Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and cofounder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, Tennessee, and Ann E. Helmke, a Lutheran minister and director of the San Antonio Peace Center, recently traveled together on a nonviolence tour to Palestine and Israel. Their trip provided the opportunity for this dialogue.
Ann Helmke: The world and its leaders are busy redefining, justifying and rationalizing, spinning and executing actions based on words. Words without actions are empty, but actions without discipline are very dangerous. How can we responsibly use the words "nonviolence" and "war on terror" in the same sentence? How can we bring the debate and actions to higher ground?
Arun Gandhi: Words without action and actions without discipline is a dangerous concoction. This is the nature of politics. My grandfather [Mahatma Gandhi] regarded politics without principle as one of the seven sins of human society. Politicians have ceased to be servants of the people. They have become masters, taken control of our lives. They decide the fate of a nation and its people. We, the people, are content with this because we simply want to enjoy our rights without responsibilities--the eighth sin of humanity.
How can we utter the words terrorism and nonviolence in the same sentence? That signifies the duality in human life. We wouldn't appreciate right if we did not understand wrong. This is why Gandhi said, "Only those who have experienced the worst form of violence would appreciate the value of nonviolence." However, because of our ignorance and our arrogance, instead of looking at the roots of terrorism and how we feed it by our own actions, we took the easy way out. Blast the terrorists off the face of the earth, no matter if we have to sacrifice our own and our perceived enemy's innocent lives in the process. Anger can motivate people to do good or bad things. The sheer audacity of the terrorists moved the nation to anger, and our politicians exploited this by promising to eradicate the evil. Being introspective, trying to get to the truth, changing our relationships, and letting greater compassion take over requires the kind of moral and spiritual strength that we are lacking.
We accuse the conservatives and fundamentalists of wearing their religion on their sleeves, but I notice this is a universal habit. It is so common to find people talking about being a Christian peacemaker or a Christian peace group or a Christian soup kitchen or a Christian children's fund. I never heard Grandfather talk in terms of being a Hindu peacemaker or working for Hindu peace. Why is it necessary to make the world know one is a Christian?
Helmke: We could look at history and point all the way back to Constantine when Christianity became a state religion. More important is to recognize the dynamic between religion and nationalism and ultimately the dynamic between inclusivity and exclusivity. All the major religions of the world have or are engaged in these dynamics and have also participated in horrendous acts of violence in the name of faith. None of us can deny this. …