Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

SOUL FORCE vs. THE ASSASSIN

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

SOUL FORCE vs. THE ASSASSIN

Article excerpt

SOUL FORCE vs. THE ASSASSIN

Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth, by James W. Douglass. Orbis Books.

Reviewed by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

WHILE TIME magazine's Person of the Year for 2011 was the nonviolent protester who awakened hope from the Arab Spring to America's Autumn, it is no accident that a close second was Adm. William McRaven, who oversaw the Special Forces operation that assassinated Os ama bin Laden. As symbols, the protester and the assassin represent two very different hopes for change. But their roles on the world stage are more than symbolic. In a time when change is so desperately needed, the choice between violence and nonviolence may be the fundamental moral issue of the 21st century.

If that choice is real- if the way of the nonviolent protester is a viable option in the 21st century- it is because of the witness of Gandhi and his satyagraha movement in the 20th century. While Gandhi maintained that his tactics of nonviolent struggle against the British Empire were distilled from the best Hindu scriptures and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, his employment of those ancient truths in a popular resistance movement vis-a-vis a world power was both original and electrifying. The modern world had never seen such a demonstration of "soul force." Gandhis witness sparked the imagination of America's civil rights movement, of resistance to apartheid in South Africa, of the nonviolent overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe.

But, as James Douglass chronicles so well in his new book Gandhi and the Unspeakable, Gandhis way of nonviolence always had its detractors. Gandhi's enemies were not only racist Europeans but also Indians who insisted that his peculiar philosophy of nonviolence would never work.

In October 1909, when Gandhi was visiting London to garner support for his campaign in South Africa, he was invited to speak at a dinner on the feast of Dussehra, which commemorates the victory of good over evil in the classic Hindu epic The Ramayana. The invitation was a set-up, and Gandhi knew it. An intellectual and activist named Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, whom Gandhi had met before, was organizing Indian youth to fight for Indian independence via strategic assassinations. Only violence would drive the British out, Savarkar insisted. At the dinner, Gandhi would offer the opening remarks and Savarkar would close. …

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