Tag Archives: Gandhi

Palestine is Winning the Legitimacy War

19 May

[Prefatory Note: This opinion piece was published in Middle East Eye on May 18,2021, and republished in Il Manifesto  and The Wire under different titles. It attempts to contextualize the current violence directed against Gaza in earlier Israeli provocations. It also takes note of Israel’s reliance on excessive force in its attack upon an essentially helpless Gazan civilian population of over two million people trapped inside a crowded and unlawfully blockaded enclave. The communal violence between Arabs and Jews in Israeli towns and villages, the unity displayed by Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories, the protests at the borders of Jordan and Lebanon, the Jewish dissent from Israeli criminal assault on Gaza, and the greater receptivity of the Western media and even the US Congress to Palestinian grievances different than past interludes of severe violence. The future will tell us whether finally an inflection point in the Palestinian struggle has been reached in which the path to peace is cleared by the fusion of resistance from within and solidarity from without.]

The Last Stand of Settler Colonialism: Apartheid Israel

The current crisis of Palestine/Israel deepens and widens as casualties mount, smoke from destroyed buildings blacken the sky over Gaza, rioting on the streets of many Israeli and West Bank towns, Israeli police disrupting worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and protecting extremist Jewish settlers shouting genocidal slogans ‘death to the Arabs’ in their inflammatory marches through Palestinian neighborhoods. Underlying this entire eruption of tensions between oppressor and oppressed were the flimsy legalized evictions of six Palestinian families long resident in the Sheikh Jarrah. These evictions epitomized the long Palestinian ordeal of persecution and banishment in what psychologically remains their homeland. While this mayhem continues the lights have remained scandalously dim at the UN. Western leaders pathetically call for calm on both as if both sides shared equal blame, while perversely affirming the one-sidedness of ‘Israel’s right to defend itself,’ which supposes that Israel had been attacked out of the blue.

Is this but one more cycle of violence exhibiting the unresolvable clash between a native people overwhelmed by a colonial intruder emboldened by a unique religiously grounded settler sense of entitlement? Or are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the century long struggle by the Palestinian people to defend their homeland against the unfolding Zionist Project that stole their land, trampled on their dignity, and made Palestinians victimized strangers in what had been their national home for centuries? Only the future can fully unravel this haunting uncertainty. In the meantime, we can expect more bloodshed, death, outrage, grief, injustice, and continuing geopolitical interference. What these events have made clear is that the Palestinians are withstanding prolonged oppression with their spirit of resistance intact, and refuse to. be pacified regardless of the severity of the imposed hardships. We also are made to appreciate that the Israeli leadership and most of its public is no longer in the mood even to pretend receptivity to a peaceful alternative to the completion of their settler colonial undertaking despite its dependence on a weaponized version of apartheid governance. 


For Israelis and much of the West the core narrative continues to be the violence of a terrorist organization, Hamas, challenging the peaceful state of Israel with destructive intent, making the Israeli response seem reasonable as both a discouragement of the rockets but also as a harsh punitive lesson for the people of Gaza designed to deter future terrorist attacks. The Israeli missiles and drones are deemed ‘defensive’ while the rockets are acts of ‘terrorism’ even though Israeli human targets are seldom hit, and despite the fact that it is Israeli weaponry that causes 95% of the widespread death and destruction among the over two million civilians Gazans who have been victims of an unlawful and crippling blockade that since 2007 has brought severe suffering to the impoverished, crowded, traumatized Palestinian enclave long enduring unemployment levels above 50%.  

In the current confrontation Israel’s control of the international discourse has succeeded in de-contextualizing the timeline of violence, having the effect of leading those with little knowledge of what induced the flurry of Hamas rockets to believe falsely that the destruction in Gaza was a retaliatory Israeli reaction to hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas and Gaza militia groups. With abuses of language that might even surprise Orwell, Israel’s state terrorism is airbrushed by the world along with the rebuff of Hamas’ peace diplomacy over the past 15 years that has repeatedly sought a permanent ceasefire and peaceful coexistence.

