begin by mentioning some of the issues it has caused me to mull over and explore, questions the book raises both directly and indirectly.

Chronologically, the European Enlightenement ran from 1650-1800. It was a period of remarkable advances in rationality, science and technology, and also a time of new social theories and revolutionary acts of violence ushering in the modern age. Typical dictionary definitions describe the Enlightenment as an eighteenth century movement of philosophical thought which explored the potential of the empirical method in science, questioned authority, and developed new political theories. While many people think of the Enlightenment as dead and gone, it is possible, and reasonable, to see it in another way. It can be seen as a time of blossoming advances which are still bearing fruit, of ongoing intellectual probes and experiments still giving birth to new sets of viewpoints and refinements which are capable of being informed by non-Europeans now, long after the chronological period of the original phase of the Enlightenment has passed.

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On Education

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

Gandhi teaching his followers; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Gandhi highly valued education as an essential part of his nonviolence program, and insisted it be included it in the daily life of the various ashrams that he founded. (1) If regular classes were held for children, adults were also asked to learn spinning, weaving, cloth making, and a host of other skills. It was not until 1909, however, that Gandhi began to systematize his thoughts, in the essay that follows. It is, in fact, Chapter 18 of one of his most important and influential works, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, presented as a series of questions and answers between the fictitious, if sometimes obtuse “Reader”, and answers by a knowing “Editor”, both of whom, needless to say are Gandhi. Hind Swaraj was written in a flurry of work between 13 and 22 November 1909 while Gandhi was on board the Kilnonan Castle sailing back from England to South Africa. Although he continued to write about education in Young India, Indian Opinion, and other of the periodicals he edited, the text that follows is recognized as his first attempt to outline the basics of a curriculum consisting of language, Indian civilization, and ethics. Please consult the notes at the end for further bibliographical information. JG

Reader: In the whole of our discussion, you have not demonstrated the necessity for education; we always complain of its absence among us. We notice a movement for compulsory education in our country. The Maharaja Gaekwar has introduced it in his territories. (2) Every eye is directed towards them. We bless the Maharaja for it. Is all this effort then of no use?

Editor: If we consider our civilization to be the highest, I have regretfully to say that much of the effort you have described is of no use. The motive of the Maharaja and other great leaders who have been working in this direction is perfectly pure. They, therefore, undoubtedly deserve great praise. But we cannot conceal from ourselves the result that is likely to flow from their effort. What is the meaning of education? It simply means knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take his life, and so may knowledge of letters. We daily observe that many men abuse it and very few make good use of it; and if this is a correct statement, we have proved that more harm has been done by it than good. (3)

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My Magical School: Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram Experiment in Education

by Dr. Abhay Bang 

Sevagram Ashram, c. 1960s; courtesy

As a child growing up in the 1960s I went to an amazing school. Today, I feel helpless and sad because I’m unable to offer such an education to my son, Anand. “Our childhood was so different. Things have changed beyond recognition,” old timers often moan and groan about the past. Still, my heart is heavy. You may ask what was so different about my school?

From grades four to nine I studied in a school which followed Gandhi’s Basic Education tenets (Nai Taleem), located at Sevagram ashram in Wardha, founded by Gandhi in the 1930s. Education should not be confined within the four walls of the classroom mugging up boring subjects away from Mother Nature. Gandhiji’s Nai Taleem strongly believed that children learnt best by doing socially useful work in the lap of nature. This is how children’s minds would develop and they would imbibe a variety of useful skills. To implement such a system of education, the great poet and Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore, at the behest of Gandhiji sent two brilliant teachers to Sevagram. Mr. Aryanakam came all the way from Sri Lanka and Mrs. Asha Devi from Bengal. This duo combined Gandhi’s educational methodology with Tagore’s love for nature and the arts. My parents, followers and friends of Gandhi, were involved with this educational experiment right from the start. The school tried out many novel experiments in education. Here, I will attempt to recall some of these.

