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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Monday, August 19, 2002  
More on the Peace Abbey, Gandhi, &c

To visitors from Instapundit, Little Green Footballs, Cut on the Bias, Daily Pundit, Backspinning, and all others who have found their way here despite the vagaries of the Blogger archiving system: Welcome!

As of this morning, the noxious banner at the Peace Abbey in Sherborn had been removed. Don't know if aggrieved e-mails did the trick. But kudos to readers who took time to write in protest.

A rewarding aspect of the Peace Abbey screed business has been the light that several correspondents have shed on Gandhi's teachings -- the ones not emphasized at paper-crane-folding bees. My respect for his legacy has only been enhanced.

In the comments box below, Scott offers these quotes from the great Indian pioneer of non-violent resistance:

My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach non-violence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes.

Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, pre-supposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission.

Nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence. But the message of nonviolence is for those who know how to die, not for those who are afraid of death. If one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner to flee from danger.

Rachel offers another useful Gandhi quote:

He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden.

Meantime, Loretta Rogers of San Anselmo, Calif., e-mails a thought-provoking essay that proposes a campaign upon which pacifists might embark with some effect:

I would like to say something in favor of real pacifism specifically of the Gandhian variety. None of "peace abbots" that you cite seem particularly Gandhian to me, despite their statue.

M. Gandhi was an active opponent of evil. He was also grounded in reality and politically savvy. He had great moral stature and even his opponents respected him. Most of all, he tended to be effective.

His response to evil was to name it and then do something about it. He mounted campaigns that respectfully addressed all parties in a conflict and challenged them to change their minds and hearts. He got results.

In my view, today's peaceniks are passive and whiny. They take an ostrich approach to the threat of Islamist terrorism and address themselves petulantly to only one party in the conflict, the U.S. and its government.

Their writings and communications tend to be contemptuous of the feelings of outrage and patriotism in the American people. They oppose U.S. military action in a way that seems more like a rebellious adolescent rather than an adult making a reasoned judgment after taking full account of the realities of our present situation.

Therefore, I completely understand the contempt they elicit from you. Obviously, they change no one's mind and clarify nothing. To me, they seem less interested in pursuing peace than in pursuing a political agenda and appearing morally above it all.

Gandhi once discussed the range of responses a community could make to aggression and set up a moral hierarchy of options: The best option, of course, was Gandhian nonviolence. The second best option was to respond militarily, more or less following the just war guidelines. The worst possible option was to do nothing and to identify with the aggressor.

To me, the current "peace movement" seems to have chosen Gandhi's worst option. The Bush administration appears to have chosen the second best and thus the morally superior one. If "pacifists" were truly interested in promoting peace, they could follow Gandhi's lead and make a substantial contribution to resolving the present crisis.

Here's a project that would be very Gandhian and actually helpful:

I suggest that pacifists mount a campaign where they respectfully request that the Saudi king and the chief mullah of Mecca invite the Pope, the Dalai Lama and other leaders of the major religions to visit Mecca, pay their respects at the Kaaba, and speak at the main mosque in Mecca, each as representatives of his or her own faith tradition.

The campaign would consist of pacifists marching to the Saudi embassies all over the world, to local mosques and Muslim schools respectfully but persistently making this request. They would need to keep it up day after day over years. The initial response would be enormous outrage and confusion, of course. Muslims would start their usual accusations of racism, their rationalizations, obfuscation and verbal dueling.

It would, however, get Muslims to think and would prompt an ongoing dialogue. The advantage of such a request is that it would directly challenge Muslim intolerance and the symbolism would be immediately clear even to the most uneducated Muslim. The possibility of distortion by journalists and propagandists would be minimized.

This suggestion is modeled on Gandhi's 1922-24 Vikam temple campaign against the caste system. In it, Gandhian protestors, including untouchables, marched along a road from which untouchables were traditionally excluded to the door of a temple, asking for untouchables to be admitted. This was asking for the most unclean people to enter the most sacred place. It made the issue of untouchability immediately clear, even to illiterates.

The campaign took 2 years and was ultimately successful. When you consider that the Gandhians were challenging a religious teaching thousands of years old, two years of effort seems like a pretty short time. Also, I have read that in the aftermath of the campaign, the caste system was more effectively broken down in that area than in other parts of India.

This is the type of campaign that I could lend some support to. I would not see it as a substitute for military action, but as a way that pacifists could powerfully contribute. I think you could lend some support to this as well. There are lots of possibilities for campaigns that could make a big difference.


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