For Palestinians, and those in solidarity with their struggle, Israel knowingly allowed the subjugated population of East Jerusalem to experience a series of anguishing humiliations to occur during the holy period of Muslim religious observances in Ramadan rubbing salt in the a wounds recently opened by the Sheikh Jarrar evictions, which had the inevitable effect of refreshing Palestinian memories of their defining experiences of ethnic cleansing days before the annual May 15th observance of the Nakba. This amounted to a metaphoric reenactment of that massive crime of expulsion accompanying the birth of Israel in 1948, culminating in the bulldozing of several hundred Palestinian villages signaling a firm Israeli intention to make the banishment permanent.


Unlike South Africa, which made never claimed to be a democracy, Israel legitimated itself by presenting itself as a constitutional democracy. This resolve to be a democracy came with a high price tag of deception and self-deception, necessitating to this day a continuing struggle to make apartheid work to secure Jewish supremacy while hiding Palestinian subjugation. For decades Israel was successful in hiding these apartheid features from the world because the legacy of the Holocaust lent uncritical credence to the Zionist narrative of providing sanctuary for the survivors of the worst genocide known to humanity. Additionally, the Jewish presence was making the desert bloom, while at the same time virtually erasing Palestine grievances, further discounted by hasbara visions of Palestinian backwardness as contrasting with Israeli modernizing prowess, and later on by juxtaposing a political caricature of the two peoples portraying Jewish adherence to Western values as opposed to Palestinian embrace of terrorism.


Recent developments in the symbolic domains of politics that control the outcome of Legitimacy Wars have scored several victories for the Palestinian struggle. The International Criminal Court has authorized the investigation of Israeli criminality in Occupied Palestine since 2015 despite vigorous opposition from the leadership of the Israeli government, fully supported by the United States. The investigation in The Hague, although proceeding with diligent respect for the legalities involved, was not openly engaged by Israel, but rather was immediately denounced by Netanyahu as ‘pure antisemitism.’

Beyond this, the contentions of Israeli apartheid, which only a few years ago was similarly denounced when an academic report commissioned by the UN concluded that the allegation of apartheid was unequivocally confirmed by Israeli policies and practices of an inhuman character designed to ensure Palestinian victimization and Jewish domination. In the past few months both B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights NGO, and Human Rights Watch, have issued carefully documented studies that reach the same startling conclusion that the Israel indeed administers an apartheid regime within the whole of historic Palestine, that is, the Occupied Palestinian Territories plus Israel itself. While these two developments do not alleviate Palestinian suffering or the behavioral effects of enduring denial of basic rights, they are significant symbolic victories that stiffen the morale of Palestinian resistance and strengthen the bonds of global solidarity. The record of struggles against colonialism since 1945 support reaching the conclusion that the side that wins a Legitimacy War will eventually control the political outcome, despite being weaker militarily and diplomatically. 

The endgame of South African apartheid reinforces this reassessment of the changing balance of forces in the Palestinian struggle. Despite having what appeared to be effective and stable control of the African majority population through the implementation of brutal apartheid structures, the racist regime collapsed from within under the combined weight of internal resistance and international solidarity. Outside pressures included a widely endorsed BDS campaign enjoying UN backing. Israel is not South Africa in a number of key aspects, but the combination of resistance and solidarity was dramatically ramped upwards in the past week. Israel has already long lost the main legal and moral arguments, almost acknowledging this interpretation by their defiant way of changing the subject with reckless accusations of antisemitism, and is in the process of losing the political argument.

Israel’s own sense of vulnerability to a South African scenario has been exposed by this growing tendency to brand supporters of BDS and harsh critics as ‘antisemites,’ which seems in the context of present development best described as ‘a geopolitical panic attack.’ I find it  appropriate to recall Gandhi’s famous observation along these lines: “first, they ignore you, then they insult you, then they fight you, then you win.”  

