Friday, May 13, 2005

can nonviolence work?

Where kindness is, who cares for peace or war?

Where goodness acts, who hears prayer or quarrel?

When a man's accepted, who cares where he's from?

Surrender, yield; if not, your pride's a stone.

#1077: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm still reading and researching about the Muslim giant, Badshah Khan. I wish I could believe that he was a true representative of Islam but I just think that he experienced early Christian influences at a mission school and saw his own religion too kindly.

I've been feeling very despairing about the Muslim situation, through personal contacts with Muslims. I've been reading and contributing at and I can see no way that Muslims can really answer the intellectual and satyrical attacks on Islam. Gradually, this cultural backlash will have an effect on Muslim morale and create more and more angry young men. Is that really what we want?

I started searching today under despair and violence, then finally under war. I can read a message here from Rumi. There is something in the personal touch, in plain simple kindness and generosity and hospitality, that makes the whole issue irrelevant. If we can but reach out and touch each other, there might be healing in that. The image of a stone is used again in this verse, in a negative sense as an obstruction. And yet stones can have good associations too. The ultimate goal of the alchemists is the philosopher's stone or lapis philosophorum and Badshah Khan has been described as a rock:
In the wake of 9/11, the 2003 attack on Iraq, and continuing violence in Israel-Palestine and in Kashmir, others, too, have recalled Badshah Khan. Thus Dilip Simeon writes in New Delhi's Outlook magazine ('Fareedian Slips', 23 June 2003) of 'Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan who did not need to bomb people to teach them liberal democracy or civic restraint'. Viewing struggles for human and democratic rights, Harold Gould, the American scholar, contrasts non-violent strategies that `brought down empires' in south Asia with the 'walking bombs' in the Middle East and Kashmir 'whose self-detonations invite devastating retaliatory assaults on their innocent fellow citizens'. Ghaffar Khan's life has a role in the `radical rethinking by radical Islamists' that Gould and other voices, Muslim and non-Muslim, ask for.

We saw that Ghaffar Khan the Muslim thought that 'prayer in whatever language or form was addressed to one and the same God'. His daily life demonstrated this belief in the unity of humanity. We noticed the joy with which he showed the Buddha statues of Bamiyan to Kamalnayan Bajaj and Madalasa Agrawal, statues that the Taliban would later destroy. Comfortable with his Hindu friends, comrades and colleagues, Badshah Khan, we saw, also loved Westerners and Christians like the Wigram brothers and was even able to forgive a white political foe who had blocked some of his plans, Olaf Caroe.

In 1946, alluding to the potential for fanaticism in the Frontier region, he warned that 'a dangerous situation is fast developing in the tribal areas', and a year later he said, 'I feel it is my duty to warn you against future dangers so that I may justify myself before man and God on the Day of Judgment.' This was a quintessentially Muslim thought from one whose directness invited charges of apostasy from those made uncomfortable by it.

The naturalness of his Islam, his directness, his rejection of violence and revenge, and his readiness to cooperate with non-Muslims add up to a valuable legacy for our angry times. This legacy may be of help to Muslims and non-Muslims today in the task of overcoming divides between Islam and the West (and modernity), between Afghanistan and the subcontinent, between Islam and the subcontinent's Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims. His bridge-building life is a refutation of the clash-of-civilization's theory.

But he was also a rock. No force or threat could shake his stand for Pakhtun dignity, which at bottom was a stand for the freedom and dignity of every human being. The Pakhtuns between the Hindu Kush and the Indus were his first love but also his links to humankind, and we can, if we wish, hear him, even if we are west of that mountain range or east of that river.

[my emphases]
Rajmohan Gandhi: Badshah Khan and our times
extracts from Rajmohan Gandhi: Ghaffar Khan, Non-violent Badshah of the Pakhtuns

And finally, Rumi urges that one "surrender, yield" ... but to what? Can one simply surrender and yield, to nothing in particular? Is this an appropriate message for a woman to hear? Perhaps it is right for a man to surrender as a contrast to his usual aggressive stance; perhaps it is better for a woman to "become a man" and fight for the things she believes in, including nonviolent struggle.
Gospel of Thomas Saying 114 (Blatz)
Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

I've interpreted "nonviolent struggle" as including verbal fighting or lashing out but it is true that this is also hurtful and destructive. It's not a way forward that can lead to understanding, to community, to the deeper peace of love. Personal attack, vilification, abusive language, petty quarreling and squabbling, these are useless. However, standing up for one's values, asserting those firmly, is a kind of war that does have meaning. The tongue has a place here but it needs to be kept clean of mere hurtfulness. That's the hard ask.


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