Tag Archives: nonviolence

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.



The Dead End of Post-Oslo Diplomacy: What Next?

15 Dec

(Prefatory Note: A much modified version of this post was published in AlJazeera America, Dec. 13, 2014)

The Latest Diplomatic Gambit


There are reports that the Palestinian Authority will seek a vote in the Security Council on a resolution mandating Israel’s military withdrawal from Occupied Palestine no later than November 2016. Such a resolution has been condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister as bringing ‘terrorism’ to the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and this will never be allowed to happen. The United States is, as usual, maneuvering in such a way as to avoid seeming an outlier by vetoing such a resolution, even if it has less stringent language, and asks the PA to postpone the vote until after the Israeli elections scheduled for March 17, 2015. Supposedly, the delay is justified so that Netanyahu, seen as an obstacle by the American White House, would not be strengthened by any display of adverse pressure on Israel coming from outside, especially from the UN.


Embedded in this initiative are various diversionary moves to put the dying Oslo Approach (direct negotiations between Israel and the PA, with the U.S. as the intermediary). The French are promoting a resolution that includes a revival of these currently defunct negotiations, with a mandated goal of achieving a permanent peace within a period of two years based on the establishment of a Palestinian state, immediate full membership of Palestine in the UN, and language objecting to settlement activity as an obstruction to peace. Overall, European governments are exerting pressure to resume direct negotiations, exhibiting their concern about a deteriorating situation on the ground along with a growing hostility to Israeli behavior that has reached new heights since the merciless 51-day onslaught mounted by Israel against Gaza last summer. This seems to me to be ‘a politics of gesture’ as there is no indication of why resumed negotiations would enjoy any better prospect of success than the several past failed efforts, and would only give Israel additional time to move toward its increasingly obvious end game of imposed unilateralism.


A Post-Oslo Meditation



The horrendous events of the last several months in Jerusalem and Gaza have exhibited both the depths of enmity and tension between Jews and Palestinians and the utter irrelevance of American-led diplomacy as the path to a sustainable peace. This is not a time for people of good will, the UN, and governments to turn their backs on what seems on its surface either irreconcilable or on the verge of an Israeli victory. The challenge for all is to consider anew how these two peoples can manage to live together within the space of historic Palestine. We need fresh thinking that gets away from the sterile binary of one state/two states, and dares to ponder the future with fresh eyes that accept the guidance of a rights based approach shaped by international law. Israel will resist such an approach as long as it can, understanding that it has gained the upper hand by relying on its military prowess and realizing that if international law was allowed to play a role in demarcating the contours of a fair solution it would lose out on such crucial issues as borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, and water.


A necessary step toward a sustainable peace is to overcome Washington’s blinkered conception of the conflict. There is no better sign that the Israel-Palestine peace process over which the United States has long presided is unraveling than the absurd brouhaha that followed the magazine article written by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic [“The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here,” Oct. 28, 2014] that referenced an unnamed senior White House official who called the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ‘chickenshit’ because of his obstinate refusal to take risks for ‘peace.’ Supposedly, this refusal put Washington’s dogged adherence to the Oslo Approach of direct negotiations under American diplomatic supervision beneath a darkening sky, but since there is no alternative way to maintain the U.S. central role in the interaction between the governing elites of the two parties, there is an eyes closed resolve to keep the worse than futile process on ‘life support.’ It is worse than futile because Israeli land grabbing on the West Bank in relation to the settlements, the settler only roads, and the separation wall continuously deteriorate Palestinian territorial prospects.


The collapse of the Kerry talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April were unquestionably a negative watershed for the Obama presidency so far as its insistence that the Oslo Approach was the only viable roadmap that could resolve the conflict. Ever since the Oslo Declaration of Principles was sanctified by the infamous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in 1993, the U.S. Government has contended that only this diplomatic framework can end the conflict, and to this day it objects to any moves by governments to take steps on their own. [During the presidency of George W. Bush there was an interval during which ‘the roadmap’ was adopted as an elaboration of the Oslo approach in which a commitment to the idea of an independent Palestinian state was explicitly confirmed by Bush in a speech on June 24, 2002, and then formalized in a proposal made public on April 30, 2003; in this same period ‘the quartet’ was created at a Madrid Conference in 2002 that seemed to broaden diplomatic participation by adding the Russia, the EU, and the UN to the U.S., but in fact the quartet has been completely marginalized for the past decade] The Oslo Approach consists of direct negotiations between the parties and designated the United States, despite its undisguised partisan role, as the exclusive and permanent intermediary and go between. Without the slightest deference to Palestinian sensitivities, U.S. presidents have appointed as special envoys to these negotiations only officials with AIPAC credentials such as Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, and have proceeded as if their blatant partisanship was not a problem. Evidently Israel would have it no other way, and the Palestinian Authority has meekly gone along either out of weakness or naiveté.


