Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Gandhi's heirs
November 13, 2003 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Five champions of nonviolence. A look at five people who have fought for political and social justice using the principles of Mahatma Gandhi.
posted by homunculus (30 comments total)

 
[this is very good]
thanks, homonculus.
posted by moonbird at 8:23 PM on November 13, 2003


what moonbird said...we could use more nonviolence nowadays
posted by amberglow at 8:28 PM on November 13, 2003


The article was written before Aung San Suu Kyi's recent arrest (previously discussed here). In late September she was allowed to return home under house arrest after undergoing surgery. Now she's been offered some limited freedom, but she has refused to accept it until everyone who was arrested with her are freed too.
posted by homunculus at 8:34 PM on November 13, 2003


Adopt ways of Gandhi: Wolfowitz to Palestinians
posted by homunculus at 8:38 PM on November 13, 2003


I think nonviolence is not the right word to describe what is happening. It is correct from the point of view of not fighting fire with fire, the weak trying to overwhelm the strong through force, but that is too limited for what is actually taking place.

"Tyrants cannot exist without victims" -- the idea that if people just *refuse* a tyrant, even unto death, it is soon so exhausting to the tyrant that they cannot continue with their oppression. Resistance in all ways. Inefficiency. Sloth. Dumb insolence. The selective enforcement of orders. Waste. Red tape and ritual. Ingratiating incompetence.

In a relationship, it would be a housewife with a bully of a husband, who pretends not to know how to do housework, or be able to learn. In his frustration he tries and fails again and again to "teach" her. Eventually he resigns himself to do it, because she just can't (won't) do it *right*.

POW training, post-Korea, emphasized that you should never allow your captors to think they had the upper hand. Half-dead with exhaustion, snap to your feet and start whistling a tune, it will demoralize your tormentors,
and boost your morale at the same time.

More than non-violence, it is passive resistance.
posted by kablam at 8:46 PM on November 13, 2003


I wonder if in our time of incredible media scrutiny a Martin Luther King could go on to become an icon for non-violence. Would the political right dig into his past and expose his alleged womanizing? Would the media use any dirt they could find to destroy him thus rendering him a pariah to his cause? Could this be why we have IMO a vacuum of truthful and capable leaders who would support something as radical as nonviolence in the western world?
posted by photoslob at 8:46 PM on November 13, 2003


wolfowitz shuld be kicked in the balls for uttering the name of Gandhi.
posted by goethean at 8:58 PM on November 13, 2003


You know the guys in the C Ring at the Pentagon like to hang out together for lunch in the cafeteria. They're all agreed that Wolfowitz is a pacifist putz.
posted by MAYORBOB at 9:08 PM on November 13, 2003


Kicking Wolfowitz in the balls would give kicking people in the balls a bad name.
posted by psmealey at 10:02 PM on November 13, 2003


Upon seeing this thread, I've been concerned about a similar thing regarding Nelson Mandela, photoslob. I have a strong sense that someone is about to jump in here and shout "Mandela was a terrorist! The ANC were a violent organisation!". I've seen it here before.

As a pre-emptive strike, for people who would hold that point of view, consider:
1) Can't people change?
2) Would you be willing to admit to feeling that South Africa was a better place before the demise of apartheid?

Non-violence is a powerful weapon, perhaps the only true solution to many conflicts, but it's a very difficult one to use. Time and leadership is all it takes.
posted by Jimbob at 10:04 PM on November 13, 2003


Interesting link, though I've heard the argument that the Tibet situation and the Dalai Lama is an argument against non-violence, in that it's been ineffective against China, Kurds in Turkey have been facing the same problem.

Alan Dershowitz addressed this in an interview last year.
posted by bobo123 at 10:14 PM on November 13, 2003


bobo123, I think perhaps a number of factors determine how successful non-violent action is. How important are the people involved? I'm thinking that if they are an important source of labor, upon whom the wealth of the country and government depends (ie. India), they might be more successful than Buddhist monks for instance. If they are an oppressed majority (ie. black South Africans) as opposed to an oppressed minority (ie. Kurds), they might also be successful. Given these criteria, I do feel that Palestinians would be in a position of strength if they chose non-violent resistance.
posted by Jimbob at 10:35 PM on November 13, 2003


Upon seeing this thread, I've been concerned about a similar thing regarding Nelson Mandela, photoslob. I have a strong sense that someone is about to jump in here and shout "Mandela was a terrorist! The ANC were a violent organisation!". I've seen it here before.

