September 11 precedes October 2 only by three weeks but, as dates that symbolise events, they have nothing in common. The first is known for the unprecedented terror and violence unleashed on thousands of innocent people, while the other is a date etched in history by the apostle of peace - the Mahatma.
As the years go by and generations change, doubts begin to
creep in - is October 2 still relevant and does non-violence still have meaning in
a world deeply divided by conflicting ideologies and religious fundamentalism? Since MahatmaGandhi's name and philosophy of non-violence
are inseparable, there is an attempt to reduce the scope of the tenets of
non-violence to the period in which Gandhiji lived and the context in which he fought
for the freedom of the country.
But September 11 has brought back into sharp focus the
relevance of non-violence to a world in which the United States, the only "super
power", found itself vulnerable for the first time in its history. Before 1947, for many freedom fighters in India, Gandhiji's tenets of
non-violence were a tool, a powerful instrument pressed into use to fight the
forces of British imperialism to gain independence. It was not afaith, not a philosophical discourse and it
was certainly not a commitment an independent India could not afford.
The questions that troubled the minds of freedom
fighterswere: how can a modern nation-state function without building an
effective coercive apparatus? To maintain law and order within its borders and to meet
any challenge of external aggression, will it not be the duty of a state to
construct, strengthen and constantly nurture its police, paramilitary and
While Gandhiji did agree that yielding to external threats
would be tantamount to compromising with cowardice, his commitment to
non-violence was not mere policy formulation for a country that struggled to
free itself from the British yoke. His idea of non-violence was a comprehensive
philosophy that would serve the purpose of all countries, all men and women,
under all circumstances. In the last five decades, he has been proven right, in
different parts of the world under different circumstances.
Gandhiji's disciple, Martin Luther King Jr., did not carry
any weapon. His shield for the emancipation of the Black people was moulded in
non-violence, and with that shield he dared to dream. His dream seems to have
been fulfilled in a substantial measure in the decades since the turbulent 1960s.
September 11 was yet another occasion when it became clear
that violence would never be justified under any circumstance, either in the
name of an ideology or a religion. If terrorism marks one end of the spectrum, at the other
end lies the U.S. Administration's obsession with objectives that are in stark
contrast to Gandhiji's obsession with the means. Gandhiji believed that if the means were right, the end
would take care of itself. Gandhiji could never bring himself to experiment
with short-term policies to serve short-term interests.
September 11 could perhaps have been different if the U.S. had cared a
little more for the means as well as the ends in the 1980s and refrained from
funding and arming terrorist forces that were led by men like Osama bin Laden. With the assistance of bin Laden and the forces of
extremism, terrorism and religious fundamentalism, the U.S. succeeded in getting
Soviet troops out of Afghanistan
in 1989, but such a short-sighted policy had begun to haunt Washington
a decade later.
Gandhiji or no Gandhiji, it is unfortunately true today
that a call for jehad, a "holy war" for 1,000 years, motivates thousands
of young men to carry deadly arms and have suicidal impulses, but a call for
non-violence is not exactly fashionable.
Non-violence as a philosophical concept looks as dull and
uninspiring as a United Nations' conference on disarmament or sustainable
development. Yet, if we examine Gandhiji's visualisation of non-violence
dispassionately, we will find that, like the Buddha's sermons, it has neither a
beginning nor an end. It transcends time, nations and people. Since the atrocities committed in New York and Washington in
September 2001, scholars have made attempts to find meaning of September 11.
It appears that they have succeeded only partly. If they
care to view the phenomenon of terrorism through the prism of non-violence and
aim at marrying the ends with the means, the meaning of September 11 may become
clearer. And the meaning of October 2, the day Gandhiji was born 133 years ago, would be still valid.