Learning Now from Gandhi   

12 Jul

[Prefatory Note: I wrote the text below before being aware of the drastic challenges posed for the human species in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, Trump & Trumpism. These challenges are posed in their most extreme forms in the United States, not only the first global state, but also the first failed global state, exporting its failures far beyond normal borders of time and space.

 It is with these circumstances in mind that I am posting my foreword to Suman Khanna Aggarwal’s The Science of Peace, a faithful and highly accessible presentation of Gandhi’s essential thought and practice as applicable to the rather overwhelming set of circumstances that amount to gathering storm clouds. Such a darkened sky hovering over the present is intended to call to our attention the severe threats to the human and ecological futures all being on earth confront, whether or not they are aware of these unprecedented dangers. In such circumstances, many seek shelter in the most dangerous places out of feelings of loneliness, desperation, and alienation, which is terrain of consciousness on which Trump and Trumpism builds its political architecture of evil, most visibly in the United States, but worldwide taking hold of societies through insidious structures of capitalism, militarism, pacification, and chauvinistic forms of statism. What we learn from Gandhi is the piety of radical action as resulting from the dormant power of the powerless once a sufficient collective will dedicated to resistance and transformation is realized and acted upon. Contact with Gandhi’s approach encourages the conversations and reflections we urgently need if we are to rediscover hope in an era of hopelessness.

 Ms. Aggarwal is a devoted Gandhi scholar and Gandhi activist known worldwide. The Science of Peace is available through Amazon as a Kindle book for $5.95. You will not regret reading and reflecting on it relevance.]



Learning Now from Gandhi   




RAF Foreword toThe Science of Peace by Suman Khanna Aggarwal

 In a brilliantly lucid and compelling manner Suman Aggarwal instructs us, and the world, about Gandhi’s highly originally and historically tested approach to peace. What makes this approach so timely for our conflict-ridden world is that Gandhi’s ideas are not sentimental or based on wishful thinking, but derived from scientifically validated experience of practicing nonviolent conflict resolution coupled with an unconditional commitment to truth and perseverance. Aggarwal’s book takes its readers stage by stage through Gandhi’s revolutionary impact on how we should feel, think, believe, and act if we sincerely seek peace privately and publicly. We are guided on a path that starts with the understanding of conflict, moves on toward why the path of nonviolence accompanied with a grounding in truth is more effective and beneficial than the prevailing military approaches, illustrates this demanding way of nonviolence by a short discourse on Gandhi’s tactical genius in devising nonviolent practice, and concludes with a gripping explanation of why nonviolence is a source of power that is consistent with the truths of science. After reading and reflection such a book we can hardly help being both enlightened and inspired for we are enabled to view the torments of the world with bright and hopeful eyes.



We live at a time when the political leaders of the world exhibit and accentuate its worst ills rather than meet the profound challenge of the first bio-ethical crisis of the human species. In times past societies, even civilizations, were frequently at risk of collapse, but never the species and the viability of its planetary habitat. As Gandhi immediately understood, the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities were nothing qualitatively new, but rather a culminating exposure of the logic of violence carried to its outer extreme, indicting with unmistakable clarity the deadly effect of relying on incoherent and deadly war-making and militarism as the foundation of security for individuals and groups. We know that a nuclear war could doom the human experience by producing a nuclear winter that might last at least a decade, destroying the agricultural foundations of collective and healthy life on the planet. We now also know that the life styles of modernity continues to emit unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Such irresponsible behavior causes global warming that threatens to make the earth contaminated and uninhabitable forever.


