By Bhowani Prosad Chatterjee
The 21st century is now knocking at our door. Very soon we will enter into a new century. What will be the fate of mankind in the next century? And what heritage will we carry for the coming century? Indeed, the 21st century is approaching us with these question marks. Will the problems that emerged in the 19th century and consolidated in the 20th century become acute and cause the total disaster of mankind? Or will the world listen to the old man of the east who in the first half of this century by his action and message, showed us a path for survival? As a matter of fact the human being of the 21st century will have to choose either of the two ―disaster or survival. Either they will permit the present day socio-politico-economic structure to remain as it is or they will bring about a revolutionary change.
The source of the problems which we are confronting is one; though these problems have been manifested in different branches, in different dimensions and are marked with different names, like the danger of a World War, north-south conflict, ecological imbalance and so on and so forth. Apart from these there is another problem with which all persons feel concerned. That is the problem of terrorism, how the challenge of terrorists could be faced.
There is no denying the fact that industrial revolution has widened the magnitude of mass production resulting in the necessity to search for markets for the goods produced. Macro production also increased the scope and degree of exploitation. As a matter of fact mass production led to mass exploitation.
The search for market and the desire for exploitation gave birth to imperialism. And from the urge of protecting the empire, occupation or influence ―the desire for manufacturing more and more powerful weapons arose. Scientists were employed for that purpose and deadly weapons which are able to bring about mass disaster have been invented. It is well known that some countries do possess such weapons, and a few others are in a position to manufacture them at short notice. And, alas there are business men who are engaged in the arms trade who do not prize any moral and ethical value. Now the question before the 21st century is what will be the fate of human beings if some of the terrorists manage to collect such weapons and out of anger or frustration, use them for some reason or other.
Now a question may arise, who are the terrorists, why they have become terrorists and what do they want? Those who want to take something from their opponents by creating terror in their minds are termed as terrorists. They indulge in secret violence, killing, destruction of wealth. They are brave in a sense and they can stake their lives for their cause,
There may be a few among the terrorists who take to arms to wreak revenge. But in most cases they draw inspiration from some ideology; they want to stop what they call exploitation; they want to be the masters in their own land; they want their own state. In India, Khalistanis, Bodos, the ULFA, a section of Mizos; in Sri Lanka the LTTE; in Palestine the Arabs; in Ireland a section of the Irish people, in Pakistan the Muzahirs want their home lands. They say they are fighting against imperialism and exploitation. The spirit of nationalism, very ironically and in a very complicated manner which does not become readily apparent, encourages a mentality of separatism which ends up in a distinct show of aggressiveness. As a matter of fact nationalism feeds the mentality of aggressiveness.
Terrorists sometimes take the garb of protectors of culture, religion, language etc, so to say the identity of a particular race or group. This way their violent deeds get support from their compatriots. The problem with terrorists is more dangerous because contrary to other problems which act like slow poisoning the terrorists may bring disaster within moments.
How can this danger can be overcome? Gandhi wanted that narrow nationalism, which is the background of the terrorists activities, should be replaced by a sense of patriotism. What is the nature of true patriotism? Gandhi opined "Just as the cult of patriotism teaches us that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the province, the province for the country, even so a country has to be free in order that it may die if necessary, for the benefit of the world".
One may say that among the terrorists we find individuals who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause, not accidentally but in a calculated manner. They become a 'human bomb'; they plunge into their activities with cyanide capsules in their hands and sometimes consume them to avoid arrest. In India's freedom movement there were so called anarchists who laid down their lives in a similar way. But there are some qualitative differences among the so called anarchists and the present day terrorists. Though the former wanted to achieve independence by creating terror in the minds of the foreign rulers, they never wanted to kill innocent people. Innocent people do not feel secure where terrorists are active.
Will counter violence be able to pacify the terrorists? The answer is an emphatic no. Violence in any shape or form could never eradicate the spirit of violence. As anger cannot destroy anger from the opponents' minds, hatred cannot diminish hatred. Violence also cannot be curbed by greater violence. On the contrary violence breeds greater violence. Only non-violence can win over violence. Thus said Buddha and Jesus and in the 20th century Gandhi reminded us of the same thing.
When the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Gandhi said, "I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science. What is the antidote? Has it antiquated nonviolence. No, on the contrary, nonviolence is the only thing that is left in the field. It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, "Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind" (Harijan,29th Sept. 1946).
Gandhi was not alone in his faith in nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. also maintained the same conviction. In his acceptance statement in the Nobel Prize Ceremony on 10th December 1964 he said, "I refuse to accept the idea that 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in a river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him, I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality".
This conviction of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. is now required to be practised in each and every corner of the world. And that is to be done in man's own interest. To Gandhi, nonviolence was not limited to non killing. To him, it was a social philosophy which was extended to political and economic structures of a country. Its operative part is the conscious effort to establish a society free from ever growing State control and exploitation, as far as practicable. To meet the challenge of the terrorists, it is needed to bring in the concept and practice spiritual nationalism. Spiritualism is not synonymous with religion. Spiritual nationalism is bereft of hatred and based on love for all. Love and nonviolence of the brave are the two faces of the same coin. Nonviolence of the brave has the power and capability to change the minds of those who take up arms in their hands as a last resort for gaining something.
During India's freedom movement referring to the so called anarchists, Gandhi said that they would come to his fold when they would find that there was equal if not greater bravery and heroism in practicing nonviolence than what they showed in their violent activities, and so it happened in many cases. Unless this change is achieved the world would be at the mercy of the terrorists.
Will we able able to send this message effectively to our next generation? The 21st century will expect the answer from us.
Source: International Seminar on Gandhi And The Twenty First Century (January 30 - February 4, 1998), New Delhi - India