Not only was the Oslo framework itself flawed because it leaned so far to one side, but it was an unseemly tacit assumption of the process that the Palestinians would be willing to carry on negotiations without reserving a right to complain about the relevance of ongoing Israeli violations of international law, most conspicuously the continued unlawful settlement activity. When on several occasions the Palestinians complained that this settlement activity was incompatible with good faith negotiations, they were immediately slapped down, informed that such objections interfered with the peace process, and that issues pertaining to the settlements would be deferred until the ‘final status’ stage of the negotiations. The Palestinians were assured that these issues would be addressed at the very end of the peace process after the main elements of a solution had been agreed upon. This was very detrimental to Palestine’s bargaining position as their only advantage in relation to Israel was to have international law in their favor in relation to most of the outstanding issues. Besides to allow Israel to continue with settlement expansion, rather than freezing the status quo, was obviously disadvantageous to Palestine. If legal objections were excluded it is not surprising that diplomatic bargaining would tend to reflect ‘facts on the ground,’ which were completely in Israel’s favor, and would continue to accumulate month by month. Despite this, Israel at no point seemed responsive to proposals for accommodation in accordance with the stated objective of establishing an independent sovereign Palestinian state.


After more than 20 years of futility Washington’s continuing public stand that only by way of the Oslo Approach will a solution be found is beginning to fall on deaf ears, and new directions of approach are beginning to be articulated. Israel itself is moving ineluctably toward a unilaterally imposed one-state solution that incorporates the West Bank in whole or in large part. It has recently seized 1000 acres of strategically placed land to facilitate the largest spatial enlargement of a settlement since the early 1990s and it has given approval for 2,600 additional housing units to be built in various West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements that already have more 650,000 settlers. In addition, the current Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, elected by the Knesset a few months ago is an avowed advocate of the maximalist version of the Zionist project involving the extension of Israel’s borders to encompass the whole of Palestine as delimited in the British mandate. Rivlin couples this rejection of any Palestinian right of self-determination with proposals for equality of treatment for both peoples within this enlarged Israel, offering the Palestinians human rights, the rule of law, and unrestricted economic and political opportunity within Israel in exchange for renouncing their political ambitions for either a state of their own or a power-sharing arrangement on the basis of equality with Israel. There is no prospect that the Palestinian people, or even their compromised leaders, would accept such a Faustian Bargain.


The Palestinians have their own version of a unilateral solution, although it is far more modest, and seems more fantasy than political project. It is essentially establishing a state of their own within 1967 borders, taking an ambiguous posture toward the settlement blocs and even East Jerusalem, and relying on political pressures to coerce an Israeli withdrawal. Such a state claims 22% or less of historic Palestine, and includes the somewhat confusing contention that Palestine is already a state in the eyes of the international community, having been recognized as such by 134 states and in a resolution of the General Assembly on 29 November 2012. It is currently reinforcing this position with this draft resolution that Jordan will submit on its behalf at some point to the Security Council proposing a resumed period of direct negotiations for a further nine months (accompanied by a freeze on settlement construction), followed by Israel’s mandatory withdrawal from the West Bank. On balance, this Palestinian approach seems ill-considered for a number of reasons. It appears to reduce the parameters of the conflict to the occupation of the West Bank, and leaves to one side the fate of Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as what is to happen to the several million Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries or in exile. It also overlooks the structure of discrimination embedded in Israeli nationality laws that reduces the 20% Palestinian minority in Israel to a second class status in the self-proclaimed Jewish state.


Among the problems with these reactions to the breakdown of Oslo are the contradictory expectations. What the Netanyahu unilateralism is seeking is utterly inconsistent with any kind of viable Palestinian state constructed within the 1967 borders, and those opposition forces to his right are seeking an even more defiant unilateralism. Equally, what the Palestinian Authority is proposing would seem to require the elimination of most Israeli settlements, the dismantling of the security wall, and the abandonment of the Israeli-only network of roads, while ignoring those Palestinian grievances not directly associated with territorial issues. Each of these versions of a post-Oslo solution is doomed to failure as it proceeds as if the behavior of others need not be taken into account. The Israeli failure to do this is far more unacceptable as its claims are far more excessive than those of the Palestinians, which is really just a matter of wishing away the pattern of Israel’s unlawful encroachment on what is a minimalist Palestinian vision of a solution that it and the UN had long ago accepted in Security Council Resolution 242.


There is an evident unfortunate reluctance on the part of all sides to let go of the two-state conception of a solution. It is what Washington and even Tel Aviv and Ramallah continue to say they seek, although Netanyahu has been telling Israeli audiences that after its experience with Hamas rockets last July and August, it will never agree to allow the emergence of a neighboring Palestinian state in the West Bank that would bring Palestinian threats much closer to the Israeli heartland. Ever since the 1988 decision of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO has agreed to a solution framed in relation to a state within of its own within the 1967 borders, and even Hamas has signed on since 2006 to the extent of accepting a 50 year plan for peaceful coexistence with Israel providing it ends the occupation of Palestinian territories, and lifts the Gaza blockade. These are big concessions from the Palestinian side considering that the UN Partition Plan of 1947 awarded 45% of historic Palestine to the Palestinians and proposed the internationalization of the entire city of Jerusalem. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is built along the same lines as the PLO proposal, and includes a commitment to establish full diplomatic and economic relations with Israel on the part of the entire Islamic world. This proposal of the Arab League by a 56-0 vote of the Islamic Conference, with only Iran abstaining, and a year ago as a result of American pressure was modified to make it even more appealing to Israel by its acknowledgement of Israeli security concerns.