We also know what to do to meet such momentous challenges, and yet we do not act with sufficient ambition. At most, we invest faith in the vain hope that prudent leadership will save the world from nuclear catastrophe and that technology will rescue the planet from global warming before it is too late. Despite being a species aware of this severe crisis, we mostly look away, entrusting the future to those who are aggravating these problems by their militarism and economic greed. We turn to leaders that look upon desperate strangers seeking asylum as ‘invaders,’ that embrace ultra-nationalism, express contempt for real democratic governance and participation, and nurture escapism and even denialism to pacify and divert mass discontent when it comes to acknowledging these unprecedented threats to human wellbeing and survival. Prevailing ideologies of nationalism, capitalism, and political realism are all perversely premised on the fragmentation of humanity into a multitude of distinct identities related to state, nationality, religion, race, gender, income, and others.  This stress on difference precludes experiencing and acting upon the essential similarities that alone could produce a spirit of unity that is an underlying precondition for fulfilling the spiritual potential of humanity as well as meeting the practical challenges that hang like storm clouds over our prospects of a benign future.


Such a background suggests that we humans as a species are not only floundering but drifting toward catastrophic scenarios of extinction. What seems clear to those with eyes to read and ears to hear is that the way the planet is organized by reliance on a statist system of world order is violence prone, nationalistically driven, and ecologically unsustainable. My own country, the United States, has led the way in accentuating political fragmentation, indulging a chauvinistic form of nationalist narcissism, electing as its current president a man who feasts on divisiveness, employing a coercive diplomacy based on threats and weaponry, and constructing a social order on its home territory that features plutocratic control of wealth and resources. Such a social setting is insensitive to the gross socio-economic inequalities being experienced by the citizenry and totally disregards the menace of rapidly declining biodiversity and the rising multiple dangers of climate change and nuclearism.


If this understanding of the present human outlook is even partially correct it suggests that we are neglecting the available tools that could do a far better job of arranging how we live together on planet earth. Ideologies and cultural outlooks now even mildly responsive to the spirit and realities of the age we live in have been virtually abandoned almost everywhere. In the darkness of such night every so often a book comes along that sheds light, being deeply responsive to these unmet challenges of our life circumstances. Suman Khanna Aggarwal’s The Science of Peace is just such a book. With lucidity, insight, erudition, visual diagrams, and expert commentary it explores the thought and practice of Mahatma Gandhi, explicating his central ideas and making us better understand his daring practices of extraordinary life-threatening fasts and of mobilizing historic massive displays of nonviolent opposition by the Indian population to the mighty British Empire. Gandhi’s radicalism creatively blended truth-seeking, nonviolence, and love, offering a cure for the yet improperly diagnosed maladies that currently afflict humanity.


Ms. Aggarwal highlights in an original and illuminating manner the importance of Gandhi’s fundamental belief that his approach to politics and life was a matter of ‘science’ and not a question of feelings and sentiments untestable by realities. In this regard, Gandhi believed himself to have discovered via nonviolence and love sources of power that were themselves expressive of natural laws as ingrained in reality as the laws of gravity. To so present Gandhi is to remind readers that his approach to knowledge was not so much a matter of morality or personal preference or pragmatic problem-solving or even religious conviction. Gandhi was acting on the basis of empirically discoverable truth, incorporating his unshakable belief that failure to so act would end in disaster whatever the undertaking, whether intensely personal or highly political. By way of contrast, patiently adhering to truth would inevitably summon the power of love, which for Gandhi would be eventually vindicated in all human affairs. After reading Aggarwal’s stimulating insistence on the scientific nature of Gandhi’s radicalism, signaled by her title, a better understanding of this great historical figure emerges.


There are two distinct ways of thinking about the relevance of Gandhi’s science.  The first way, which is quietly advocated in this book, is to suggest that what Gandhi proposes is the only way forward for humanity, and that this has always been the case, but now has become more manifestly so. In effect, we cannot hope to break the death grip of war and hateful patterns of social interaction without a nonviolent surge by the peoples of the world based on their unconditional recognition that an inclusive love is all-powerful in situations of conflict. The second way, which is closer to my own outlook, is to find in Gandhi’a life and thought a coherent and ethically sublime radicalism of a magnitude that corresponds to the momentous scope of present humanistic and ecological challenges. This book demonstrates convincingly that humanity will not survive without a radical turn toward inclusiveness in all aspects, including our relations with animals and nature broadly considered, but whether Gandhi’s particular brand of radicalism fits the historical situation seems to me more questionable, or at least in need of creating connections between his specific struggles and the present perilous global situation.  


