Remembering Gandhi on his birthday


Today, Oct. 2, marks the birthday back in 1869 of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.


A quick primer and some video on India’s great independence fighter — of course waging those battles non-violently — can be found here.

In thinking about Gandhi and his influence, two things strike me today:

  1. It is hard to overstate that influence in the West (and I’ll admit I’m probably skewing toward “America” this time when I refer to the “West”), from Dr. Martin Luther King through to President Obama. That’s one clear testament to his lasting and critical importance.
  2. His philosophy of non-violence — ahimsa — sadly seems more relevant and necessary today than ever. And by “today,” I really do mean this day. Passions and buildings are burning in parts of the Middle East; there seems to be some consensus that America is as divided as it ever has been (I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but it certainly is no less divided — I think our divisions are just more on display); there has been the usual political fist pounding at the United Nations; the list, unfortunately, goes on. We have not come very far, in other words.

And that suggests all the more reason to reflect on his example and his teachings. Here’s a little taste:

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Hence it was that I took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu Rebellion and the late war. Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.

But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her. I therefore appreciate the sentiment of those who cry out for the condign punishment of General Dyer and his ilk. They would tear him to pieces, if they could. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Only I want to use India’s and my strength for a better purpose.

Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. An average Zulu is any way more than a match for an average Englishman in bodily capacity. But he flees from an English boy, because he fears the boy’s revolver or those who will use it for him. He fears death and is nerveless in spite of his burly figure. We in India may in a moment realize that one hundred thousand Englishmen need not frighten three hundred million human beings. A definite forgiveness would, therefore, mean a definite recognition of our strength. With enlightened forgiveness must come a mighty wave of strength in us, which would make it impossible for a Dyer and a Frank Johnson to heap affront on India’s devoted head. It matters little to me that for the moment I do not drive my point home. We feel too downtrodden not to be angry and revengeful. But I must not refrain from saying that India can gain more by waiving the right of punishment. We have better work to do, a better mission to deliver to the world.

I wonder when that mission will be accomplished.

Posted by Steve