Largely a myth
Gandhi's nonviolent strategy
By Lawrence Reza Ershaghi
March 12, 2002
You evidently lack any true understanding of the historical context of the Middle
The area has been conflict -ridden since World War II. It is worth recalling that
much of the genesis of the conflicts in the region has risen from the same factors,
such as the legacy of colonialism and superpower rivalry. Nevertheless the dominant
perception in the West, fed by prejudicial images of bloodthirsty Arabs pitted against
enemies, demands an explanation, which you obviously can not give.
Since 1945 the people of the region have often been subjected to some of the most
aggressive and predatory policies of outside powers. A further reflection of the
ill-defined nature of the state in the region has been the numerous border disputes,
which is the legacy once again of colonial inspired or crafted state formation from
the turn of the twentieth century.
The carve up of much of the Middle East was determined
by the strategic objectives of the former colonial powers, principally Britain and
France, who created highly artificial sates, many of whose borders remain subject
to dispute. Such strategic objectives were largely pursued with no consideration
for the interests or wishes of the indigenous peoples of the region. In many contemporary
accounts of war in the region such factors are forgotten, apparently by people like
The arms race in the region has also played its part in perpetuating conflict. Western
and Soviet support for the arms race has been ill-disguised, used to further vital
economic and or strategic interests within the region. In such an arena of conflict
awash with arms, the role of the military in the political systems of the area can
scarcely be exaggerated.
Now you say "Many Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1947-8 (although
many others chose to leave). Yet why couldn't their Arab neighbors take them in --
just as Israel took in Jews forcibly expelled from Arab countries?"
with such an ignorant comment like that you are failing to realize the meaning
of being expelled from one's home. The struggle of the Palestinians is one of self-determination
and return, not of an independent state, which to our detriment the United States
You say Palestinians are terrorists, but you neglect to mention the cause of this
"terrorism". I do not condone such actions, but by his death, a Palestinian
does not choose to flee the hard and uncomfortable environment. In his eyes, instead
of a negative flight, he commits a positive attack. By his death, he condemns the
oppressor and provides commitment for the oppressed. You see sir; he exposes aggression
and revives what has hitherto been negated.
Furthermore, why do you fail to speak of Israeli terrorism? Is state terrorism any
different than individual terrorism? Remember that people tend to resist efforts
to marginalize and dehumanize them the more these efforts are made. Why do you not
mention Israel's Stern Gang or the JDL, or worse off Gush Emunim (Zionism's most
radical and militant form)?
Members of Gush Emunim were accused in the early 80's
of killing several Arab Mayors of the West Bank and their most ambitious plan by
far (ALLAH Forbid) was to dynamite the holy Al-Asqa Mosque. Rather than focus on
the effects, you should focus on the causes, this might give you a better understanding
of the nature of the problems and help solve them as well.
You go on to mention "Instead of skillfully using diplomacy as well as nonviolent
resistance, like Gandhi did in India, they commit themselves to a hopeless struggle
The success of Gandhi's nonviolent strategy, however, is largely a myth. The most
common version of the Gandhi myth is the simple assertion that a struggle based on
pacifism forced the British out of India. The Indian revolt against British rule
was anything but non-violent. Gandhi's tactical ideas, moreover, had serious limitations
as a guide to struggle. Movements that began under Gandhi's sponsorship often ended
in premature retreats or escalated into physical confrontations.
And the final ouster of the British in 1947 can't be counted as a victory for
Gandhi's methods, since India's independence came as the movement was shoving Gandhi
and his nonviolent philosophy to the political margins. Gandhi's principle of nonviolence,
whose moral force propelled several mass movements forward in their initial phases,
repeatedly held back the
struggles at key moments.
As a result, privileged groups in the urban centers and countryside were able
to detach the struggle for political independence from the struggle for radical social
change and thus thwarted Gandhi's own goals of social justice. The British were gone,
but the bureaucracy and police they built up still functioned with little change
and continued to repress worker and peasant uprisings. Gandhi's will had been strong,
but class forces proved stronger.
You also say "It is not America's moral responsibility to create or foster
"free societies" in the Muslim world." You are right it is not. However,
we would appreciate it if America did not interfere and allowed us to rule. Why do
you think America prevents democracy in the Middle East, particularly in countries
like Turkey and Egypt, because it is afraid they will vote for Islam and America
is not ready to handle that. Why do you think America promotes dictatorships? So
they can communicate with one person who is not accountable to his people.
If you are going to discuss such events, you need to present a tolerable, more accurate
picture of the events. The reality is Muslims are being oppressed all over the globe
from Chechnya, Dagestan, Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, just to name a few. Why is it
when America sends arms to Israel, they are not condemned as promoting terrorism?
But when Iran supposedly sends arms to the Palestinian Authority to arm the unarmed
Palestinians, they are condemned as promoting terrorism? This is an inconsistency
and a policy of double standards. And you do not want to get me started of America's
creation of client-states, such as the Shah of Iran, which virtually created a police
state in Iran for over 25 years.
My nation of Iran considered U.S. as her enemy since it sheltered our number one
enemy, the toppled Shah. The Iranian people have paid a high price in the lives of
our children to overthrow the dictatorial rule of the Shah. It is hoped that the
Iranian revolution will serve as a spark for creating a great explosion among the
oppressed masses. However, now we are an "axis of evil". We assert our
independence and this is the treatment we get. We were one of the first Muslim nations
to condemn the acts of September 11, and this is the treatment we get.
I tell you Mr. Hodges, we are men of struggle. Our youths have fought and battled
against tanks, cannons, and machine guns and this is the kind of indignation you
bestow upon us? We are a world used to hunger and we fast. Among our great values
are our religious content, the same values our exalted Prophet rose up for. In order
to reach our objectives, we must keep away from political games which reek of compromise
and guarantee the satisfaction of America.
I will end with the words of Scholar Hamid Algar of UC Berkeley, which wonderfully
expresses the way we feel:
"As a Muslim living in this so-called Judeo-Christian
country: I am tired. Wallahil-azeem, I am tired. I am tired of people talking
nonsense, I am tired of hypocrisy, I am tired, I am tired. And Muslims across the
world are very tired. And when we get tired, when our tolerance and our patience
is abused, is pushed beyond limit. When not only we are slaughtered, but then we
are insulted and called fundamentalists and terrorists and extremists and God knows
what. Then I tell you it is too much, I tell you it is too much, I tell you it is
Malcolm X, the greatest man that this country has ever produced, maybe the only
true great man that this modern history has ever produced... do you remember what
he said when President Kennedy was assassinated? "Chickens came home to roost,"
and I tell you, if matters continue the way they are, not only the chickens will
come home to roost, vultures will come home to roost! I warn you!"
Lawrence Reza Ershaghi, B.A. Political Science, University of California, Irvine.