Of course, embedded in the undeniably heroic life and exploits of Gandhi’s form of radicalism are some haunting questions. Gandhi, as did one of his most admired precursors, Jesus, died violently, and their legacies were distorted and exploited even as they were honored. Of course, also we know as Aggarwal makes evident, that Gandhi’s life ended not in a celebratory mood resulting from ending colonial rule, but in despair about the breakup of India and the communal rioting that pitted Hindu against Muslim. We need, I believe, to ask ourselves whether Gandhi’s demanding regimen was too difficult given the character of the overwhelming majority of people that are at most capable of what Gandhi dismissed as ‘the nonviolence of the weak,’ that is, as a means to achieve an end without being necessarily  committed to a nonviolent path as both means and end. Is not Gandhi expecting too much? And would not the world benefit from a transnational movement of people dedicated to peace and ecological sustainability even if it didn’t claim scientific validation and insist upon nonviolence as the end, as well as the means sought by struggle? I do not claim to have answers to such questions, but their relevance to what is proposed in the pages of this book should encourage readers to engage in active dialogue with the author.


In the end, we should all be deeply grateful to Ms. Aggarwal for making us aware of Gandhi’s incredible body of thought that speaks so directly to our time. She makes a strong argument for endorsing Gandhi’s vision of peace, including its unconditional character, and an indirect argument for any type of radical thinking and action capable of achieving comparably unattainable goals to that of achieving India’s political independence, which involve caring for the safety and health of the human species when it faces unprecedented threats to its wellbeing, and even survival. If we care about the future of humanity we owe it to ourselves to read and ponder this fine book.



Is this a Global Gandhian Moment?

10 Oct

             Mahatma Gandhi has been dead for more than 63 years, and yet his relevance to the politics of our time has never been greater. It is a tribute to the power of Gandhi’s inspirational ideas and life that his current influence is far greater than that of any other leader of the past century. We recall such names as Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Mao Tse-tung, Lenin, and Nehru as individuals who were great leaders in their time and remain historic personages of lasting importance, but they do not speak directly to the political circumstances of the 21st century. Those seeking to challenge what is exploitative, destructive, humiliating, corrupt, and oppressive in their surroundings are mostly indifferent to or even ignorant of these agents of past history. By contrast, Gandhi remains a towering figure that seems as fascinating as when he had become on that dismal day in 1948 when he died at the hands of a Hindu nationalist assassin.


            Beyond this legacy is the claim that we are actually living through ‘a Gandhian moment.’ Some have invoked such an image to identify any sustained political challenge directed at the established order that is self-consciouslessly premised upon principles of nonviolence. For instance, a distinguished Gandhi scholar, Ramin Jahanbegloo, entitles a short essay on Iran’s Green Revolution ‘The Gandhian Moment,’ and treats these courageous massive uprisings in Iran that followed upon the apparently stolen election of June 12, 2009 as an example of an historic event illustrative of Gandhi’s contemporary impact, so much so that he honors the events by affixing the label ‘a Gandhian moment.’ He also believes that a series of other national leaders espousing nonviolent politics have contributed their own variant of a Gandhian moment: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Benigno Aquino, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Ibrahim Rugova. These are all admirable individuals who bravely fought against an oppressive established order, yet I find it dilutes and somewhat misinterprets the Gandhian legacy to bestow upon their activities the Gandhian imprimatur. Or explaining my reaction differently, the espousal of nonviolent politics is a necessary but far from sufficient reason for christening a momentous political occasion as a Gandhian moment.


