For those who believe in nonviolent methods for social change, Jan. 30. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on that day in 1948. He was the inspiration for many movement leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Vaclav Havel.
While facing the rise of the likes of ISIS, al-Qaida and various factions of the Taliban, both government and the people seem to be on edge. A fitting answer to these violent groups has become the cry of the day. One frequently hears phrases like “counterattack,” “boots on the ground” and “neutralizing the enemy.” Billions of dollars are being spent on defense and security; not only in the U.S. but all over the world, countries big and small are doing the same. They are spending billions of dollars to arm themselves to the teeth. On the one hand violent groups, independent of any given state, are crazy with their random murderous actions in random. Others, on the other hand, answer them by bombing and killing selectively, often causing collateral damage and killing innocent people. In this swirling of violence on both sides, does nonviolence have a chance to succeed? Can nonviolent non-cooperation work against ISIS, as it did with Gandhi against the British in his native land?
To begin with, the British Empire represented institutional injustice against its colonial subjects. ISIS and al-Qaida, however, are bandits without the formal recognition of a state. Their rise and fall depends on the cooperation of people in the areas where they operate.
When Gandhi asked his countrymen to rise against the British, he worked on both sides of the conflict. He asked his people to remain nonviolent but unafraid in refusing to cooperate. He also appealed to the better sense of the Britons to support the nationalist movement in India. Many intellectuals and many Quakers supported Gandhi. During World War II, when the British were vulnerable, Gandhi did not make a pact with their enemies as some of his countrymen wanted. It took more than 30 years of struggle to achieve India’s Independence.
Since the 1990s, al-Qaida has been terrorizing the world. Now ISIS has taken a page from its mentor. The world so far has spent 25 years and billions of dollars’ worth of arms and munitions to remain safe. Dismantling and destroying them is nowhere near. The Jihadists on their part are willing to continue the war with the enemy for a thousand years. In order to save their souls they are ready to sacrifice their heads. This sort of mindset can hardly be answered by military action. First, the Jihadists grow out of a particular situation. That situation has not changed. Therefore, after one batch of Jihadis are killed, another batch replaces it seamlessly.
In this scenario, people within the affected area — the area controlled by the Jihadis — have to resist them. Their non-cooperation in this case will work or it won’t; nobody knows. But the stigma of cooperating with the evil will be gone. Right now, from outside, others are fighting for their rights. Should they fight, outsiders will be helpful.
Both civilians and soldiers are being killed in the war against terror. Even if the same number of people were killed because of passive resistance to an evil regime, the loss will be much less. Nonviolence can be used as a deterrent as well as a tool for defense. However, there is a difference between a constitutional monarchy such as the United Kingdom and a ragtag group of armed men called ISIS or al-Qaida.
writes from Mount Airy.