A Journal Reflecting on Non-Violence

A-M. Johannessen


January 24th 2008

Today in class we were introduced to the concept of ‘Conscientious Objector to Violence’ as part of the philosophy of non-violence. It was interesting to learn about ‘Conscientious Objection to Violence’ as an underlying principle of non-violence. The class discussion of the philosophy of non-violence made me reflect upon the difference between non-violence and pacifism. It made me question what it is that distinguishes great advocates for non-violence, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi and Jesus, from pacifists. When looking for a clarification regarding this question, I came across an article called ‘Is God a Pacifist?’ (http://www.wie.org/j26/pacifist.asp) on the Internet and a quote by Jim Garrison, cofounder and president of the State of the World Forum, saying: “Look at Jesus. Jesus said to love one another, but he was so confrontational with the Orthodox leaders that they killed him. They wouldn’t have killed him if he was just sitting there in the temple saying, ‘Let’s sit here and pray.’ “
To me, this clearly demonstrates the difference between non-violence and pacifism. Non-violence is a very active philosophy. Pacifism is linked to non-resistance and to being passive. Jesus was definitely not living a non-resistant and passive life. He was a controversial leader who believed strongly in peace and non-violence, in love and forgiveness, even when dealing with enemies. His strong beliefs and convictions as a leader of a social and religious movement, made him dangerous to the existing establishment who subsequently saw him as a threat that they had to eliminate.
This reminded me of Stuart Rees session in class today, where he talked about Tolstoy’s novel ‘War and Peace’ which describes the cultural struggle between the existing, represented by the character Andrey, and that which (who) challenges the system, represented by the character Pierre.
It became obvious to me that the philosophy of non-violence has a strong moral foundation. Gandhi talked about non-violence as a way of life. Throughout his life he was able to live according to principles of non-violence, which led him in the powerful struggle for justice and social change.
Gandhi was strongly opposed to all forms of violence, but part of his strategy was to go on hunger strikes and inflicting self-harm. I asked myself whether the kind of self- suffering which Gandhi put himself through is a form of violence inflicted on himself? As all the great fighters for non-violence were exceptional people I asked myself how ordinary people can be devoted to non-violence? And once one believes in the philosophy of non-violence, how can one live according to it?

In class today we were also discussing the ambiguity of the use of violence and the importance of objecting to violence because, as Gandhi said, "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent." This makes me think about the situation in Iraq and the fact that the U.S justified going to war in Iraq by claiming that it was for a good cause, that is; to free the Iraqi people from Saddam. They claimed that the end justified the means. However, the amount of people killed as a result of the war in Iraq, as well as the amount of cultural heritage destroyed and social and economic institutions damaged, clearly demonstrates the destructiveness of violence. For all the people who are suffering in Iraq today, the evil of violence must indeed seem permanent.
This makes it seem obvious to me that, according to the tradition of non-violence, the end can never justify the means. Gandhi said “nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek." (Cortright, 2006) When witnessing the disasters, suffering and damage caused by violent wars, it is surprising that this still is a very common way to resolve conflicts between and within states today. I remember a sentence that I read in an article on the Internet saying that what we see in the world today is “not a clash of civilizations but a clash within civilizations.”
This made me reflect upon the status that violence has in our society and the fact that there is a lot of training for violence in our society, such as in the military, but not much training for non-violence. Learning to be a soldier and to kill other human beings as efficiently as possible involves a dehumanisation of the enemy, according to several scholars. This made me think about my brother in Norway who is 18 years old and has to do military service next year and the ethical and moral dilemmas that he will face there.


