Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dialogue on Nonviolence: Is nonviolence step one?

"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." - Vaclav Havel

Amritsar massacre on April 13, 1919 in which as many as 1,000 people massacred
Yesterday a dialogue on nonviolence began with the question: Why did Jewish nonviolent resistance against Hitler not work? The answer to this question is that it was not tried. There was Jewish resistance but, although morally right, it was violent and looking at the end result, unsuccessful.

Furthermore, although limited, there were examples of nonviolent resistance to the Nazis by Danes and German housewives that saved thousands of Jewish people from the Holocaust as did Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved up to 100,000 Jews in Hungary only to be imprisoned and disappeared by Soviet troops after the war. Today is Raoul Wallenberg Day in Canada to honor his example.

However other questions remain and the dialogue continues. For example Maria Al-Masani argues that nonviolence is tried first, and often it works,  then if that doesn't work because the "population is brainwashed then step 2." In the course of this conversation on twitter the obvious question arose: "What is step two?" The answer given was as follows: "Step one is non violent resistance for months, step 2 is to fight for your freedom until the death. Ukraine, Step 1 & 2". However the Euromaiden was predominantly a nonviolent phenomenon and the violent elements, if anything, provided cover for Russian objectives that ended in the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Fighting for ones freedom until the death fits within a nonviolent context. Mohandas Gandhi described it as follows: "I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill." Non-violent resistance is a method of struggle that like violent resistance in a conflict is not without risk. However, Gandhi's outlook on nonviolence, "[t]o die in the act of killing is, in essence, to die defeated."

Al-Masani offers as another example "India" saying that "First started with non violence, then with violence now its independent." However my reading of Indian history is very different. First there were violent uprisings against British rule before and during Gandhi but they all failed to achieve independence. Sadly, the greatest violence in 1946 and 1947 was not for the cause of independence from Great Britain but religious violence between Hindus and Muslims that led to a bloody partition of India and the new state of Pakistan.

It is also important to recall that the worse massacre carried out by the British against nonviolent protesters was on April 13, 1919 when British troops on the orders of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in Amritsar in the Punjab region killing between 379 (number claimed by the British) up to 1,000 Indians killed (number claimed by Indian sources). Women and children were among the massacred. This action is what led Mohandas Gandhi to initiate his nonviolent movement for Indian independence and it was this nonviolent movement that achieved an India free of British rule. In 1982 the film Gandhi recreated the massacre for the big screen.

There were other efforts that sought to violently resist Great Britain forming alliances with Nazi Germany that failed miserably, but did play a role in the religious hostility that led to a post-independence blood bath in which over a million died.

The past century has demonstrated that violence escalates in a spiral with unforeseen consequences that over the long run are negative while at the same time demonstrating how acts of nonviolence over the long run have positive outcomes.

Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer

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