Terrorism and Nonviolence
by Arun Gandhi, September 2001
Understandably, after the tragedy in New York and Washington DC
on September 11 many have written or called the office to find
out what would be an appropriate nonviolent response to such an
unbelievably inhuman act of violence.
First, we must understand that nonviolence is not
a strategy that we can use in a moment of crisis and discard in
times of peace. Nonviolence is about personal attitudes, about
becoming the change we wish to see in the world. Because, a nation's
collective attitude is based on the attitude of the individual.
Nonviolence is about building positive relationships with all
human beings - relationships that are based on love, compassion,
respect, understanding and appreciation.
Nonviolence is also about not judging people as
we perceive them to be - that is, a murderer is not born a murderer;
a terrorist is not born a terrorist. People become murderers,
robbers and terrorists because of circumstances and experiences
in life. Killing or confining murders, robbers, terrorists, or
the like is not going to rid this world of them. For every one
we kill or confine we create another hundred to take their place.
What we need to do is to analyze dispassionately what are those
circumstances that create such monsters and how can we help eliminate
those circumstances, not the monsters. Justice should mean reformation
and not revenge.
We saw some people in Iraq and Palestine and I
dare say many other countries rejoice in the blowing up of the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It horrified us, as it should.
But, let us not forget that we do the same thing. When Israel
bombs the Palestinians we either rejoice or show no compassion.
Our attitude is they deserve what they get. When the Palestinians
bomb the Israelis we are indignant and condemn them as vermin
who need to be eliminated.
We reacted without compassion when we bombed the
cities of Iraq. I was among the millions in the United States
who sat glued to the television and watched the drama as though
it was a made for television film. The television had desensitized
us. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were being blown
to bits and instead of feeling sorry for them we marveled at the
efficiency of our military. For more than ten years we have continued
to wreak havoc in Iraq - an estimated 50,000 children die every
year because of sanctions that we have imposed - and it hasn't
moved us to compassion. All this is done, we are told, because
we want to get rid of the Satan called Sadam Hussein.
Now we are getting ready to do this all over again
to get rid of another Satan called Osama Bin Laden. We will bomb
the cities of Afghanistan because they harbor the Satan and in
the process we will help create a thousand other bin Ladens.
Some might say "we don't care what the world
thinks of us as long as they respect our strength. " After
all we have the means to blow this world to pieces since we are
the only surviving super-power. Do we want the world to respect
us the way school children respect a bully? Is that our role in
If a bully is what we want to be then we must be
prepared to face the same consequences a school-yard bully faces.
On the other hand we cannot tell the world "leave us alone."
Isolationism is not what this world is built for.
All of this brings us back to the question: How
do we respond nonviolently to terrorism?
The consequences of a military response are not
very rosy. Many thousands of innocent people will die both here
and in the country or countries we attack. Militancy will increase
exponentially and, ultimately, we will be faced with another,
more pertinent, moral question: what will we gain by destroying
half the world? Will we be able to live with a clear
We must acknowledge our role in helping create
monsters in the world and then find ways to contain these monsters
without hurting more innocent people and then redefine our role
in the world. I think we must move from seeking to be respected
for our military strength to being respected for our moral strength.
We need to appreciate that we are in a position
to play a powerful role in helping the "other half"
of the world attain a better standard of life not by throwing
a few crumbs but by significantly involving ourselves in constructive
For too long our foreign policy has been based
on "what is good for the United States." It smacks of
selfishness. Our foreign policy should now be based on what is
good for the world and how can we do the right thing to help the
world become more peaceful.
To those who have lost loved ones in this and other
terrorist acts I say I share your grief. I am sorry that you have
become victims of senseless violence. But let this sad episode
not make you vengeful because no amount of violence and killing
is going to bring you inner peace. Anger and hate never do. The
memory of those victims who have died in this and other violent
incidents around the world will be better preserved and meaningfully
commemorated if we all learn to forgive and dedicate our lives
to helping create a peaceful, respectful and understanding world.
M.K.Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
650 East Parkway South
Memphis TN 3810