January 25th 2008

Today in class we were discussing the language of non-violence. As I have been following the election of the Democratic Presidential candidates in the U.S lately, this reminded me of the speeches by one of the candidates called Barak Obama. In a speech which I listened to at http://www.realclearpolitics.com, he says this:
“If there is a child on the South side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me even if it’s not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and have to choose between medicine and rent, that makes my life poorer even if it’s not my grandparent. If there is an American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that ruins my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, that makes this country work.”
Here, I think that Obama is formulating an attitude of non-violence and solidarity. I think he has a great way of expressing his visions of a better future for the American people. He talks in a language of hope and optimism, and he is addressing each individual, emphasising the power that each person has in creating social change.
Through his powerful speeches I think that Obama is expressing values of democracy, equality, justice and idealism in a way which reminds me of some of the great fighters for non- violence, including Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Listening to Obama reminds me of the way that Martin Luther King talked about his dream of peace and equality between white and black people in U.S in the 60s. For example, he said that “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” (In book: “Speeches that changed the world”, 2005) Also, Obama is talking about bridging differences and to be able to talk to the ‘enemy’ in a diplomatic way instead of fighting them by using military power and going to war.
To me, it seams that Obama represents a presidental candidate who is determined to resolve conflicts in a more non-violent way than the current military power; the U.S, is doing under president Bush.
The way that Obama talks about “choosing hope over fear” makes me think about the concept of human security, which we were discussing in class, as opposed to military security. Human security involves a focus on medical services, the education system, jobs and income as well as the traditional meaning of security. The notion of human security focuses on non-violent ways to resolve conflicts and to end structural violence whereas the kind of military security, which is dominating the U.S today, is focusing on violence as a way to resolve conflicts and to change the world.
This makes me reflect upon the idea that both King and Obama would probably reject the notion of creating democracy by using violence, the way that the U.S military is trying to do in Iraq today, and that the U.S and NATO are trying to do in Afghanistan. Both King and Obama emphasize that social change has to come from the people themselves, from the grassroots and that is where hope for change is possible.
They would probably argue that democracy must be built through principles of non- violence and the equality and human value of everyone. Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the only way to achieve democracy in Burma is through non-violent action. She says that a strong democracy cannot be built through violent means. (Hunt, 2004)

All this made me reflect upon the importance of moving away from the politics of fear, which is focusing on the kind of security which uses violence to defend oneself or to try to defeat an enemy.
Following the politics in the U.S and the election campaign in the U.S has made me think about the links between macro and micro politics. I was asking myself what values and ethical messages the U.S government is sending to its own citizens when waging wars internationally against far weaker and military inferior States. Does it send the message that it is OK to use violence against other people as long as it’s for a 'good cause'? Does it sent the message that violence is what the strong should use to defeat and oppress the weak? Does it say that it is OK to fight for your interests in a violent way?
I am thinking that if someone like Obama was to become the President of the U.S, promoting peaceful and diplomatic policies both in foreign policy as well as in domestic policy, he would convey a totally different message to the American people. He is promoting values such as diplomacy, solidarity and empathy in the dealing with every human being, even the so-called ‘enemy’. This non-violent way of resolving conflicts might have a positive effect of reducing crime and violence rates among U.S citizens.
Being surrounded by violence makes people violent as seen in the Israel- Palestine conflict. Also, it is reported that among U.S veterans from Iraq returning to the U.S, the rate of committing murder is much higher than among other people.
Promoting a culture of peace instead of a culture of violence is a fundamental step in promoting conscientious objection to violence in people and to promote non-violent action among populations, and ultimately create a more peaceful world.


January 29th 2008

In class today we were talking about strategies and skills of non-violence. Anthony Kelly was teaching us about important strategies and skills of non-violence. We were discussing the characteristics of non-violent action.
What I find intriguing about non-violent action is the fact that it is not a strategy only for strong men, but for everyone. Old and young, men and women, rich and poor can be part of a non-violent struggle. This was very obvious in some of the pictures that Anthony showed us of non-violent action. All citizens can participate and this way everyone has power to fight for social change. In non-violent action there is no hierarchy, as it is in the military. All are free and equal. Also, transparency and truthfulness are very important in non-violent action as opposed to military methods of secrecy and surprise. These are some reasons why non-violence as a strategy for change is so powerful.
In class we were also discussing the two directions within non-violence; on the one hand the principled and ethical non-violence and on the other hand the pragmatic and strategic. We were discussing the theory which polarizes them and whether they overlap or need to be separated. I think that in many cases they are closely connected and that they are both essential for big non-violent movements.


January 30th 2008

Today in class, we were discussing whether it is possible to prevent genocide by using non-violence. We were discussing the alternatives to militarism in solving conflicts around the world. This reminded me of an article I read on the Internet called ‘Is God a pacifist?’ which I referred to earlier. It raises questions and dilemmas regarding pacifism and violence and concludes that God is not a pacifist since the whole universe and the natural order is full of violence. The article argues that from the creation of the universe to the food chain; animals eat other animals and humans hunt for animals: life is inherently violent. This made me wonder that if the primitive drive of human beings is to be violent in order to survive, that is, when they feel threatened, for example as self-defense, then where does the idea of non-violence fit into this picture? Non-violence seem to be possible only when human beings engage their intellect, their reason and sense and when there is a higher morality in play.
On Tuesday, in class Anthony Kelly asked us to consider whether we would use violence to defend someone we love. In a situation of imminent threat and danger, I think that most human beings would do whatever they could to protect themselves and their loved ones. As the reaction might be driven more by survival instinct than by intellectual reflection, I think that a violent response is part of the nature of human beings. But once there is time and space for using reason and intelligent reflection, alternative options, including non-violence, which might prove to be a more constructive option, will come into play. In most cases, a non-violent response to a conflict is a more intelligent and effective method, with a higher chance of leading to a positive and constructive outcome.
The big dilemma facing the United Nations as well as the International Community as such, is how to react in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. They face the dilemma of how to most efficiently end violence and humanitarian disaster. This involves the dilemma of whether and to what extent a violent, military response to genocide and crimes against humanity is justified.
Non-violent action might be more effective when gradually putting pressure on for example a Government, to create social change, as seen for example in the nonviolent struggle against segregation in South Africa in the 60s. But when it comes to ending acute slaughtering of a population or a group of people, as seen in for example Rwanda in 1994, it is questionable whether non-violent approaches would be effective.