            Without taking issue with Jahanbegloo’s list, I would note that several of those included were practitioners of tactical nonviolence without ever articulating an unconditional commitment of the sort that Gandhi made the signature of his life and theory. As far as I know Mandela never recanted his support for armed resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa on the part of the ANC. Aquino although a determined democrat, failed to build a popular movement around nonviolent politics, although his widow, Cory Aquino led the people power movement that overthrew the Marcos regime in 1986, but again without any indication of being guided by such an unconditional framework as Gandhi insisted upon. And Rogova, although supporting an imaginative nonviolent resistance to oppressive Serbian governance of Kosovo, nevertheless welcomed the NATO intervention of 1999, and even had an autographed picture of Madeline Albright on his office wall. In effect, Jahanbegloo’s list mixes different degrees of nonviolent commitment without clarifying the originality of Gandhi’s mandatory framing of nonviolence in absolutist terms. This framing led to some awkwardness of response on Gandhi’s part as when he counseled German Jews to stay put in the face of Nazi persecution or advised the liberal democracies to dissuade Hitler from aggression by unilaterally disarming or urged civilians to confront the pilot of the planes dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities with a sacrificial resignation of peacefulness and non-hostility. I mention these examples not to criticize Gandhi, but to clarify the extremity of his views on nonviolence that allowed no room for exceptions, no matter how extenuating the circumstances. From this perspective I am not comfortable with calling the Green movement in Iran, which had rather modest reformist goals even at its height, ‘a Gandhian Moment.’


And yet, I would argue that we are living through a Gandhian Moment in two quite different respects that relates to my understanding of the originality of Gandhi’s ethics, politics, and underlying spirituality. I find the two most significant features of a distinctively Gandhian approach to be his linkage of nonviolence with living in truth (satyagraha) that imparts its unconditional character and his dedication to what I call ‘the politics of impossibility,’ that is, dedication to goals that are beyond the limits of the feasible as conventionally understood. This was the case for Gandhi when he challenged British imperial rule in India after World War I, and it was even more characteristic of his unfulfilled philosophical anarchist vision for India.  His proclaimed ideal India was a country of self-reliant villages with minimal state institutions and a turn away from the corrupting lures of modernity. Even many of Gandhi’s closest associates, including the great Jawaharlal Nehru, opted for a politics of possibility once Indian independence was achieved, seeking to make India a normal state. This normalcy culminated in the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India in 1998, a move that would have certainly horrified Gandhi.


Why, then, claim we are in the midst of a Gandhian moment? First of all, because the various movements and uprisings associated with and stimulated by the Arab Awakening were rooted in their spontaneous commitment to a politics of impossibility coupled with an explicit and courageous dedication to nonviolent confrontation. This was especially true in Tunisia and Egypt, where although the trajectory remains radically uncertain, what has been achieved already qualifies as the attainment of ‘the impossible.’ A few months ago in Cairo when talking to activists who had been in Tahrir Square I was struck by their uniform commentary of what an extraordinary experience it had been to participate in a process that had been unimaginable before Mubarak’s remarkable departure from power took place before their eyes.

If the #OccupyWallStreet protests, now a presence in 70 American cities, succeed in producing a transformative movement, it would reinforce this reality of a global Gandhian Moment even if the name Gandhi never appears in the manifestos issued by the convenors. I want to suggest that a Gandhian Moment occurs whenever the inner affinities with the essential Gandhian legacy seem pronounced, and not necessarily when the influence of the man and his achievements is overtly acknowledged.


There is a second reason why I think it useful to identify our time as a Gandhian Moment. It is our inability to address any of the most pressing global challenges effectively and humanely without a dual reliance on a politics of impossibility and an unconditional commitment to nonviolence.

Among these challenges, I would mention the following: global climate change; nuclear disarmament; a sustainable and just Palestine/Israeli peace; water scarcities; transition to a post-petroleum economy; an equitable and stable world economy; extreme poverty; and global democracy. Each of these challenges is overwhelming, and in their aggregate, presages a catastrophic future for the human species. Yet we cannot know the future, and need to keep our spirits high by embracing appropriate transnational, global, regional,  local, and even personal forms of an empowering politics of impossibility. Whether in such a setting a new Gandhi will emerge is almost irrelevant to the claim that to be alive now is to enjoy the potential of experiencing the vibrant rhythms of a Gandhian Moment!