Most recently, a letter to Netanyahu by 106 high ranking retired Israeli military and security officials strongly urged this same two-state solution, implicitly condemning Israeli unilateralism and Zionist maximalism as leading to a future for Israel of periodic warfare of the sort that occurred this past summer in Gaza. These members of the Israeli security establishment argue that these expansionist policies are weakening security for the entire Israeli population. The letter emphasized Israel’s moral decline associated with keeping millions of Palestinians under prolonged occupation, which they argue is unnecessary from the perspective of security. Again there is a lack of clarity about whether such encouragement assumes that the settlements can be retained, the rights of Palestinian refugees can be ignored, and Jerusalem can be kept under unified Israel control. But what the initiative does express is this emergent consensus that Oslo style negotiations have consistently failed and something else must be tried. The letter appears to propose a unilateral partial withdrawal described as “an alternative option for resolving the conflict not based solely on bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, which have failed time and again.”


Europe has also, at last, exhibited a limited unwillingness to accept any longer the Oslo Approach that keeps the United States alone in the driver’s seat. I interpret the recent Swedish recognition of Palestinian statehood, the House of Commons vote urging that the British government take a similar move, as well as similar moves by several other European countries as expressing both a loss of confidence in the Oslo Approach and a criticism of the manner in which Israel and the United States have dealt with the conflict. This is a desirable development in these respects, but it is coupled with some regressive features. Such initiatives are coupled with renewed faith in the two-state approach as the only solution, and call with a sense of urgency for a renewal of negotiations without giving the slightest indication as to why a further round of talks would yield any different results than past attempts. Such a prognosis seems more true at present than in the past given Israel’s moves toward a unilateral solution, which Netanyahu somewhat disguises so as not to affront the United States and Europe. It should be obvious to all who wish to look that Israel has created irreversible conditions that have all but ruled out the establishment of a viable Palestinian sovereign state.


The Way Forward


The expected controversy surrounding the PA initiative in the Security Council is a sideshow without any serious consequences however it is resolved. There needs to be a clear recognition by the PA that direct negotiations are pointless under present conditions, and a general understanding that unless Israel changes behavior and outlook there is no hope to resolve the conflict by a reliance on diplomacy. This will make recourse to nonviolent militancy via BDS, and such other tactics as blocking the unloading of Israeli cargo vessels, the best option for those seeking a just peace. [“Protesters Block Israel-Owned Ship from Unloading Cargo at Port of Oakland,” CBS St Bay Area, Aug. 18, 2014]


I believe the Oslo Approach is discredited, and of no present interest to the political leadership in Israel, which plays along with Washington by not openly repudiating direct negotiations. The European governments that have shown some initiative by advocating recognition of Palestine should be encouraged to take the further step of rejecting calls for resumed negotiations unless Israel demonstrates its sincerity by freezing settlement activity and affirming its readiness to withdraw to 1967 borders.


The best, and in my view, only realistic hope is to forget traditional interstate diplomacy for the present, and understand that the Palestinian future depends on a robust mobilization of global civil society in solidarity with the Palestinian national movement. The current BDS campaign is gaining momentum by the day, and is coupled with a sense that its political program is more in keeping with the wishes of the Palestinian people than are the proposals put forth by the formal representations of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. When neither governmental diplomacy nor the UN can produce a satisfactory solution to a conflict that has caused decades of suffering and dispossession, it is past time to endorse a people-oriented approach. This is the kind of populist politics that helped end apartheid in South Africa and win many anti-colonial struggles. We have reached a stage in global history in which it is people, not weapons nor international institutions, that have the resilience and patience to win the legitimacy struggle involving law and morality, and on such a basis eventually prevail in the political struggle despite being inferior militarily.


The challenge of living together on the basis of equality seems to be the only template that offers the parties a vision of sustainable peace. Concretely, this would seem to require Israel to all ethnocratic claims that Israel is a Jewish state as distinct from being a Jewish homeland. Israel’s leaders would also have to renounce the present unrestricted right of return for Jews throughout the world or create some equivalent right of return for the Palestinians, and possibly for the Druse minority. How such a conception of a sustainable peace is given concrete form is necessarily a subject for diplomacy by suitable representative of both sides and carried on under neutral auspices and by authentic representatives of the two peoples. We cannot foretell how much further suffering and bloodshed will occur before this kind of vision, seemingly a remote prospect at present, can be converted into a practical project, but do know that nothing that falls short of this deserves to be considered ‘a solution’ given the realities of the situation.