Guest Editorials

Guest Editorial: Interconnecting and Friendship’s Bonds

by Tom Gibian

Sandy Spring School, 2nd Grade Art Work; courtesy grover.ssfs.org/~ksantori/art/2nd_grade.htm

One of the underlying principles of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence is our capacity for interconnectedness, or as Gandhi was to state it, “the interconnectedness of all beings.” Interconnectedness, or connecting, is also very much at the heart of Quaker concerns.

I remember being in third grade and having to line up and pair off with a classmate to walk down the hallway to some destination beyond our classroom.  At Sherwood elementary school, there might have been 29 or 30 nine-year-olds and one teacher. On the day I’m recalling, I was paired off with a kid named Sammy.  I was new at Sherwood and someone warned me that Sammy had sweaty palms.   As we headed down the hallway, he took my hand.  His hand was sweaty, but it didn’t matter.  We held hands without embarrassment.  We were not self-conscious. We were little, at least relative to the world we were living in, and it could not have been more natural to reach out, to partner, to connect. Later, Sam would be one of the first friends of mine to get a high-performance muscle car in high school. That is a different story!

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Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace

by Pope Francis

Giotto, “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds”; courtesy jssincivita.com.

Editor’s Preface: The following is the official Papal message for the 50th World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017. It is, however, the first such ever devoted exclusively to nonviolence, in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. JG

1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, (1) and make active nonviolence our way of life.

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Editorial: Peace Be with You

by Joseph Geraci

Edward Hicks painting, c. 1823, from the Peaceable Kingdom series; courtesy Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Peace has been for centuries a universal greeting and sign. We may recall that the World War II military victory V-sign was transformed in the 1960s into a peace symbol; signs of the times. Peace was always more than a simple hello; it was a bestowal of peace on someone, a blessing. In the Middle East, for example, that area of the world so riven by violence, it is perhaps not so strange an irony that a common greeting is (in Hebrew) shalom aleikhem (Peace be with you), and the reply aleikhem shalom (Peace also be with you). In Arabic it is as-sal alaykum (Peace be with you), common to Muslims in Turkey, Indonesia, Central Asia, Iran, India, et al. The response is as-salamu alaykum, and can also be translated as “Peace also be with you”.

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Guest Editorial: Martin Luther King and the Commitment to Nonviolence

by Vinay Lal

Martin Luther King, at Southern Christian Leadership Conference; courtesy vinaylal.wordpress.com

Whatever the difficulties that Martin Luther King encountered in his relentless struggle to secure equality and justice for black people, and whatever the temptations that were thrown in his way that might have led him to abandon the path that he had chosen to lead his people to the “promised land”, it is remarkable that King’s principled commitment to nonviolence never wavered through the long years of the struggle. “From the very beginning”, he told an audience in 1957, “there was a philosophy undergirding the Montgomery boycott, the philosophy of nonviolent resistance.” His own “pilgrimage to nonviolence” commenced, King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom (1958), with the realization that “the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

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In Memoriam: Suzanne Duarte (1944-2015)

by Michael Sawyer

Photograph of Suzanne, 2015; courtesy Jan-Paul Vroom

We mourn the loss of our Natural World editor Suzanne Duarte, who died suddenly of natural causes on December 5, 2015 at her home in Boulder, Colorado.

Originally from California, Suzanne lived for most of her life in the western part of the country where she first came to know and love the wild places of the Earth – the Redwood Forests of northern California, Yosemite National Park, the Colorado Rockies and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. They were for her the true mentors teaching us about our interconnectedness with nature, which she later recognized in the deep ecology theory of Arne Naess.

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Guest Editorial: “Do Unto Others”; Pope Francis’ Call to Action

by John Dear

Poster art courtesy azquotes.com

Editor’s Preface: Pope Francis is the first Pope to address the U. S. Congress, and his speech is already being heralded for its stand against poverty, the death penalty and other humanitarian and spiritual concerns central to his papacy. The full speech can be read at this link. Francis also singled out four persons for praise, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day, most notably the last three, major figures in the nonviolence movement. Please also see the editor’s note at the end. JG

“Hope and healing, peace and justice!” That’s what Pope Francis called us to this morning as he addressed Congress [24 September 2015]. “Summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises,” he said. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

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Guest Editorial: The Rhetoric of Relevance and the Graveyard of Gandhi

by Vinay Lal

Popular Hindi press representation of Gandhi’s assassination; courtesy Vinay Lal collection

As India marked the 60th anniversary [2008] of Gandhi’s death, the tired old question of Gandhi’s “relevance” was rehearsed in the press. Once past the common rituals, we heard that the spiral of violence in which much of the world seems to be caught demonstrates Gandhi’s continuing relevance. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the Presidency of the United States furnishes one of the latest iterations of the globalizing tendencies of the Gandhian narrative. Unlike his predecessor, who flaunted his disdain for reading, Obama is said to have a passion for books; and Gandhi’s autobiography has been described as occupying a prominent place in the reading that has shaped the country’s first African American President. Obama gravitated from “Change We Can Believe In” to “Change We Need”, but in either case the slogan is reminiscent of the saying to which Gandhi’s name is firmly, indeed irrevocably, attached: “We Must Become the Change We Want To See In the World.” Obama’s Nobel Prize Lecture twice invoked Gandhi, if only to rehearse some familiar clichés – among them, the argument, which has seldom been scrutinized, so infallible it seems, that Gandhian nonviolence only succeeded because his foes were the gentlemanly English rather than Nazi brutes or Stalinist thugs.

