By Lester R. Kurtz
As the gap between rich and poor widens, our means of destruction are embellished, and the war machine rolls on, we need the wisdom of Mahatma more than ever. The twentieth century was perhaps the most violent ever and yet the new one appears even more ominous. Malnutrition is reaching holocaust proportions in the midst of vast wealth. The violence-wracked Middle East is the scene of increased war and terrorism. The world's leaders, rather than courageously leading us toward a more peaceful and just world are promoting fear of others for their own political interests and dumping our resources into destructive military conflicts. As if the current wars were not tragic enough, they are now developing new weapons for the next generation and planning to encircle the entire planet with weapons.
Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha, forged in the racism of the old South Africa and refined in colonial India, is a force more powerful than the weapons of mass destruction and exploitation that terrorize the planet today. The apartheid-ruled South Africa has fallen to a new nation controlled by the majority. The mighty British Empire was toppled without violence. Dictatorships in the Philippines, Chile, Serbia, and elsewhere collapsed in the face of People Power. The Berlin Wall was brought down by nonviolent warriors, and now the American Empire is learning the limits of its violence in Iraq. The widespread transitions from authoritarian to more democratic governance in recent decades have been driven by nonviolent civic coalitions rather than violence. Want to bring down a dictator? Bring in neither the military nor the terrorists, but the people, the population organized in a just cause.
The truth about Gandhi's Truth Force is that it is more powerful than Empires and yet it is somehow forgotten in our rush to solve violence with more violence. Those in power still cling to the outdated notion that power grows out of the bomb-tipped missile or divisions of armed troops. Unfortunately, they have convinced us of this falsehood, so that we cower in fear at the terrorists and the empire builders alike.
The truth about Satyagraha is that it is a force that turns on us as well as our adversaries. In order to topple the dictators, we have to conquer our own shortcomings. To challenge the greed of the powerful, we must confront our own greed. To bring down the purveyors of violence, we have to see the violence in our own lifestyles. Gandhi saw that the British ruled India not because they were barbaric sub-humans, but because the more powerful Indian population allowed them to do so. Today's corporate and political rulers are not monsters, but humans with the same shortcomings we have, simply embellished in their impact by the instruments of power and control. They are vulnerable and transformable. But so are we, so those of us who could act fail to do so, choosing instead our comfort.
The truth about our own era is that we could mobilize ourselves and others to transform the world, to eliminate hunger and violence, to create a new world, in which the great potential for peace and love that is humanity could be allowed to grow and flourish. Just as Gandhi inspired the people of India to shake off the chains of British tyranny, so the Indian freedom movement inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to grab hold of the racism of American society and dismantle its structure. Just as the American civil rights movement inspired human rights and pro-democracy activists in other parts of the world, so those who struggle nonviolently around the globe can roust a new generation to meet the empires of our time.
The truth about Satyagraha is not that it has failed us, but that we are failing it. The real problem in the world today is our non-responding, in our taking up Gandhi's weapon of Truth to challenge the empires of our time, the edifices of militarism and poverty, of exploitation and greed. If we were to do so, our empires would topple as well, and we would all become Mahatmas. We would know the Truth and the Truth would set us free.
University of Texas at Austin, USA
Source: Ahimsa Nonviolence, Vol. II, No. 6, Nov-Dec, 2006