If anything the horrid events of 9/11 have accentuated the religious divisions around the world giving one side the license to regard the other side as a “terrorist” and use repressive means to suppress and oppress the minority.
Since the “terrorists” in the WTC event happened to be Muslims and the United States is a Christian country the conclusion is that the attack is religiously motivated – and that this is a war between Muslims and Christians.
I don’t think the United States was attacked because it is a Christian country. Given the circumstances that exist in the United States today and its relationships with the world, the US would have been attacked even if it were a predominantly non-Christian country by a non-Muslim group of “terrorists.” We have become so embroiled in the religious fervor that we have overlooked the non-religious aspects of this conflict. The fact is the attack was motivated more by our selfish relationships rather than religious commitment.
Our volatile reaction to the World Trade Center tragedy has had several consequences: First, we jumped to the conclusion that this is a religious war; second, it has given many countries the right to brand all disaffected groups in their countries as “terrorists”; third, to look at all Muslims as potential terrorists and, fourth, it has given the world the right to use repressive and violent methods to eliminate “terrorists” within their borders.
Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Ariel Sharon, used the same language as President Bush to justify the action he is now taking against the Palestinians and President Bush, more recently and rather thoughtlessly, condemned the Palestinian “sacrificial” bombing as motivated by Muslim religion. The fact is the Palestinian young people are not sacrificing their lives simply because their religion tells them to nor, as the American media will have us believe, are they sacrificing their lives because they are told they will enjoy luxuries and sex with beautiful women in heaven. If that is the motivation one may ask why are Muslims in so many other countries of the world with grievances not sacrificing their lives for the same purpose?
The US response to the events of 9/11 was motivated by anger. It was natural for the nation to feel anger but it was not right for the nation, as it is not right for individuals, to respond in a moment of madness. When a nation or an individual acts in a moment of madness it is always violent with violent repercussions.
I am often asked how would Gandhi react to the events of 9/11? There is a parallel in Indian history, which is very relevant. On April 19, 1919 , soon after Mohandas K. Gandhi, my grandfather, launched a peaceful, nonviolent struggle against British repression, the British Military Governor of the northern state of Punjab declared martial law, severely curtailing the rights of citizens. In fact his law demanded that Indian citizens crawl on their stomachs every time they passed a British citizen on the streets or a British owned establishment. If one dared to disobey the order one would be publicly flogged, even to death.
The citizens of Punjab , inspired by grandfather’s teachings of nonviolent action, peacefully protested. Ten thousand men, women and children responded to the call and assembled in the Jullianwala Garden in the heart of the city. The crowd stood peacefully listening to their leaders speak about nonviolent civil action against repression. General Dyer, the British Military Governor of Punjab , was incensed by what he considered a flagrant disregard for British authority. He assembled his troops, marched to the garden, surrounded the people and ordered the troops to open fire. In a matter of minutes hundreds of men, women and children lay dead and several thousand were grievously injured. The troops stopped firing only when they ran out of ammunition. General Dyer did not allow anyone to take care of the wounded and the dying. He said later he wanted to teach the Indians a lesson.
When the news of this mindless tragedy spread in the country the Indians were as enraged as the Americans were after September 11. If their anger was allowed to be expressed the Indians could have massacred every British person in India because in 1919 the Indians outnumbered the British 4000 to 1. This is when grandfather intervened to turn the Indian anger into positive nonviolent action for peace. Grandfather realized he had to liberate the British from their own imperialism as much as liberate the Indians. With words of wisdom and moral leadership he turned the memory of the massacre into nonviolent power for constructive action.
Obviously, we in the United States lacked the words of wisdom and moral leadership to help us deal with the anger of September 11. Our anger was fanned into flames so that we are now embroiled in a “war on terrorism,” a war that we cannot win, because terrorists are scattered all over the world and are difficult to identify. There are terrorists in the United States as well.
This worldwide witch-hunt for terrorists will lead to more violence that could make the 20th century look peaceful. Israel has already branded all Palestinians as “terrorists” and has launched a campaign to eliminate them. The fundamentalists in India have begun to look at local Muslims as “terrorists” and are building a case for harsher treatment. If the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was savage and unlawful then this “lawful” ethnic cleansing is no better.
I have often been asked what would I do if I was President of the United States and, unfortunately, it is precisely because of what I would do that I would never be elected President of the United States . I would have spoken to the nation and calmed the people with words of wisdom. I would have gone to the United Nations as an equal member and sought world sympathy and support to deal with “terrorists” in a humane way through dialogue rather than hunting them down. I would definitely not have told members of the United Nations that you are either “with us or against us in this fight against terrorists.” I would have dismissed that as a very arrogant statement, which is why most of the world despises us. We have long since proved to the world that we are a super-power in terms of our military strength can we now prove to them that we can also be a super-power in terms of our moral strength ?
As President I would have asked for a complete review of our foreign policy that has for too long been based on what “is good for the United States .” I think we can now afford to look at what is good for the world and do the right thing so that people in the world can aspire to live in peace and harmony. We may think it is none of our business and that we cannot go around the world and help everyone who is in need. But it is equally true that we cannot live in isolation and cannot preserve our security and sanity while the rest of the world falls apart. As individuals and as nations we are inter-related, inter-connected and inter-dependent and the sooner we realize and respect this fact the better it will be for all of us.
It is not enough that we give government-to-government aid because much of the aid is consumed by corrupt officials. It is essential that we build community-to-community relationships and build a bond with a community while helping them in whatever way we can. We helped a community in Jamtland , Sweden , build a relationship with a community in Amravati , India , in 1978. This relationship is going strong and both communities have benefited immensely from this interaction. We need to do this on a large scale. To begin with the communities in the United States can start a “Hope for Humanity Fund” – saving a coin every day to help a community in a Third World country. The reason why we need to save a coin everyday is because we must be conscious every day of the need to help someone, somewhere in the world. Writing a check at the end of the year does not create the consciousness that is necessary to build a relationship. Saving a coin everyday also gets children involved in the process and they learn early that life is about giving and helping and not just about amassing and consuming.
Arun Gandhi is the fifth grandson of India’s peace and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi. He is an accomplished author and activist for peace who co-founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonciolence in Tennessee. For more information please visit: http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/wafter911.html