Skip to comments.What Did Gandhi Do? One-sided pacifist.
Posted on 04/28/2003 7:37:21 PM PDT by GATOR NAVY
In the weeks leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, American college campuses were plastered with posters asking What Would Gandhi Do? The implication, of course, was that the U.S. should emulate the tactics of the celebrated Hindu pacifist who successfully led the movement for Indian independence from Britain.
The analogy, it should go without saying, overlooks major differences between the two cases. Whereas the 20th-century British were far too benign an imperial power to choose to slaughter peaceful resisters to their rule, theres no evidence that Saddam Hussein, already responsible for the massacre and torture of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen (to say nothing of the many more who died in his aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait) would likewise have succumbed to friendly persuasion Jacques Chirac to the contrary notwithstanding. (Its not that we didnt try!)
It is interesting, in this regard, to recall how Gandhi himself responded to the evil perpetrated by one of Saddams role models, Adolf Hitler. In November, 1938, responding to Jewish pleas that he endorse the Zionist cause so as to persuade the British government to open Palestine to immigrants fleeing Hitlers persecution, Gandhi published an open letter flatly rejecting the request. While expressing the utmost sympathy with the Jews and lamenting their age-old persecution, Gandhi explained that the cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me, since Palestine belongs to the Arabs. Instead, he urged the Jews to make that country their home where they are born. To demand just treatment in the lands of their current residence while also demanding that Palestine be made their home, he argued, smacked of hypocrisy. Gandhi even went so far as to remark that this cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.
Of course, Gandhi added, the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history, and if there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. Hitlers regime was showing the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. Nonetheless, the Hindu leader rejected that notion, since I do not believe in any war. And for Britain, France, and America to declare war on Hitlers regime would bring them no inner joy, no inner strength.
Having rejected both the plea that Palestine should be offered as a place of refuge for the Jews and the idea that the Western democracies should launch a war to overthrow Hitler, Gandhi offered only one avenue for the Jews to resist their persecution while preserving their self-respect. Were he a German Jew, Gandhi pronounced, he would challenge the Germans to shoot or imprison him rather than submit to discriminating treatment. Such voluntary suffering, practiced by all the Jews of Germany, would bring them, he promised, immeasurable inner strength and joy. Indeed, if the Jewish mind could be prepared for such suffering, even a massacre of all German Jews could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy, since to the God-fearing, death has no terror.
According to Gandhi, it would (for unexplained reasons) be easier for the Jews than for the Czechs (then facing German occupation) to follow his prescription. As inspiration, he offered an exact parallel in the campaign for Indian civil rights in South Africa that he had led decades earlier. Through their strength of suffering, he promised, the German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German Gentiles in the sense that they will have converted [them] to an appreciation of human dignity. And the same policy ought to be followed by Jews already in Palestine enduring Arab pogroms launched against them: if only they would discard the help of the British bayonet for their defense, and instead offer themselves [to the Arabs] to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger, the Jews would win a favorable world opinion regarding their religious aspiration.
In a thoughtful personal response dated February 24, 1939, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber who had himself emigrated to Israel from Germany a short time earlier and combined his Zionism with earnest efforts to peacefully reconcile Jewish and Arab claims in the Holy Land chided Gandhi for offering advice to the Jews without any recognition of their real situation. The individual acts of persecution that Indians had suffered in South Africa in the 1890s hardly compared, Buber noted, to the synagogue burnings and concentration camps instituted by Hitlers regime. Nor was there any evidence that the many instances in which German Jews peacefully displayed strength of spirit in response to their persecutors had exercised any influence on the latter. While Gandhi exhorted them to bear testimony to the world by their conduct, the fate of the Jews in Germany was to experience only an unobserved martyrdom without effect.
Turning to Gandhis allegation that to claim a homeland in Palestine was inconsistent with the Jews claims to equal citizenship in the other countries of their birth, Buber recalled to him that the Indians of South Africa whose cause Gandhi had championed themselves drew sustenance from the existence of India as their living center. It was only the existence of such a home that made Diaspora tolerable, respectively (Buber added) for both Jews and Indians.
As for Gandhis denial that the Jews had any place in Palestine, since it belonged to the resident Arab population, Buber reminded him that the Arabs themselves had previously acquired the land by virtue of a conquest of settlement in contrast to the peaceful methods of the Jews in purchasing land there. Why, indeed, in view of the primitive state of Arab agriculture, should Palestinian land be held to belong exclusively to the Arabs, when Jewish settlers had done far more to develop that lands fertility in the past 50 years than the Arabs in the preceding 1,300? With proper development, there was no reason that the land of Palestine might not support millions of Jewish refugees along with resident Arabs at a far higher standard of living than the latter had heretofore enjoyed. Finally, Buber reminded Gandhi that when the subject was the rights of Indians, as opposed to those of the Jews, Gandhi himself had remarked (in 1922) that he had repeatedly said that I would have India become free even by violence rather than that she should remain in bondage.
Those who profess to concern themselves with the advancement of justice in the world have far less to learn from Gandhis inconsistent and one-sided pacifism than from Bubers observation that while war is in principle abhorrent, it is better to resist evil by force than to allow it to triumph over the good.
David Lewis Schaefer is a professor of political science at the College of the Holy Cross
Oops! Too late he discovers the Nazis are a totally different breed of cat. Gandhi tries to escape after the Germans machine gun demonstrating crowds, but he's turned in by a Indian traitor and the Nazis execute him without a second thought. The End.
The 400+ killed a Armistar in 1919 would disagree. The British in this case, to gain revenge for the deaths of four of their countrymen 2 days earlier. trapped between 15,000 and 20,000 in an essentially enclosed area, and opened fire. These were not the people responsible for the earlier murders, by the way. These people were involved in a peaceful protest.
Are the British equal to Saddam? Not even close. Was their rule always benign? Not even close.
I've also wondered how long he would have lasted if he had been, say, a Tibetan in 1951, trying his "passive resistance" idea against the Chinese Communists.
I agree, but let's face it-Gandhi's tactics worked only because the British were reluctant to do something like Armistar again. Gandhi wouldn't have lasted 2 minutes against true ruthlessness like Hitler, Stalin, Mao or even Saddam.
It would be hard for the Palestinians, but martyrs deaths which imitate the Jewish martyrs at Massada or in the days of the Maccabees and are recognizably martyr's deaths to Jews and Christians, rather than the twisted "martyrdom" of Qutb's existentialist reimaging if Islam would win the day. Following Qutb's notion of martyrdom will only lead to decades more of death on both sides and no Palestinian state.
"Pacifism should not be used to justify ones own cowardnice. To be a Pacifist is honorable, to be a coward and claim to be a pacifist, is despicable." ----Mohatmi Ghandi.
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