Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian political liberator, was assassinated in 1948. Religion News Service file photo

Is nonviolence a solution to all the world's conflicts? (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) Mention the concept of “nonviolent resistance” and two names immediately come to mind: Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader who led his nation to independence from British colonial rule, and Martin Luther King Jr., who led the struggle for civil rights in America. Tragically, both champions of nonviolence were assassinated: Gandhi in 1948 and King 20 years later. Today many people throughout the world revere both advocates of nonviolence.

Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Indian "mahatma" (great teacher) and political liberator was assassinated in 1948. *On this day in history note: On Sept. 20, 1932 Gandhi began a hunger strike against the treatment of untouchables. Religion News Service file photo

Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian political liberator, was assassinated in 1948. Religion News Service file photo


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

While Gandhi and King were largely successful in their efforts, the question remains whether nonviolent resistance is always the most effective strategy in the face of radical evil, injustice, and aggression. After all, there remains a thin line between nonviolence and martyrdom.

Professor Charles DiSalvo of West Virginia University has recently published “M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man Before the Mahatma,” an excellent study of Gandhi’s 20 years as a young attorney in South Africa where he faced anti-Indian stereotyping and bigotry.

Interestingly, Gandhi’s two closest friends were Jews he knew in Durban and Johannesburg. But despite Gandhi’s personal friendships and his commitment to freedom and security for his own people, he was indifferent, at best, or naive, about the Nazi persecution of Jews.

Even as late as 1939, Gandhi continued to advise Jews in Germany and Austria to practice nonviolent tactics when confronting Nazism. In a series of letters and private communications written that year to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, Gandhi urged the Jews of Germany “to melt” Nazi hearts by engaging in "Satyagraha," or “truth force.” Buber, who had fled Europe and Nazism in 1938 for safe haven in Jerusalem, condemned such counsel.

In a lengthy 1939 open letter to Gandhi, Buber asked: “And do you think perhaps that a Jew in Germany could pronounce in public one single sentence of a speech such as yours without being knocked down? … Such actions, however exerted, apparently do not have the slightest influence on their (Nazi) opponents.”

The pacifist Buber was under no illusions that nonviolent resistance would save Jews from death. He reminded Gandhi that "ineffective, unobserved martyrdom, a martyrdom cast to the winds -- that is the fate of innumerable Jews in Germany.”

Despite the ugly colonialism of the British and the racist Jim Crow laws in America, Gandhi's and King’s foes were not genocidal Nazis. Indeed, many of King's fellow Americans, including prominent Christian and Jewish religious leaders, joined him in marches, rallies, and other forms of nonviolent activities in the United States, and Gandhi gained supporters for his cause among a significant number of Britons.

Buber’s forceful testimony did not change Gandhi’s positions, nor did Gandhi influence Buber. And that raises the question: Should Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance be employed today in the face of Islamic State beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and other atrocities?

Pope Francis apparently does not think so. In August he publicly endorsed using force to prevent Islamic militants from assaulting Christian and other religious minorities in Iraq.

Vatican observers noted the Pope also praised various active efforts -- diplomatic, political, humanitarian, and military -- to aid civilians fleeing Islamic State brutality: "I thank those who, with courage, are bringing succor to these brothers and sisters, and I am confident that an effective political solution on both the international and the local levels may be found to stop these crimes and re-establish (the rule of) law." Not exactly a call for nonviolent resistance.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is the author of "Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations." RNS photo courtesy Rabbi A. James Rudin

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is the author of "Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations." RNS photo courtesy Rabbi A. James Rudin


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In July, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gave some unsolicited and mostly ignored advice to the Palestinians. Instead of Hamas’ armed attacks on Israel and other acts of physical violence, Kristof urged Palestinians to emulate Gandhi’s efforts: “If Palestinians turned to huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns, videos would reverberate around the world and Palestine would achieve statehood and freedom.”

Perhaps Kristof is correct, but until now Satyagraha is not a widely used Palestinian strategy, and in the worst conflict spots across the world, it may never be.

(Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of “Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations.”)

YS/AMB END RUDIN

Comments

  1. If the Japanese had broken through Burma to take over weakly defended India in WWII, they would have made short work of Gandhi and his followers.

    Non-violent resistance only works against developed nations (usually democratic) as foes. Governments dependent on public opinion or who are unwilling to murder people en masse to maintain power.

    Buber is correct here. Islamic State has no such qualms. As perpetrators of genocide and mass murder, it is entirely ridiculous to expect them to care about non-violent resistance.

    Kristof is correct. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric by Palestinian supporters, Israel is a democratic nation whose government is unwilling to engage in genocide (unlike all of their neighbors). They would be capable of being swayed by such approaches.

  2. Thank you for raising this question about nonviolent resistance. I am so happy that somebody is bringing it up. It needs to have much much more consideration in today’s world. And I agree completely that Palestine would Have a loud voice and a huge following if they used nonviolence.

  3. God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) is the ONLY solution to the world’s conflicts and all its other problems (Micah 4:1-5). 😀

  4. Gandhi on the Holocaust:

    “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from the cliffs.”

    Personally, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that maybe his commitment to nonviolence wasn’t quite the only motivation there. His phrasing makes him sound a bit gleeful at the prospect…

  5. @larry now your right,, two times..
    ..
    its almost frightening..i suggest you keep this new psychiatrist of yours..

  6. One possible explanation is that Larry is Jewish, which, if true, compels him, if he is loyal to his people, to lay aside his hard-left ideology and embrace ideological sanity when it comes to Israel. Being a hard lefty is an unaffordable luxury for anyone who cares about the continued existence of the Jewish state, the only real democracy in the region.

    Either way, you’re right that Larry sounds unusually sane politically on the Israel issue. Good for him.

  7. True, Fran, but even Jesus will not ultimately bring peace on earth without first physically routing a totalitarian dictatorial enemy. (See Revelation 19)

  8. Wow….first Larry and now Pan…..two ideologically extremist lefties who suddenly sound sane and sensible when the subject concerns Israel and the Jewish people.

    Good….there’s hope for them yet.

  9. Larry M, Israel really isn’t the problem, unlike the Brits with India in Gandhi’s time. The problem is that the Palestinians keep refusing to accept an Israel of any size, no matter how small. The day they truly accept its right to exist is the day that lasting peace has arrived.

  10. Of course, it’s proof positive that Larry’s brain is no stranger to moral clarity and intellectual sanity and can operate accordingly when he allows it to….

  11. Can you kindly provide a reference to this quote of Gandhi that you shared. Thanks

  12. The converse is equally true. Israel never declared it borders, for the negotiation to begin.

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