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Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing, and Active Hope in the Holy Land; The Shomer Shalom Interview with Sami Awad

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Peace mural Shomer Shalom; courtesy

Author’s Preface: Sami Awad is a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, and the nephew of Mubarak Awad, one of the founders of the Palestinian nonviolent movement. [See the interviews we have posted with Mubarak Awad.] When still a boy his uncle gave him the writings of Gandhi, which led to a lifelong commitment to Gandhian nonviolence. Upon finishing his studies in the U.S. he returned to the Palestinian Territories and in 1998 founded The Holy Land Trust, the mission of which is “to create an environment that fosters understanding, healing, transformation, and empowerment of individuals and communities . . . in the Holy Land.” Awad is one of thousands of people in Palestine who resist occupation every day through nonviolent popular resistance. Holy Land Trust works with the Palestinian community at the grassroots and leadership levels in developing nonviolent approaches to Israeli-Palestinian conflict transformation and a future founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence. Awad has also established the Travel and Encounter Program, which aims to provide tourists and pilgrims with unique religious and political experiences in Palestine, and the Palestine News Network, the first independent press agency in Palestine and a major source of news on life in Palestine today. RLG

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb: Ahlan wa sahlan, Sami. Nonviolent civilian resistance to foreign occupation has been a way of life in Palestinian society. The words sumud (steadfast) and intifada (shaking off) describe the nature of Palestinian nonviolence. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of the history of Palestinian nonviolent civilian resistance and the popular struggle?

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Nonviolence, Politics, and Social Change

by Manmohan Chowdhury

“Nonviolent Political Power”; Jerusalem mural by Banksy; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: This previously unpublished article, from 1966, continues our re-examination of the influence of Gandhian nonviolence theory on the early European and U.S. peace movements, and is another in our series of rediscovered documents from the War Resisters’ International archive. Please see the notes at the end for further textual and biographical information. Chowdhury is a prescient observer of the political scene and much of what he writes below is as relevant now as when it was written. JG

Political action oriented towards a nonviolent world order should have three objectives: (a) welfare of the masses of the world; (b) elimination of coercion as an instrument of corporate action; that is, as the chief instrument of Government; and (c) drastic revision of the idea of national sovereignty.

Welfare of the people as a whole, even within a single state, is a concept of recent origin in the practice of politics. Traditionally politics has been concerned with struggles for power between powerful individuals and groups who sought power to further their private ends, or interests and objectives that, though not strictly selfish, had little to do with the welfare of the masses. Alexander’s dream of a world empire had a flavour of idealism about it, but the masses were nowhere in the picture.

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The Gandhi-Reynolds Correspondence in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection: Letters to and about Reginald Reynolds from Mahatma Gandhi, 1929-1946

by Barbara E. Addison

Editor’s Preface: We previously posted Reynolds’ article, “The Practical Application of Nonviolence,” as part of our War Resisters’ International project, found at this link. Both that article and this are additions to our ongoing series on Gandhi’s influence on pacifist and nonviolent movements in Europe and the U.S. Please consult the note at the end of the article for further information about the author. JG

“Gandhi: Man of the Year”; Time, Jan. 5, 1931; courtesy

Reginald Reynolds, a young British Quaker, corresponded with Mohandas K. Gandhi during one of the most crucial periods in Gandhi’s life and in modern Indian history: the Salt March (Salt Satyagraha) and the beginning of the 1930 Indian civil disobedience campaign against the British Raj. Reynolds was a resident in Gandhi’s ashram (spiritual retreat) at Sabarmati from 1929 to 1930. In March 1930, Gandhi appointed him to deliver a lengthy statement (generally known as “Gandhi’s Ultimatum”) to the British viceroy explaining the reasons for Gandhi’s revolt against British authority. The Gandhi-Reynolds correspondence, written primarily between 1929 and 1932, reveals Gandhi as an indefatigable political strategist, spiritual leader, and warm, attentive friend.

In 1931, Reynolds sold three of his Gandhi letters to Charles F. Jenkins, a prominent Philadelphia businessman and manuscript collector. He was parting with the correspondence in order to raise funds for his British-based organization, “The Friends of India.” He told Jenkins: “I find myself able to help them by surrendering some of my most valued possessions,” adding that he had many other letters, but had selected these as the ones with which he felt he could best part. “The rest are far too personal and precious to part with at all, and a fortune would not purchase them!” (1) The letters apparently were left to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection in Jenkins’s will, and were added to the collection in 1952. Reynolds himself donated sixteen of his “personal and precious” letters to the Peace Collection some time between 1952 and his death in 1958. Barbara Addison’s article, including scans of all the original documents, may be accessed at this link, “Gandhi Letters in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.” (2)

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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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“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