In a session about UN Emergency Peace Service, Annie Herro showed us a model describing a relationship between militarism, pacifism and non-violence:
sourceThe problem with the model, in my opinion, is that non-violence seems to occur as a consequence of the combination/ fusion or as a compromise between militarism and pacifism. However, I think that non-violence is a whole separate field of active struggle and a whole separate field of strategy within conflict resolution, which in most cases has no clear links with neither militarism nor pacifism.
Therefore, I would suggest an alternative model which looks like this:

Militarism builds on a set of different principles to those of non-violence. As militarism uses violence and demonization of the enemy, it represents exactly what non-violence is opposing. Non-violent action is about diplomacy, dialogue, and solidarity with everyone, including the ‘enemy’, courage and the willingness to make sacrifices and to suffer instead of inflicting suffering upon others. The reputation and respect of a non-violent struggle is damaged if it is mixed with violence, and the high moral ground of non-violence is destroyed if violence is included. Thus the non-violent action has lost its effectiveness of achieving social change.
This reminds me of the six principles of non-violence which I found on an Internet page about Martin Luther King:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people;
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding;
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people;
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform;
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate; and
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

Therefore, as the model shows, non-violence is most off all a separate field, which is very different from militarism as an approach to conflict resolution.
However, there are some principles which are the same in non-violence as in militarism such as discipline, planning and strategic thinking.
There are also some principles of non-violence which overlap with pacifism, such as respect for life and the belief that violence is counterproductive. However, non-violence distinguishes itself from pacifism as it is taking an active and not passive stance on achieving social change, as discussed in the diary for January 24th. Therefore, non-violence is fundamentally different from both militarism and pacifism.


January 31st 2008

Today, Dr. Hannah Middleton was talking about anti-bases campaigns that she has participated in. Prior to this lecture I had no knowledge of the US Military bases that exist secretly around Australia, which are used for military training. I was shocked to learn that millions of dollars are spent every day on defense. I asked myself what would happen if part of this money was used on peaceful conflict resolution, development and fighting poverty and inequality in the world. That is, if this money had been spent on human security instead of military security. I am questioning what kinds of fear, corruption or power mechanisms that run the military machinery and the quest for armament. I am reminded of something a philosopher Gérard Wormser said in an article called “Violence and History’: “It is precisely our attempt to protect ourselves against violence that causes it to be seen as a threat”.
It was interesting to watch a film about non-violent direct action undertaken by the anti-bases campaign coalition. This kind of direct non-violent action is a way of trying to get one’s opinion across to the politicians and to the Government, in the hope that they will listen and that positive changes will be undertaken. Thus it can be regarded in terms of Lerderach’s theory of power-gaps, which was discussed earlier in class. Non-violent action aims to bridge the power gaps and to reach across form the grassroots level to the middle range leaders and the top leadership.

Lederach’s pyramid of actors and approaches to peace building: (from http://www.gppac.net/documents/pbp/part1/1_justpe.htm)

When I participated in the anti-APEC protest in Sydney in September 2007, the message of anti-war was communicated to the APEC leaders, the media and to the Australian Government, in order to show the sentiment of the grassroots and to try to bridge the power gaps and influence the top level.
Also, online activism like writing letters to politicians, is another example of how to build bridges over the power-gaps. I have participated in several online campaigns and last year I signed and sent a letter to prime minister Kevin Rudd, asking for more resolve to end extreme poverty in the world, which is part of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Rudd replied to the letter, which does prove that even small actions of non-violent activism often are recognized and listened to. I strongly believe in activism of the people and that the actions of every citizens are important in the struggle for social change. This was clearly expressed in the film about Aboriginal peoples struggle in the song we listened to today in class: “From little things, big things grow.”

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