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A Century Of Satyagraha and the dual significance of 9/11

October 2006
A Century Of Satyagraha and the dual significance of 9/11

September 11th is the date of two globally important anniversaries; one of hope and one of horror. On 9/11 one hundred years ago Mahatma Gandhi founded a movement known as "Satyagraha," literally meaning "holding on to truth." It was the movement that eventually brought about the independence of India through non-violent means, giving rise to the largest democratic republic in the world today.

Gandhi's philosophy behind the Satyagraha Movement also gave birth a half century later to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States through the tireless efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King which finally brought all people in America the equality promised by the U.S. Constitution; again, through non-violent means.

On 9/11 five years ago, 19 men representing a hate-filled, intolerant and radical view of the Islam, murdered 3,000 innocent people in an attempt to bring down America, "the Great Satan." It was a day that united all Americans, regardless of their political leanings or of their religious affiliations. It was a day that saw the entire world stand shoulder to shoulder with America. It was a day when the universal Truth of freedom and equality was assaulted as it never had been before.

Today the term "9/11" carries a double meaning for us. Forever more, this date carries a bitter-sweet significance for all humanity. It is a day of celebration and a day of mournful remembrance. It is a day when the Truth of the ultimate sanity of humanity was established in modern times, and a day when the potential insanity of human hatred was displayed at the cost of 3,000 lives.

It is significant to me that this anniversary represents the human condition: The sublime best of human nature juxtaposed with the demonic worst of human nature. Our tears of joy have been turned to tears of mourning.

And yet, those tears of mourning must be turned yet again; this time into the kind of tears that are squeezed from our eyes through the sheer determination not to give up or give in to hatred or to intolerance. Ahimsa, commonly translated as non-violence, is not the same as pacifism. Ahimsa requires, above all things, courage.

When Gandhi was leading India to freedom from the colonial yoke through the non-violent movement of Satyagraha, there were others in the struggle for freedom who sought to wrench India's freedom through violent means. They sought to rush the process of freedom but were met with failure, and were fortunately overshadowed by the non-violent movement which had already been set in motion by Gandhi. What kind of place would India be today if its freedom was won through violence and the senseless sacrifice of thousands of innocent lives?

Today, five years after the awful strikes against America by Islamic fundamentalists who heap dishonor upon the Religion of Peace, we must ask ourselves if our response to those attacks are appropriate. How far should we allow ourselves in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents to punish the sins of a few? Shall we continue, as we have for five years, demanding an "eye for an eye," which as Gandhi said a half century ago, "only leaves the whole world blind."? Gandhi did not deny that there are times that violence must be resorted to as a last resort; but only in pure defense. He always preached that using violence as a means to take revenge for violence was wrong. As he once said, "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent." May God bless our great nation and help us to remember that our country was built on the ideas of freedom, the protection of the weak and on the concept of tolerance.

Let the term "9/11" hereafter and forever remind us of the great gift that Bapu, our Mahatma, gave us in 1907. Let it remind us Americans of the importance that legacy had for us through Dr. King in 1967. Let it remind us of the cost of holding aloft the torch of freedom and tolerance in 2007. And let it always remind us that we must forever remain determined to never forget, nor fail to defend and hold ourselves courageously - yet with tolerance and forbearance - in the face of those who would take this precious gift from us.

[Dr Shivadas is Director of Operations, Gandhi Foundation USA]

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