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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Sending a Mighty Message: The Waging Nonviolence Interview with James Lawson

by Nathan Schneider

Portrait of James Lawson courtesy Vanderbilt University, vanderbilt.edu

Editor’s Preface: James Lawson was one of the chief organizers of the Civil Rights Movement, especially of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins. Throughout his long career he has steadfastly emphasized the need to develop long-range nonviolent strategies, not just short-term tactics. Please see the note at the end for further information about Lawson, Nathan Schneider, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Nathan Schneider: For activists trying to reclaim people’s power among all the powerful corporations at work today, what do you think can be learned from the civil-rights movement? What are the lessons from your experience?

James Lawson: Well, I think that the main thing that activists must learn is nonviolent philosophy, methodology, techniques, and strategy. They need to work from an investigation and assessment of their local base, determining thereby the skills and techniques that will organize and mobilize people in that local scene. No social movement is going to take place if it doesn’t have roots in what’s going on in Cleveland, Ohio, or Washington, DC, or right across Georgia. That’s how movements take place, and that’s how movements have taken place in the United States—not by national policy, but by local groups assessing their own scene and trying to be real about how to start working.

At the local level, people need to get some processes going that will cut down the sales of certain companies and corporations and begin to send a mighty message. It may not be possible to do that in the first year, but I’d be willing to wager that steady organizing around something specific would begin to have an impact. That’s the first task.

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The Spirituality of Nonviolence: The Soka Gakkai International Quarterly Interview with James Lawson

by SGI Quarterly

Painting by Charlotta Janssen based on mug shots of James Lawson after his arrest for a nonviolent protest in Jackson, Mississippi; courtesy charlottajanssen.com

Interviewer’s Preface: In the late 1950s, James Lawson moved to Tennessee as southern secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, where he began training students in Nashville in nonviolent direct action. Prior to that, he had spent a year in jail as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and had also trained in nonviolence at various Gandhian ashrams in India. Described by Martin Luther King Jr. as “one of the foremost nonviolence theorists,” Rev. Lawson, now in his 80s, still remains a vibrant voice for social justice. SGI

SGI Quarterly: Do you remember a particular moment after you became involved in the Civil Rights Movement when you felt afraid?

James Lawson: I recall a number of moments of fear. But, I should say to you that those are isolated moments, and that from the beginning of my involvement character requirements froze out any fear. I was going to finish my graduate degree and then probably move south to work in the movement. I had spent three years in India, 1953-56, and then came back to Ohio for graduate school. I shook hands with Martin Luther King for the first time on February 6, 1957. By then I had been practicing and studying Gandhian nonviolence for ten years. And so as we met and talked, he said I should come south immediately. I said to him, “OK, I’ll come just as soon as I can,” which meant that I dropped out of graduate school and moved. There was no fear in making that move.

I don’t recall a single moment as I traveled around the South that I was frightened or fearful. And as we began the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, I wasn’t aware of any moment of fear there either. I was expelled from the university and was made the target of many public attacks.

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Book Review: Vandana Shiva’s Who Really Feeds the World?

by Tallessyn Z. Grenfell-Lee

Book cover art courtesy zedbooks.net

Humanity will always have a few basic needs: clothing, shelter, food. In the early 1900s, Gandhi saw clearly how imperialist colonialism had hijacked India’s sovereignty along with its ability to clothe itself, and he inspired a nation to reclaim the right to spin its own cloth. The people embraced homespun khadi and the spinning wheel, not only for their practical utility in reestablishing the independent foundation for a local economy, but for their deep symbolic significance in resisting the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and classism perpetuated by imperialistic greed.

