Palestinian views on the Gandhi proposal

Ahimsa and violent Intifada cannot co-exist

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson visited the Palestinian territories recently, provoking some consideration of ahimsa in the Middle Eastern context. But the Electronic Intifada writes [via Infoshop] that Palestinian acts of non-violence are ignored by the international media, concluding that the myth of Gandhi is unsuitable in the context of the Palestinian reality. It also suggests that given the acts of violence by some parties, pre-and post-partition riots and the brutalities inflicted by the British authorities, India’s own independence was not achieved in a non-violent context.

The main fallacy in these arguments is the question of scale. The international media misses the commendable acts of Palestinian non-violence because of the rampant acts of Palestinian violence. As the writer himself points out, no one in the Palestinian leadership considers non-violence as an option. The noise of the intifada drowns out the exceptional acts of ahimsa, resulting in the inability of the Palestinians to prick the conscience of its own occupiers. The contrast with India’s independence struggle cannot be more stark – Gandhian non-violence was not only the overwhelming ‘battle’-strategy but also did not tolerate terrorism and violence coming from its own side.

Just like the Palestinian leadership, the Electronic Intifada does’nt get the point.

5 thoughts on “Palestinian views on the Gandhi proposal”

  1. Much as I disagree with some of the Mahatma’s actions, there’s no doubting his novel, sensible and ultimately victorious strategy that resulted in free India.

    Martin Luther king too exploited some of Gandhi’s ideas like civil disobedience in the 60s US fo rthe civil rights movement to devastating effect.

    The palestinians are shooting themselves in the foot by selling out to jehadi flagbearers, corrupt politicos (headed by Yasir Arafat) and plain stupidty.

    I used to have some sympathy for the plestinians but their overt, explicit, bigoted in-your-face hatred for all jews is unplatable. They make no pretence of hiding it even and flaunt their anti-semitism on their sleeves. Some have justified killing jewish children because all israelis are required to serve in their army, hence there can be no israeli non-combatants (children included). By that logic Iraelis too are totallyjustified in shooting down palestinian kids, huh? This is insanity and plaestinians better wake up to reality sooner!

  2. I can’t remember if I read it in Said’s bio or heard it, but there was an anecdote of Eqbal Ahmed meeting with the Arafat in the 80s and trying to convince him that if the Palestinians adopt non-violence, they will make the Israeli position untenable. Arafat would not listen at all. This remains true to this day. Gandhi was on to something big. We just don’t have the sense to listen.
    I found this mentioned in the above commentary by Said.

  3. [offtopic]
    Its unfortunate that we Indians do not adequately respect Gandhi’s ideology. To me, agreeing with a point of view is not a prerequisite to respect. I personally do not agree with Gandhiji’s views, but I have immense respect for the Man. While we are at it, the term “non-violence” is a gross misconception. The right term should be “anti-violence,” for the former term implies neutrality. No, Gandhi can hardly be called neutral. He fought the British rule with as much grit as did Savarkar or Bose, and he fought the tendency towards violence with equal zeal.

    “[It was Gandhi’s] victorious strategy that resulted in free India”
    Well, I don’t quite agree to that. It played a part, perhaps an important part. Somehow, I don’t feel Gandhi’s ahimsa was the primary reason for our independence, it was one of the many reasons. If not for the other factors (as it usually is), perhaps it would have failed. I don’t know… I really don’t. Its just a feeling unsupported by convincing arguments in either directions.

  4. I do agree with the EI article on some aspects; there were many different parts to the nationalist movement; though undoubtedly Gandhian nationalism was the hegmonic and one which could represent other strands of opinion on a united coalition. However, I can’t forget the revolutionary currents either, which were also quite popular; the Freedom Movement saw many different ups and downs with changes in strategy and dominance of different approaches. I am perhaps more than a little biased in this regard since my grandfather, along with other members of Anushilan Samiti spent several years on Viper Island for various terrorist activities against the colonial authorities and when he was released after more than a decade, since he nor his colleagues wrote cringing letters to the colonial govt assuring them of ‘good behaviour’ or begging for an early release (as did that great ‘hero’ Savarkar) they were exiled from their natal provinces and had to report weekly to the local police station for the rest of the duration of British colonial rule – thankfully not a long period. Still, the historical evidence is fairly clear that some of the popular revolutionaries, like Bhagat Singh were immensely popular, as much so as Gandhi for both willing to use violence when they deemed it necessary and for willing to adopt what were de facto non-violent measures, even though they knew this would result in their death.

