Monday, September 7, 2009

The Power of Non-Violence: Love and Solidarity

The Power of Non-Violence: Love and Solidarity

You have heard that it was said, 'Love (agape) your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love (agape) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your
Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?
—Matthew 5:42-44

Opus solidaritatis pax - Ioannes Paulus PP. II

The power of non-violence is often underestimated while violence is often overestimated. I recently attended a fundraiser for a documentary that is still being produced called Oscar’s Cuba, and at the fundraiser I sat with a Cuban dissident who practiced non-violence while on the island, but now more than a decade later in exile had come to have second thoughts on the matter. We had a lengthy and passionate, although mutually respectful, discussion.

What I realized was that he believed that violence could accomplish more than non-violence against a totalitarian regime. He cited the Nazis in Germany and the necessity of WWII. I pointed out those German housewives who as late as 1943 had successfully stopped their Jewish husbands from being deported to concentration (death) camps by organizing a non-violent demonstration and work stoppage at Rosenstrasse. Civic non-violence had been shown in at least one instance to have worked even against the Nazis and it was shown to have worked in the East bloc against the Communists which have a body count of 100 million dead then there is a good argument that it is powerful and requires much less effort than that of the Allied powers in WWII without the horrendous war crimes: Dresden and Hiroshima just to name two of the many cities where civilian populations were devastated.

I found the whole discussion ironic considering that we were both attending a fundraiser for a man who has committed his life to principled nonviolence and knew what sacrifice it would entail. This past summer in a letter smuggled out of prison he described his early days of activism and the foreknowledge of the suffering it would entail:

"I remember when I started preaching of Gandhi and Thoreau some said Dr. Biscet testimonials from cell 123 would walk through the streets of Havana with a loin cloth like Gandhi, when I became aware of these words spoken in a derogatory fashion about me I just smiled knowing I would be in these conditions but not in the streets of Havana but in endless captivity that I would have to suffer." (1)

When Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in 1999 said "I recognize that I only have adversaries and I have acquired the capacity to love them because in this way we do away with violence, wrath, vengeance, hatred and substitute them with justice and forgiveness," he was not speaking from weakness but strength. He was not talking about an affectionate or sentimental love but of the Christian variety known as agape. (2)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while visiting St. Augustine in the 1960s at the height of the Civil Rights struggle spoke of this kind of love and the impracticality of violence:

"Its difficult advice and in some quarters it isn't too popular to say it...Let us recognize that violence is not the answer. I must say to you tonight that violence is impractical...We have another method that is much more powerful and much more effective than the weapon of violence...Hate isn't our weapon either...I am not talking now about a weak love it would be nonsense for an oppressed people to love their oppressor in an affectionate sense I'm not talking about that too many people confuse the meaning of love when they go to criticizing the love ethic. ...I am talking about a love that is so strong that it becomes a demanding love. A love that is so strong that it organizes itself into a mass movement and says somehow I am my brothers keeper and he is so wrong that I am willing to suffer and die to get him right and to see that he is on the wrong road."

When Oswaldo Paya in 2002 said that “we can rebuild our society with love for all, as brothers, and as children of God” he was speaking of the kind of love described in the gospels and highlighted by Dr. King above.(3) The movement that brought about the end of the Soviet Union emerged in Gdansk at the ship docks and was called Solidarnosc – Solidarity. It was a movement that took its name from a word which encompasses Paya’s conception rebuilding society. Pope John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical letter Sollicitudo rei socialis describes it in greater detail:

"Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. In what has been said so far it has been possible to identify many points of contact between solidarity and charity (agape), which is the distinguishing mark of Christ's disciples (cf. Jn 13:35). In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One's neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One's neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person's sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one's life for the brethren (cf. 1 Jn 3:16)." (4)

World War I which Woodrow Wilson described as the war to make the world safe for democracy led to 16 million deaths and gave rise to a communist state in Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union and the Nazis in Germany. Within twenty one years the war to end all wars would be dwarfed by WWII with estimates of between 50 to 70 million deaths with the number of civilians killed ranging between 40 to 52 million. One byproduct of this war was nuclear weapons that for the first time in human history have the firepower to wipeout the entire human race. It is still an open question whether or not the West will survive the consequences of WWI. Now contrast that with the nonviolent struggle waged by the Polish Solidarity movement. Dozens of workers were killed and thousands wounded, in 1970 prior to the founding of solidarity, and a Roman Catholic priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, aged 37, was kidnapped on 19 October 1984 by the secret police and murdered.(5)

Within the Cuban context armed peasant guerillas fought Castro’s troops in the hills of the Escambray in Cuba between 1959 and the mid 1960s and thousands died while entire populations where “resettled” and placed under surveillance. Yet the greatest shock to the system that forced the dictatorship in Cuba to change its constitution in 2002 was the Varela Project a citizen initiative within the legal framework of the 1992 communist Constitution that demonstrated that over 25,000 Cubans wanted democratic reforms and their human rights respected and where willing to sign their name, give their identity number, and home address. This led to a crackdown on the opposition, show trials, lengthy prison sentences, and having the constitution changed. Meanwhile the world became aware of the desire of tens of thousands of Cubans for change and of the men and women standing up courageously for this change.

If Cuba is to survive as a nation then it needs solidarity which offers both freedom and justice and out of this will emerge peace the fruit of solidarity.

(1) Carta del Dr. Biscet a su esposa y al mundo Diario Las Americas 07-23-2009

(2) Kreeft, Peter “Love” Catholic Education Resource Center Copyright 1988 Ignatius Press


(4) Ioannes Paulus PP. II Sollicitudo rei socialis
To the Bishops, Priests Religious Families, sons and daughters of the Church and all people of good will for the twentieth anniversary of "Populorum Progressio" 1987.12.30

(5)October 30, 1984: Pro-Solidarity priest is murdered

No comments:

Post a Comment