“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable; we may ignore him at our own risk.”- Martin Luther King, a great follower of Gandhian method of non-violence .
There has never been an age when people did not marvel at the pace of change as it is taking place before our eyes. More people have the means to lead a prosperous and peaceful life than ever before. However, what we witness is turbulence everywhere from Middle East to Africa and to many other parts of the world where conflicts or threat of a wider war seem to be more of a norm.
It is ironic to note that while the Prime Minister of India at the UN calling upon the International community to put aside their differences and mount a concerted effort to combat terrorism and extremism, back in Vadodra, Gujarat, at his own constituency, sectarian strife involving Hindus and Muslims were at the full swing.
The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest surviving continuous Christian communities in the world. The Assyrian people adopted Christianity in the 1st century AD and Assyria became a center of Eastern Rite Christianity that has strong links to churches in Kerala for centuries. Some of the churches in Mosul, Iraq had traditions dating back fifteen hundreds years or more. However, today the radical Islamists have succeeded in decimating the entire civilization by blowing up ancient churches, beheading and crucifying people including infants and women and committing enormous barbarism and brutality.
World has indeed seen destruction and human misery from the time immemorial. After the Second World War, the victorious powers decided to prevent another war by founding the United Nations. The primary motto of the organization was to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
What happened since then is well documented. Cold war followed the world war with proxies of cold war antagonists fighting all over the globe. The world was divided into first, second and third worlds. Finally, the Berlin wall came down and Communism was defeated and the world was ready for a peace dividend!
Did it happen? No, during the 1990’s the pattern of the conflict has changed. Today, ninety percent of the conflicts are taking place within rather than between states. The world politics have indeed entered a new phase. Fundamental source of conflict in today’s world is not ideological or economic. The great source of conflict that is dominating today is cultural. The differences between cultures are real; they are basic. The people of different cultures have different views on the relations between god and man, individual and the group, man and woman and differing views on rights and responsibilities. These differences are the product of centuries and they will not disappear anytime soon.
What has transpired in the former Yugoslavia is a clear example of this type conflict. Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians and Croatian Catholics seemed to enjoy distinct cultures and were unwilling to compromise on a common platform. It is obvious that the western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other cultures. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have very little resonance in other cultures. The very notion that there could be a universal culture is a western idea that is in direct conflict with most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another.
The late Indira Gandhi once commented, “never in the last two decades has the international outlook been so grim as it is today. This is not merely my own assessment but that of the scores of the world leaders from five continents whom I have met in the past year. I am not given to alarm or exaggeration. Yet, I must warn that at this time we simply cannot afford to be complacent or sit back hoping that matters will somehow be sorted out”.
Dag Hammerskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations once asserted, ‘I see no hope for a permanent world peace. We have tried hard and failed miserably. Unless there is a spiritual awakening on a worldwide scale, the civilization is doomed”.
And one wonders why? One sees a world that is reluctant to accept remedies peace keepers want to implement, how then we could understand, explain or turn around tragedies?
On 15 June 2007, United Nations passed a resolution to observe International Day of non-violence each year on the birth anniversary date of Mahatma Gandhi who helped lead India to its Independence and inspired movements of civil rights across the world.
What it shows is that UN recognizes that ultimately it is not discussion and dialogue but an inner awakening of the soul which will only make a real difference from the impasse of scores of issues that are confronting the world today. Martin Luther King, a great follower of Gandhian method of non-violence once said “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable; we may ignore him at our own risk”.
John Dear, an internationally known voice for peace and non-violence has summarized Gandhi’s teachings the following way: Gandhi taught us to practice non-violence and that the faith pushes us to promote peace and justice; he taught us to accept suffering and even court suffering if we want personal transformation; he also taught us to pray and through daily meditation he came to believe the nearness of God; he practiced a living solidarity with the poor and oppressed; Gandhi advocated powerlessness as path to God; he taught us that each of world’s religion has a piece of truth and deserve our respect and by advocating tolerance and equality of religions, Gandhi suggested that we all share a common ground of non-violence and can live in peace with one another.
In the end, Gandhi challenges each of us to seek God through our own active pursuit of truth and non-violence. He calls for nothing less than total transformation of the world. On this day as we celebrate Gandhi Jayanti, his philosophy is more relevant than ever before.
By George Abraham
(The author is Chairman, INOC, USA)