    There also seems to be a slight mis-understanding about what Gandhian ahimsa is about; I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is non-violence as such as it still implies struggle and the waging of war. It is simply that Gandhi inverted the conventional interpretations of how such concepts are understood, for him the true battle-ground was the soul and the mastery of the self over its baser urges and wrongful actions/influences. The was between Good and Evil in this context is waged within each person and Gandhi’s idea was to take external violence when it was directed against an individual and turn it into this internal spiritual struggle. Gandhian agitation is truly radical, not because it seeks to avoid or to deny violence but because it seeks the reverse – to bring forth the violence that is sublated in the everyday workings of power and to force the opponent to use it without responding in kind. This sequence of events is meant to simulataneously allow the opponent to play his strongest cared, while showing him that it will have no effect and it useless. Used properly, few states could withstand an effectively organised agitation along such lines; but to achieve this level of discipline was hard and one of the reasons why Gandhi frequently called off civil disobedience campaigns since he felt that his followers were either not properly following his doctrine or using it merely as tactic to gain political power without effecting real social transformation. There were periods of time when Gandhian ahimsa fell out of favour with both the leadership and the mass of the Nationalist movement and of course towards the end, it proved unable to combat communal and religious violence as well as eradicate social inequities such as untouchability.

    I don’ agree with Gandhi on many things ranging from his concept of the role of religion in public life, place of women and Dalits in the social order, and the positive aspects of a modern industrial society but there is no denying the power and the sheer radical force of his teachings. Even after independence it is worth noting that such doctrines could still reverberate with power in the political scene as the fast-unto-death of Potti Sriramulu effectively re-drew the political and administrative boundaries of southern India. It also isn’t some sort of easy option as some people make it out to be; it requires tremendous self-discipline and control as well as courage; those who think it is some sort of weak cowardly response don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Something like over 2,000 people died in the Quit India agitation alone, in more or less one-sided state violence directed against such demonstrators. We are lucky that the number was not higher, as it certainly would have been but for external conditions. The main blows to British Imperialism came from the weakened position of the UK from the two World Wars, by 1945 she didn’t have the money, men or willpower to hold on to her colonies and the new ascendant Superpower the US was formally committed to decolonisation and self-determination for erstwhile European colonies. This major change in the international scenario played the largest role in the collapse of colonial rule in India, which otherwise would have hung on much more tenaciously with much more bloodshed. The result would have been the same but the price paid much higher.

    Re the Palestinian situation, as Sepoy has mentioned Eqbal Ahmed pretty much summed things up way back in the 1960s, along these lines. I quote his argument:

    “This is a moment to fit ships in Cyprus, fit boats in Lebanon and say, ‘We’re not going to destroy Israel. This is not our intent. We just want to go home.’ Reverse the symbol of the Exodus. See if the Israelis are in a mood to sink some ships. They probably will. Let them do so. Some of us will die. Let us die…”

    Powerful argument from someone who had just come from participating in the Algerian war, which saw over a million Algerians killed before independence was achieved. The full link to the article on the Ahmed-Said encounter can be found here:

    In a way this kind of thinking is quite savage, as it doesn’t seek to hide the costs or the human sacrifice needed to achieve victory, albeit using a non-traditional means of struggle. But this should not be surprising, since Gandhi himself was a very ruthless politician and could be ice-cold in his calculations of how best to get what he wanted. As with all politicians, winning was very important; the only difference here was that the means used to achieve victory was as much an aim and end in itself as a means.

Comments are closed.