At the risk of becoming a strawman, I wondered exactly that, not about Nelson Mandela in particular (of his pre-imprisonment days I know little, the image in my mind is of an imprisoned martyr for justice, as much a symbol for the necessity of change to the outside world as a leader for change within his country) but of his ex-wife, Winnie. Wasn't she known for hanging with a resistance group, not affiliated with the ANC, known for the use of often brutal violence? Of course, perhaps this shouldn't reflect on Nelson Mandela himself--indeed, to me, it doesn't, and I (like, I suppose, a good many others) thought his election to the South African presidency a vindication of his years of struggle, a historical justice on a par with the ending of apartheid itself. Any South Africans on here care to comment?

note: a quick googling finds nothing about this non-ANC group I mentioned--am I on crack here?--but the pbs.org link above notes the ANC privately denounced Winnie's infamous "matchstick and necklace" speech.

I wonder if in our time of incredible media scrutiny a Martin Luther King could go on to become an icon for non-violence. Would the political right dig into his past and expose his alleged womanizing? Would the media use any dirt they could find to destroy him thus rendering him a pariah to his cause? Could this be why we have IMO a vacuum of truthful and capable leaders who would support something as radical as nonviolence in the western world?

I wonder if, contrary to this, people in the media-saturated West are becoming progressively desensitized to such scandals? Clinton's extramarital dalliance doesn't seem to have affected his political success, and neither has Bush Jr's history of cocaine abuse, at least yet. (fingers crossed[*]) However, the five people named in the article all worked on behalf of poor, disenfranchised and oppressed people--the barriers facing say, a (mpdern day) inner city black in the US or a Native in Canada are much more subtle and perhaps more difficult to rally a cause 'round.
posted by arto at 10:56 PM on November 13, 2003


I wonder if, contrary to this, people in the media-saturated West are becoming progressively desensitized to such scandals?

I was thinking that too, with the Schwarzenegger victory it looks like the public is indifferent to past sex or drug scandals. Actually it looks like the candidate with the checkered past is more likely to win, nowadays.
posted by bobo123 at 11:49 PM on November 13, 2003


It struck me recently that if the Palestinian suicide bombers started doing what the Buddhist monks in Vietnam did, burning themselves alive in public squares, instead of blowing up random victims, they would be a lot more effective. Violence begets more violence.
posted by Xoc at 1:01 AM on November 14, 2003


bobo: "During the obligatory pot-smoking question, several candidates seem willing to drink bong-water if it would establish their credentials"

We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread, already in progress.
posted by arto at 1:06 AM on November 14, 2003


if the Palestinian suicide bombers started doing what the Buddhist monks in Vietnam did, burning themselves alive in public squares, instead of blowing up random victims, they would be a lot more effective

because we all know how successful Buddhist monks have been re stopping the violence in Vietnam?

you know, Jan Palach is a personal hero of mine. but his dream took 30 years of not-always-cold war to become reality, it's hard to argue that his sacrifice alone made the Wall fall down. and this comes from someone who admires Palach immensely, and considers him a true hero of the 20th century

and by the way, one can only imagine how Ariel Sharon would quickly end up dismantling outposts and settlements in the West Bank, because he just couldn't stomach the sight of Palestinians burning themselves alive in public squares, right?

you know, one thing is gaining the moral high ground -- nonviolence grants you that, of course. one thing is making a statement. being politically successful, unfortunately is entirely another, as other posters here made clear already.
terrorism, and the targeting of civilians is of course unexcusably horrible and immoral. but it's hard to argue that nonviolence alone can win political battles, and wars. at least history does not seem to make that point for you.
posted by matteo at 1:48 AM on November 14, 2003


oh, yeah: and almost everybody in the West likes those nice nonviolent Tibetan monks right? but where are their fans when said monks are getting their skulls bashed in by the Chinese? Free Tibet anytime soon? Did I miss that breaking news item on CNN?

it's the old MLK - Malcolm X debate, unfortunately. the limits of nonviolence. I'd like to have an answer.
posted by matteo at 1:51 AM on November 14, 2003


42.
posted by quonsar at 4:11 AM on November 14, 2003


matteo, wouldn't it be good if people actually tried nonviolence (or diplomacy or any other possible nonlethal way) to solve problems first? It's one of many possible tools to use, and while you're right it's very specific and doesn't always work, it's worth a try I think--there's something wrong about our leaders here planning for war before even trying diplomacy, and for palestinians to go to bombing before sit-down strikes or things like that.
posted by amberglow at 4:50 AM on November 14, 2003


"The Art of Peace is not easy. It is a fight to the finish, the slaying of evil desires and all falsehood within. On occasion the Voice of Peace resounds like thunder, jolting human beings out of their stupor.

The world will continue to change dramatically, but fighting and war can destroy us utterly. What we need now are techniques of harmony, not those of contention. The Art of Peace is required, not the Art of War."

