Gandhi’s theology on violence was that violence itself is a tactic of failure and state power and that violence was not a demonstration or act of real power. Living under colonial British rule and heavily influenced by the religious principle of ahimsa (doing not harm), Gandhi developed his philosophy on non-violence to fight colonial rule and use it as a tool to combat racism and discrimination. Gandhi believed that non-violence was the mark of true power and described non-violence as power that can be wielded equally by all. In Gandhi’s view, “to be non-violent means to inflict violence on oneself”. Active non-violence requires a person to take the violence without returning it, to not about defend oneself in the belief that that opening oneself to the violence will in turn force its perpetrator recognize you as a full human being and see the errors of their ways and the cause that they support. It’s a belief that by taking the violence perpetrators will be forced to recognize the inhumanity of their actions. Active non-violence by Gandhi’s definition means commitment and willingness to put one’s body in harms way, “an insistence to put one’s body in harms way requires strength and is not for the cowardly”; and not permitting returning violence to refrain from validating the initial violence.
Gandhi’s views have been met with challenge and criticism by the opposition who believe his approach of non-violence is an unrealistic and unobtainable. The safety and structure of national sovereignty poses a significant challenge with Gandhi’s ideologies. If countries were to follow his theology of non-violence without the ability to enforce laws regarding borders and territories, this would create issues involving boundaries, safety, and trade. As discussed in the lecture, consider issues of water territories between China and Japan; crossing in to a specific territory can be considered an act of war, could State’s still enforce borders without the ability to enforce or retaliate to hostile actions of aggressors? History would argue no. An example of an aggressor using its brute force to over run and take over a smaller, weaker, and often more peaceful country would be during WWII, Hitler and the Nazi regime used violence to essentially remove any resistance peaceful or not to take over the majority of Europe. World history has been filled with horrific atrocities and acts of violence, affecting every culture on almost every continent. As beautiful as the notion of non-violence is, a frequent criticism is that it’s impossible to embrace non-violence as a whole after generations of mutually returned violence.
Discussion surrounding violation of individual rights and lack of justice have been significant challenges for Gandhi’s theory of non-violence. As we have discussed throughout the entire semester, we as human species should be entitled to basic human individual rights (right to equality, life, freedom from violence, torture, inhumane treatment) Subjecting individual’s or cultures to accept intentionally putting themselves in harms way in hope for peace has resulted in some of the world’s most heinous atrocities that violate the most basic human rights. Examples of this have included Uganda, Lybia, Rwanda, and the United States (Native Americans). We’ve spent decades attempting to develop worldwide organizations to investigate and hold those who commit these acts accountable, sometimes through force. To turn a blind eye and do nothing in hopes that offenders will learn humanity does enforce individuals rights and does not bring justice to the victims. There must always be a level of accountability.
Gandhi’s views on violence and the alternative of non-violence are incredibly eye opening, inspiring, and should be met with an open mind by all cultures. I think the human race should strive to follow his theology and do our best to implement his basic principles in to society. With harsh realities of terrorist groups like ISIS, who don’t operate on a plane of rationality, we are not currently in a position to fully adapt to the non-violence practice without exposure to possible unrecoverable damage and violence.
BBC. “Non-Violence.” BBC Ethics. BBC, 2014.