In her book Who Really Feeds the World (London: Zed Books, 2016) Vandana Shiva describes how India is again reclaiming another of humanity’s elemental needs from equally rapacious forces: the ability and right for a community to feed itself. This time, the symbol of communal empowerment is the humble seed, and Shiva’s Navdanya movement urges all Indians – and all peoples – to plant diverse seeds on every plot and balcony as a way to resist and reclaim food and seed sovereignty. Navdanya follows in the footsteps of Gandhi, employing Seed Satyagraha, or non-cooperation, to resist laws and policies that would allow large, trans-national corporations not only to convert local farms to industrialized, chemical-intensive practices, but also to outlaw ancient practices such as seed saving and sharing.

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Nonviolent Power in Action: The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Interview with Dennis Dalton

by Richard Ricketts

Dustwrapper art courtesy cup.columbia.edu.

Editor’s Preface: Dennis Dalton is Ann Whitney Olin Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and a leading authority on Gandhi and civil resistance. Please see the note at the end for bibliographical information, and acknowledgments. JG

Richard Ricketts: Do you see resistance to Peace Studies as a field of study?

Dennis Dalton: That is a hard question. Many universities have institutes and centers that incorporate the word “peace,” such as the Institute of War and Peace at Columbia, but all they typically study is the war side of the equation. Peace is seen as a passive phenomenon, as an absence of war, so it is thought that there is nothing there to study.

I suspect this line of thinking is encouraged, in part, by the large grants that are provided from the Department of Defense. Columbia, for example, has traditionally been funded very liberally by the Defense Department and the money is just not there for peace studies. That is why I was really interested in this program at Arizona State University. The founder of the program Ann Hardt was really committed to peace and peace studies. You need someone like that who can fund these types of programs.

When I went to the instruction/education board meetings [at Columbia], I was told the subject was academically soft, not rigorous enough. What they meant was that they deemed pacifism as a weak, effeminate subject.

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“Nonviolence is a Personal Choice”: The Figure/Ground Interview with Barry Gan

by Brett Keegan

Jacket art courtesy Rowman & Littlefield; rowman.com

Editor’s Preface: Barry Gan is professor of philosophy and director of The Center of Nonviolence, St. Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, New York. The interview was conducted by his student, Brett Keegan, for the open source, academic website figureground.org and posted there October 28, 2013. For further information about Gan and acknowledgments please see the note at the end. JG

Brett Keegan: So, how did you get introduced to peace studies and nonviolent philosophy?

Barry Gan: The long story goes back to when I was a child. I was the only Jewish kid in a neighborhood of all Christians, and had been apprised by my parents that we were sort of different from everybody else in the neighborhood when we moved there when I was about six. And somehow, I always found myself in the role of peacekeeper among friends who were often getting involved with fights. I don’t know if it was out of fear, or just a sense of the stupidity of fights, but I never got involved. I would always try to talk people out of them, talk people through them.

Later, when I was at summer camp and my older brother was at summer camp with me, I remember there was this other kid there who was always getting picked on by everyone. And since I wasn’t from their school, I didn’t know why they were picking on him. I just found it annoying. And I remember challenging the bully at the time and wrestling him to the ground to get him to stop picking on this one kid.

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Seven Reflections on the Enigma of a “Nobody” Making a Public Display

by William J. Jackson

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing Los Angeles Rams in NFL game; courtesy Getty Images

(1) New forms of nonviolent protest, and renewed uses of old forms, are in the headlines; the kneel-in, for example, a protest that has recently spread among athletes. Many people are not aware of the history and the philosophy involved. Not knowing the background, some critics misunderstand and grow angry. Even the liberal and usually knowledgeable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg called the kneel-in “dumb” and “disrespectful.” (Soon thereafter she took it back: “Barely aware of the incident or its purpose, my comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh.”) Many people seem unable to put kneel-ins in a historical perspective. So I feel it might help deepen our understanding to look into the background, the meanings, and intentions of some of these practices. Maybe being better informed could help critics comprehend what is happening. (1)

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The Religion of Gandhi: The Wire-India Interview with
Ajay Skaria

by Omair Ahmad

Dustwrapper of India edition courtesy permanent-black.blogspot.nl

Omair Ahmad: It is rare to speak of ‘religion’ in the political domain these days and you mention your own difficulties in breaking out of the secular mould to read Gandhi in this light. Could you explain?