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Guest Editorial: Nonviolence, A Gaping Hole in Postcolonial Thought

by Vinay Lal

Cover art courtesy Vinay Lal

The enterprise of making a nation is fraught with violence. People have to be not merely cajoled but browbeaten into submission to become proper subjects of a proper nation-state. Overt violence may not always play the primary role in producing the homogenous subject, but social phenomena such as schooling cannot be viewed merely as innocuous enterprises designed to ‘educate’ subjects of the state. One of the most widely cited works to have put forward this argument with elegance and scholarly rigor is Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen, where one learns, with much surprise, that even in the Third Republic, “French was a foreign language for half the citizens.” The making of France entailed not only the modernization of the rural countryside but creating, often with violence, proper subjects of a proper nation-state. The making of the United States offers another narrative of the role of violence in the production of the nation-state, with the extermination of Native Americans long before and much after the ‘Revolutionary War’ constituting the most vital link in the long chain of violence that marked the emergence of the United States.

Postcolonial thought, attentive as always to the politics of nation-making and nationalism’s complicity with colonialism, bestowed considerable attention on the various phenomena that can be accumulated under the rubric of violence; however, it had almost no time to spare for a pragmatic, ethical, or even philosophical consideration of nonviolence. The violence of the nation-state may have always been present to the mind of postcolonial theorists, but generally this was reduced to the violence of the colonizer. One thinks, of course, of Fanon, Cesaire, Memmi, and many others in this respect. In those works that have underscored the complicity of nationalist and imperialist thought, a principal motif in the work (say) of Ranajit Guha, the violence of indigenous elites also came under critical scrutiny. (See, for example, Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1999) It is characteristic of most social thought in the West that it has been riveted on violence – here, postcolonial thought barely diverged from orthodox social science, mainstream social thought, or the general drift of humanist thinking. Nonviolence is barely present in intellectual discussions. We see here history’s continuing enchantment with ‘events’; nonviolence creates little or no noise, it merely is, it only fills the space in the background.

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Guest Editorial: The Sexuality of a Celibate Life

by Vinay Lal

Book cover art courtesy navajivantrust.org

A celibate for the greater part of his life, Mohandas Gandhi continues to attract nearly unrivalled attention – often for the sex that did not take place. Even his friends and admirers, who revered him for bringing ethics to the political life, or for never demanding of others what he did not first demand of himself, were quite certain that Gandhi was unable to comprehend that a woman and a man might enjoy a perfectly healthy sexual relationship with each other. Nehru, seldom critical of the personal life of his political mentor, was convinced that Gandhi harboured an “unnatural” suspicion of the sexual life; and he deplored, as did many others, Gandhi’s strongly held view that sexual intercourse, other than for purposes of procreation, had no place in civilised life – not even among married couples.  The Marxists have long subscribed to the view that Gandhi was a “romantic”, a hopeless idealist and even hypocrite; to this a chorus of voices added the thought that Gandhi was an insufferable “puritan”.

Gandhi’s discomfort with the sexual life, according to one widely accepted strand of thought, commenced when his father passed away shortly after his marriage to Kasturba.  Though the young Gandhi liked to nurse his ailing father, one evening he was unable to contain his urge to share a night of ribaldry with his young wife. He had just withdrawn to the bedroom when a knock on the door announced that his father had passed away. Gandhi was, it has been argued, never able to forgive himself his transgression, and became determined to master his sexual drive. A more complex narrative links his renunciation of sex to his firm conviction, first developed during the heat of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to oppression in South Africa, that it compromised his ability to be a perfect satyagrahi.  Many commentators have pointed to his failure to consult with Kasturba before he took a vow of celibacy at the age of 37 as a sign of his cruelty and tendency to be self-serving.

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Remembering Vincent Harding: An Enduring Veteran of Hope

by Ken Butigan

Vincent Harding, c. 2013; photographer unknown.

Historian by profession and relentless nonviolent advocate by calling, Vincent Gordon Harding died on Monday, May 19, at the age of 83. The author of a series of books on the civil rights movement — which he called the Southern Freedom movement — he not only wrote history, but also played an active part in the struggle to make and remake it.

Harding worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Mennonite House in Atlanta, an interracial voluntary service. As part of the Albany, Ga., movement, he was arrested for leading a demonstration at the city hall in 1962. He became a strategist for the movement, and drafted Martin Luther King’s historic 1967 anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam,” which King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City one year to the day before his assassination.

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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