- Morihei Ueshiba
posted by krunk at 6:57 AM on November 14, 2003


Nice link, thanks, homonculus.
I wonder whether the efforts to make violence abstract and remote are not the most dangerous trend. The Brits swinging clubs at the skulls of salt miners were said to have been forced, eventually, to confront the meaning of their actions. Is there a parallel to launching a Tomahawk missle? There, the perpetrator is removed from the gore.
Indeed, the current violence being carried out in our (U.S.) names is seldom shown in its full revolting technicolor bloodiness . . . and if it were, it would only be mistaken for the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Is the best way to wage peace to show the horror?
posted by ahimsakid at 7:34 AM on November 14, 2003


Well, those are all mortal, sinful people like the rest of us, and they're all somehow linked to partisan causes of their own-- Mandela, particularly, used to be an advocate of communism etc. The Greatest Proponent of love and non-violence is Jesus Christ .
posted by 111 at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2003


the limits of nonviolence.

Gandhi claimed that non-violence would work, even against Hitler "It would take a vedy long time, but it would work", he said. (I believe that I saw this on one of the newsreels included with the Gandhi DVD.)

Non-violence is not a simple, cut-and-dried solution. It took creativity and meditation for Gandhi to come up with his particular civilly disobedient actions, like his walk to the sea, the protest at the salt mines, the boycott of British textiles, and his hunger strikes (in a time when that was not a cliche). So, the fact that certain types of nonviolent action doesn't work in certain situations doesn't invalidate Gandhi's theory. I think the point is to find the particular protest that captures the public's attention in that time and place. Non-violence is an approach to a problem, an ethic and a mentality, rather than a particular method.
posted by goethean at 8:18 AM on November 14, 2003


The Greatest Proponent of love and non-violence is Jesus Christ.

And just think---he had even less success than the Tibetans!

[irony intended]
posted by goethean at 8:21 AM on November 14, 2003


Nice link, homunculus. We are constantly barraged with violent and negative news - on MeFi and elsewhere - and it is really nice to see a reminder of other solutions. Timely, too - we were just watching Gandhi again last night.

The question of whether King and Nelson etc would survive today's scrutiny is a very interesting one. It is such a shame that our society needs everything to be so black and white that a person's good deeds somehow are discounted or invalidated if they've cheated on their spouse or inhaled or ever made any bad decisions in general. Nobody is perfect. But that doesn't mean we can't all make brave, courageous, important choices, even consistently - while at the same time making a few 'poor' ones.
posted by widdershins at 8:52 AM on November 14, 2003


I don't think lack of success is necessarily a argument against non-violence. Even though many non-violent protesters fail to succeed, one could argue that they are ALWAYS successful.

To attack violence with violence, one becomes the one attacked. To be non-violent in the face of certain death, which Jesus advocated also, is to make a statement about your beliefs. It's all too easy to take the most "effective" route and treat fire with fire, but that does not remove violence from the world.

The path to non-violence is not easy and many stray from the path, even temporarily. Strange how we smear a ahimsa follower if they stray. Can anyone say that they've stuck to their beliefs 100%? Even Gandhi made errors (he's said that). But to get back on the bicycle after falling is what should be rewarded.
posted by Dantien at 10:39 AM on November 14, 2003


*sigh*
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on November 14, 2003


A good point has been raised that non-violence may not work in some situations. One such that comes to mind is an ethnic cleansing situation. The tyrant, in this case, does not want slaves or an oppressed minority, they either want their hated enemy gone or dead.
posted by kablam at 6:36 PM on November 14, 2003


What we need to keep in mind about the question of non-violence working or not working is that the whole situation is being framed by violence, so the answer is tilted in violence's favor. In other words, we don't ask, does violence work? Of course it works. In the sense that it accomplishes a quick black and white goal like killing 3000 people in the world's most powerful country - or pulling down the statue of an enemy within a few weeks of launch. Sure, works like a charm.

But we rarely ask the question, what is the ultimate "working" that we seek? What do we want accomplished? It should be tautological that the end result we desire is non-violence, right? Violence certainly doesn't seem to work in achieving that on the large scale, otherwise the amount and degree of violence among humans would be dramatically withering over time as violence begat non-violence. When compared against the sad reality of how bad a job violence is doing, non-violence offers at least a possibility. For one thing, it offers the true moral high ground, which can turn out to be a practical, real-world advantage. No, it doesn't always, but when it fails, it only falls to the standard set by violence.

Making this point (and many more) more eloquently than I can is Marilyn French's Beyond Power, an epic indictment of the perpetually self-fulfilling vicious circle of coercive power.
posted by soyjoy at 10:07 PM on November 15, 2003


« Older We've had lively discussion of unusual baby names ...  |  Matrix in ASCII.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments