PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > ARTICLES > Violence and its dimensions
Violence And Its Dimensions
M. R. Rajagopalan
Since the second half of the twentieth century, there is too much violence all round and this has too many dimensions. There are wars between nations for territory - often for the control of natural resources, wars within nations i.e. civil wars, wars induced by the Military Industrial Complex - which incidentally is the root cause for most of the large-scale violence all round the world, violence instigated by religious groups, hostage threat, violence against women and children, violence against minorities, violence against dalits (people regarded as low caste in India) are some examples.
Continuing wars between nations :
The longest in the present day world is perhaps the Israeli-Arab war. This started with the creation of Israel in the year 1948 and has continued all along on a small scale for long durations and on a large scale for small durations. Conflict was inherent in the creation of Israel - because its territory was carved out of Palestine by the Western nations especially the USA and the UK. Major wars between Israel and neighbouring Arab nations broke out in the years 1948-49, 1956 and 1967. Violence and skirmishes have continued non-stop. Though this conflict could also be constructed as one between the Jews and Muslims, religion is not the issue. The main issue is only that of the territory, which was allotted for the creation of a nation arbitrarily in the year 1948. In the subsequent wars, Israel has occupied more territory from the neighbouring Arab nations and is refusing to return those areas.
Message of peace and nonviolence has no impact here. This area poses a challenge for all peace lovers.
Wars in the African continent :
Wars seem to be a permanent feature in the African continent. There were wars for national liberation in Kenya, Algeria, Congo and many other African nations till the ninth decade of the 20th century. South Africa had its own internal violence generated by its apartheid policy. One by one the African nations became free in the past five decades. South Africa also gave up its racial segregation and the non-white people are now free citizens.
The surprising and also depressing feature is that in almost every African nation which got freedom from its colonial master, an internal civil war broke out between different tribes or sects or even different parties or personalities. Examples that I could recall immediately are those of Belgian Congo - now Zaire Republic, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Chad, Uganda, Central African Republic etc. It is unbelievable that the people in these countries were mad and war mongering and started fighting with each other (within each country) as soon as the colonial master left. After all, we have a classic example right in our nation. Freedom at midnight on the 15th August 1947 was followed by bloodshed. That was the gift from our British masters. By their divide and rule policy they ensured that the Hindus and Muslims who in normal times live in peace like friends and brothers, were induced to get at each other's throat. Ditto in all the African nations. If anything, what happened in these African nations was much worse than what happened in the Indian subcontinent. The colonial masters of the African nations wanted a control of natural resources - gold, copper, plutonium, diamond, petroleum, etc. They fomented conflicts resulting in huge loss of life and property. These conflicts also ensured that those nations remain dependent and impoverished.
Wars based on religion :
At the outset I would like to express my concern about the tendency on the part of some Gandhians and others calling themselves 'secular' that an open and frank discussion about violence generated by 'minority' religious groups should be avoided. Gandhiji always stood for truth first then for insistence for truth that is satyagraha and then nonviolence. It will be unGandhian to gloss over acts of violence from certain religious groups.
If we look at our own history we were all Hindus or Sanatan Dharmis first. Then there was a large scale conversion to Buddhism - then many of our forefathers were converted to Jainism. Then came Sankara in the 7th century AD and a reconversion to Hinduism started on a large scale. But there was no bloodshed all along.
This is not the case of other religions especially Christianity and Islam. The spread of these religions was accompanied by violence. There were violent conflicts between these two religions all through history. These conflicts started on a large scale with the crusades. First crusade was organized by the Christian powers of Western Europe against the Muslim ruled Europe and Central Asia in the year 1095 with the blessings of the Pope. There were four major crusades culminating in the sack of Constantinople in 1203. Subsequent crusades were minor - started by the French and subsided by the year 1291.
Yet these conflicts continued in the Ottoman Empire in which Turkey was the master having the Slavic nations of Europe along with Muslim nations like Egypt, Syria etc. under its sovereignty. At the end of the first World War in 1919, the Turkish empire collapsed. Control changed to other European nations.
In the 80s, violence between Christians and Muslims again broke out in Slavic nations. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, violent conflicts between Muslims and Christians have spread to many nations, Chechnya being the worst case. This we shall discuss a little later.
Hostage threats :
In recent times this has become a recurring phenomenon. In sixties and seventies we used to read in the newspapers about some Palestinians hijacking Israeli planes or holding Israeli passengers of some other flights as hostages for some of their demands. Recently an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked and hundreds of innocent civilians were held hostage to get some terrorists released from prisons in India. We read almost every day in the newspaper in many countries about individuals being kidnapped and held as hostages for a ransom. If money is not received the hostages are killed. In the Philippines religion and politics are involved since kidnapping is indulged in by the militant Muslim minorities. This happens in Kashmir. In the year 2002 several hundred people watching a music performance were held hostage in Moscow by some terrorists and were rescued with tremendous loss of life to both the hostages and the militants.
I wonder what solution we have for the hostage problem.
Violence against women and children :
Media all over the world is full of news of violence against women and children. No country in the world, developed or developing is free from the menace. Apart from rape, women are subjected to beatings by their husbands or other male relatives. Similarly children are battered by either or both of the parents, or step-mothers, uncles, aunts, siblings, etc. While rape cases get a wider coverage in the media, battering of women and children within their homes is ignored and given a goby as a domestic matter. Of course, in many countries such offences are punishable by law; but only a small percentage of cases get reported.
Violence against dalits :
This problem is peculiar to India. It was Mahatma Gandhi who first highlighted this problem and offered a solution. He called this outcaste groups Harijans - a term which the present generation of this oppressed group does not seem to like. Gandhiji often chose to live with these families. Following the freedom of the nation, the Constitution provides safeguards and reservation quotas for the Dalits in education and government services. This privilege is often contested and disliked by other caste groups. Violence on people belonging to a different caste is shameful. Gandhians and other peace loving persons should give more attention to this problem.
Violence from fundamentalist groups :
Though we have discussed violence based on religion in the earlier part, violence from fundamentalist groups needs to be discussed separately for the simple reason that this has assumed number one position among violent conflicts all over the world. Though some minority Muslim groups like the Wahhabis have been raising war cries, they got organized, armed and trained by the CIA in Afghanistan in the 1980s during their war with the Russians. The Russians were thrown out of Afghanistan. The Talibans took over. Under the leadership of Bin Laden this militant Islamic group called itself Al-Qaida. It is this group that has been the major cause of violence in Russia, Britain, India, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Egypt, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries. The 'climax' was reached on the 11th September 2001 when New York and Washington were attacked.
I have used the word 'climax' deliberately in the previous paragraph. When other nations including India were the victims of Al-Qaida's attacks they had to fend for themselves. But when America was attacked, suddenly it became an international issue. America declared war on Afghanistan. The war had no UN sanction. Yet almost all nations extended their support or acquiesced in. The exceptions were Iraq, Libya, Palestine and Cuba. This exception does not mean or count much since the rest of the world was on the American side.
I am tempted to draw comparison. In a Zamindar's territory if some tenant is the victim of violence, it means nothing to the Zamindar. The other tenants are unable to come to the rescue of the victim. But when the Zamindar himself is attacked, it becomes the bounden duty of all the tenants to come to the rescue of the Zamindar and express their solidarity with him. Or else!
Though a government friendly to the US has been installed in Afghanistan, Bin Laden was not caught. Talibans and Al-Qaida have not been subjugated. Their whereabouts are not known with certainty. Yet, they constitute a danger to all peace-loving nations.
Third World War ?
Professor Robert Brace Ware (Illinois University, USA) is of the opinion that the Third World War is already on. This has been started by the Wahhabi Muslims - calling themselves Mujahiddins or holy warriors or Al-Qaida. He recommends a tough response from global and regional powers.
The role of the Military Industrial Complex :
I have deliberately brought this issue as the last factor of violence. Yet I consider this to be the most important factor as well as the underlying cause for all other factors discussed earlier. I would like to go into some detail. Let us start with the world wars.
The World Wars :
The First World War (1914-1919) and the Second World War (1939-1945) happened in history as a consequence of territorial ambitions of the European powers. In fact, these wars were the vindication of the famous doctrine of Clausewitz : "War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means."
Countries like England, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal had created their colonies in Asia, Africa and America with their gunboats in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Beginning from the middle of the 19th century Russia expanded its territory in Central Asia by its subjugation of the Khanates of Samarkand, Bukara, etc. The British Empire was of course the largest in terms of area and England claimed that the sun never sets in their empire.
During the First World War and in the Second World War till the day the Pearl Harbour was attacked by Japan on 07-12-1941, the USA has been claiming neutrality though it did support Britain and its allies in terms of equipment and food. After the Pearl Hargour incident, US took part in the world war till it ended in the surrender of Germany and Japan and the war was over in August 1945.
The genesis of M. I. Complex :
All the historians of the Second World War agree on one point - that the war could be won by the allies (Britain, France and Russia) only because of the enormous supply of weapons and food from the US.
That there was a great depression in the US in 1930s is a fact of history. In the opinion of the historians of the Marxist school, it was a vindication of Marx's theory of the decline of capitalism due to its own contradictions. The social conditions that prevailed in the US during the great depression has been depicted very well in the famous novel "The grapes of wrath" by Steinbeck.
Though the US Government took several steps as advised by its economiststo overcome the depression, nothing much could be achieved. In the words of Galbraith, it was the preparation for the Second World War and its participation, which saved the US from depression.
Yes, a huge military industrial complex was created churning out weapons of war on unprecedented scale. The huge grain surplus, which was dumped into the sea during the depression even as millions were starving (some similarity to the Indian situation presently - the food grain is rotting in the godowns and people are starving) in order to keep the prices up - was utilized for military supply.
The war came to an end in August 1945. The US was faced with a piquant situation. Can they stop the production of the weapons of war ? The answer was no because stopping of production of war weapons meant going back to depression years.
Similar was the situation in the USSR, which had also created its own Military Industrial Complex. England and France were the other nations with their production of weapons of war, which could not be stopped.
It was here that a new concept of 'cold war' was born or adopted by an unwritten understanding by all these nations. Cold war also became a necessity since the USSR was a communist nation and became suspect in the eyes of the allies - now USA, England and France. The supply of weapons was continued to fight the communists in China till 1949. Then came the Korean war. Then came several other wars in the third world countries - such as the Indo-Pak wars, Indo-China war, Arab-Israel war, Iran-Iraq war, wars in Africa, Indonesia, South American countries etc. Vietnam war was very important one in the series in the sense that both the US and USSR used this war to test their new weapons on the poor Vietnamese.
A notable feature of all these wars is that the territories of US and USSR were outside the purview. So was the territory of the European nations and Japan. All other parts of the world were embroiled in conflicts at one point of time or the other for varying durations.
Till the early 1990s when the USSR and USA were considered as super powers, defence experts used to describe the situation as Balance of Power though some writers like Han Suyin thought it was a Balance of Terror. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the USA is the unchallenged super power. It has been described variously by the journalists as world's policeman, dada, etc.
The situation after 11-09-2001
What was the primary interest of the US in its war with Afghanistan? Not a retaliation for the lives of American citizens lost on that day. Nor their prestige and image which got a severe jolt. Nothing but the fact that the juggernaut of the M. I. Complex should keep moving. And there was a golden opportunity with a 'justification'.
The war in Afghanistan is over. But the terrorism has not been eliminated. There is a real danger of germ warfare or Islamic nuclear bomb exploding in the US and in retaliation US may destroy many nations.
What about our genes?
In the evolutionary process, reptiles evolved into lower mammals like rabbits and rats and these lower mammals evolved into higher mammals culminating in the creation of man. Only man possesses qualities like love, compassion, kindness, sacrifice, creative urge leading to poetry, philosophy, painting, etc. Yet the reptilian characteristic of wanton violence still seems to reside in the genes of some fellow human beings. When these genes are activated they resort to violence. Peace loving human beings have the responsibility of tackling their fellow human beings prone to violence.
Role of nonviolence for resolving the conflicts :
Not only Gandhians but perhaps 90 to 95 per cent of the human beings want to live in a peaceful world. They are against violence. But some bad elements and some vested interests want to perpetuate violence. Peace lovers have a tough job. Yet one can not give up. We have to take some steps to counter the violence.
Peace and non-violence in school curriculum :
The older generation seems to be overwhelmed and helpless to face the challenge of violence. We should inculcate the values of peace and nonviolence in the children from school level by making these subjects part of curriculum. The media - especially the television provides too many programmes glorifying or justifying violence. There has to be some restriction of such programmes. For children spend too much time watching the T.V.
Teaching of yoga, meditation and scriptures :
Children in many countries including India, are ignorant of their culture. Ethics is not given the importance it deserves. That is where teaching of scriptures assumes importance with a stress on values like love, compassion, sacrifice, respect for elders, etc. Yoga and meditation would make our children physically and mentally fit persons.
Harmony between religions :
Harmony between religions is a necessary step in the present day world. Incidentally this is the first item in Gandhiji's constructive programme also. According to Hans Kung, "There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions." "No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions." "No dialogue between the religions without the investigation of the foundation of their religions."
Our various religious traditions contain core values and from these values we can shape a global ethic for all human beings. No one religious tradition can claim with integrity and honesty to have all the resources to solve all the problems of the world, but together the various religious traditions can make a contribution for the heeling of humanity and creation.
Select bibliography :
Facts and ideas for this paper have been derived from many books and articles I have read in the newspapers in the past several years. I could not recall all references. Yet a few I could, and they are as follows :
Source: International Seminar on Conflict Resolution (February 15 - 17, 2003)