Gandhi Values And Terrorism Essay

1549 words - 7 pages

Amartya Sen

What is the relevance of Gandhian values in the world today? The aspect of Gandhian values that tend to receive most attention, not surprisingly, is the practice of non-violence.

Gandhiji’s championing of non-violence, even when facing a violent adversary, has stimulated public reflection and enkindled political action in different forms across the world. Not least of Gandhiji’s influences can be seen in the way courageous and visionary political leaders in many countries, including such luminaries as Martin Luther King in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, have been inspired by Gandhiji’s ideas and values. The violence that ...view middle of the document...

The implications include the need to discourage, and if possible to eliminate altogether, schools in which hatred of other communities, or other groups of people in general, is encouraged and nourished. This applies not only to militant madrassas, but also to other narrowly focused educational establishments in which a strong sense of sectarian identity is promoted, that distances one human being from another, on the basis of religion or ethnicity or caste or creed.

Bearing this in mind, and pursuing the general theme of the relevance of Gandhian values outside India, I ask the question: Is there something that America and Britain in particular can learn from Gandhiji’s political analysis?

It might be thought that Gandhiji’s lessons are widely understood in Britain and America, and at one level they certainly are. For example, militant preaching in mosques and madrassas have recently come under much scrutiny in Britain, especially after the carnage that London has experienced in the hands of home-grown terrorists. The British were shocked that young people from immigrant families born and brought up in Britain could be inclined to kill other people in Britain with such dedication. In response to this shock, many centers of hateful preaching and teaching are being restrained, or closed, in contemporary Britain, which is certainly an understandable move. But I argue that the full force of Gandhiji’s understanding of this subject has not yet been seized in British public policy.

One of the great messages of Gandhiji is that you cannot defeat nastiness, including violent nastiness, unless you yourself shun similar nastiness altogether. This has much immediate relevance today. For example, every atrocity committed in the cause of seeking useful information to defeat terrorism, whether in the Guantanamo detention center or in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, helps to generate more terrorism. The issue is not only that torture is always wrong, or that torture can hardly produce reliable information since the victims of torture say whatever would get them out of the ongoing misery. Both of these points are undoubtedly true. But beyond this, Gandhiji taught us that the loss of one’s own moral stature gives tremendous strength to one’s violent opponents.

The global embarrassment that the Anglo-American initiative has suffered from these systematic transgressions, and the way that bad behavior of those claiming to fight for democracy and human rights has been used by terrorists to get more recruits and some general public sympathy, might have surprised the military strategists sitting in Washington or London, but they are entirely in line with what Mahatma Gandhi was trying to teach the world. Time has not withered the force of Gandhiji’s arguments, nor their sweeping relevance to the world.

Gandhiji would have been appalled also by the fact that even though the United States itself, at least in principle, stands firmly against torture...

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