Ajay Skaria: I must confess that like most others who had come of intellectual age as part of the Indian left, I was for long suspicious of Gandhi because of his overt religiosity. Certainly, if you had asked me as late as 2000, whether there was any chance that I would work on Gandhi, I would have emphatically said ‘no.’ And I would have said so partially because both as a college student and later in my work in the adivasi tribal regions, I often encountered too many Gandhians running ashrams that effectively practiced an upper caste Hinduism. Even now, to my mind, his Hinduism as a social phenomenon arguably enabled the later rise of militant Hinduism, Hindutva.

I was drawn into Gandhi’s writings completely by accident. In 2000, I was teaching the English Hind Swaraj in an undergraduate class and a passage from it intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati text close at hand I consulted it. I had in fact just bought it during my trip earlier that year to Ahmedabad since the person I was then working with, Indulal Yagnik, was first a Gujurati associate and then a critic of Gandhi. There was considerable divergence between the Gujarati and English. As I read more, I realised that the divergences were quite numerous, and it became increasingly clear to me that Gandhi’s writing might be doing something quite different from what he may have intended it to do.

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Nonviolence Versus Capitalism

by Brian Martin

Martin Luther King banner at 2012 U.S. Republican Convention, courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Nonviolent action provides the best hope for moving beyond capitalism to a more humane social and economic system. In the past, methods of nonviolent action such as strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation, sit-ins and alternative institutions have most commonly been used to challenge systems of direct violence, such as repressive governments. Capitalism is a more difficult system to challenge using nonviolent action because of the way it infiltrates people’s everyday thinking and behaviour. In order to develop a nonviolence strategy against capitalism, a careful analysis is required to pinpoint key areas for attention, spell out alternatives and highlight opportunities. At the core of capitalism is private ownership of the means of production, including land, factories and knowledge. This is backed up, ultimately, by the coercive power of the state. Problems with capitalism are well known, so only a summary is given here. Generally speaking, the system of ownership encourages individuals and groups to put special interests above general interests.

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Forgiveness and Conflict Resolution

by John Moolakkattu

Gandhi quote courtesy harshitkumargupta.wordpress.com

Scott Appleby, who has done extensive research on religion and politics, concludes that a new form of conflict transformation, namely religious peace building, is taking shape in and across local communities plagued by violence. (1) Since the end of the Cold War, there has been growing cooperation between nations and peoples in the Western hemisphere, and increasing number of apologies and acts of forgiveness throughout the world. This has prompted scholars of conflict resolution to shift their focus from conflict resolution to concepts such as reconciliation and forgiveness, concepts that reflect more correctly the spirit and practice of the new age. The power of forgiveness as a means of conflict resolution or transformation was emphasised by thinkers like Hannah Arendt, as it allows human beings to come to terms with their undesirable past, thereby changing the rule that governs the power relationship between the former victimiser and his or her victim. The application of ideas and beliefs that are relevant in the personal and religious realm to politics is however a project that many political realists would find difficult to accept.Forgiveness seems to represent the personal, the private and the spiritual. The sociologist and historian John Torpey writes that the influence of Holocaust consciousness is a factor contributing to the forgiveness discourse. (2) One can also see the direct influence of restorative justice practices such as criminal justice innovations and victim-offender mediation, often drawing on aboriginal justice. However, it is the encouraging results from the experience of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the revival of the Christian idea of forgiveness that also finds reflection in most religions in one form or the other, which made the concept popular in recent years. Some even see this as a sort of opportunity for national self-reflexivity and social healing. In other words, forgiveness, once dismissed as irrelevant in the field of conflict resolution during its technical phase of rational problem solving, has now become a theme of considerable import.

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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