Apparently, to many people, development and revolutions, which have shaken the world greatly, were done through violence, for example, the French Revolution, the First and Second World Wars, and other wars. Without really neglecting this, some pertinent questions have to be asked: Has there been real peace after these revolutions? Can one use a violent means to attain perfect peace and tranquillity? True enough; people are still suffering the after-effects of wars such as the loss of life and property, the denigration of human dignity and so on. In our world today we find ourselves having a strong affinity to psychological and physical violence.
This issue has troubled many moralists, philosophers and think tanks all through the centuries. Even though violence has played a role in societal changes, there still remains a nation building philosophy and a pragmatic ideology, which has been affecting many people. This is none other than Nonviolence. Great figures have proven that there can be revolutions without violence. They have built the nations on virtues like peace, love and nonviolence.
1. Nonviolence as a nation-building doctrine
Faced with the violence around the world today, the best alternative is not to repay violence with violence, or go back to the Hobesian “Homo Homini Lupus”. In recent times, there has been a dramatic increase in people who have pursued nonviolence as a way of life. They organize symposia, conferences and even write books to help people abandon violence.
Nonviolence is an umbrella term for describing a range of methods for dealing with conflict which share the common principle that physical violence, at least against other people, is not used. Nonviolence is the renunciation of violence in personal, social or international affairs. It often includes a commitment (called active nonviolence on nonviolent direct action) actively opposed to violence (and usually evil or injustice as well) by nonviolent means.
Nonviolence is a philosophy, an existing theory and a practice, a lifestyle, and a means of social, political and economic struggle as old as history itself. From ancient times to the present times, people have renounced violence as a means of resolving disputes. They have opted instead for negotiation, mediation and reconciliation, thereby resisting violence with a militant and uncompromising nonviolence and respect for the integrity of all human beings, friends and enemies alike.
Nonviolence provides us with tools, the positive means to oppose and stop wars and preparations for war, to resist violence, to struggle against racial, sexual and economic oppression and discrimination and to seek social justice and genuine democracy for people throughout the world. In a very real sense, nonviolence is the leaven for the bread that is a new society freed from oppression and bloodshed, a world in which people can fulfil their individual potential to the fullest.
It is at the backdrop of this idea that nonviolence is a nation-building doctrine. Any nation built on nonviolence will easily adopt other value oriented virtues like peace, love, understanding and unity. On this note, all men and women will form a strong community. With this solid base, there will be no room for wars, hatred, ethnic divisions and so on.
Many great personalities have experimented this and from the wealth of their experience, other nations can learn.
Mahatma Gandhi the father of nonviolence in nation building
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 1869 30 January 1948) stands out as the father of nonviolence in nation building. He was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British ruled India. Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi used nonviolence not only to change the world, he began by building his own nation. 'If India became free in my lifetime and I have still energy left in me ... I would take my due share, though outside the official world, in building up the nation strictly on non-violent lines.' We must remember that Gandhi applied his method of non-violent resistance not only against foreign rule, but against social evils, such as racial discrimination and untouchability. Gandhi provided the world with a timeless philosophy. It was not meant for the independence of India only.
Some nonviolent nation builders of our time
There are many outstanding figures among those who have applied nonviolence to build nations. Most of these quote Gandhi to justify their nonviolent action. Though we are not going to give a litany of all those influenced by nonviolence or by Gandhi, it is worth noting that, one of the curious realities of history that, outside India itself, the torch of Gandhism came to be passed not to his fellow Asians, but to Blacks both in the New World and in Africa.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. In response to Apartheid the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) with Mandela national volunteer-in-chief launched a campaign of Gandhi-inspired acts of civil resistance and nonviolent noncooperation. Mandela travelled across the country as the ANCYL’s national volunteer-in-chief, recruiting volunteers and coordinating protests. He suffered long years of imprisonment. During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela’s reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom. From Prison, he became the first democratically elected State President of South Africa (10 May 1994), and was President until June 1999.
Although they never met, Gandhi and Mandela are often mentioned together as giants of 20th-century anti-colonialism. South African leader Nelson Mandela described Mohandas Gandhi as “the archetypical anti-colonial revolutionary” and acknowledged the earlier leader’s influence on the independence movement in South Africa.
King is famous for the great things he did to build his nation on nonviolence. He successfully used nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights and voting rights using nonviolence as an instrument of social change to end segregation and racial discrimination in America. He was coincidentally introduced to the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi in a sermon by Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, who had just returned from a trip to India.
But which Martin Luther King are we talking about? Not the one at the base of the 16th Century revolution, but the one Nick Campbell from Juneau, Alaska ranked as the PEACEMAKER HERO. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on Sunset Adams Street in 1929.
King is very famous for The Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail. It is an open letter written on April 16, 1963. He asserted that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” The letter includes the famous statement “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as well as the words attributed to William Ewart Gladstone quoted by King: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” His popularity grew after his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. Many assert that this dream was realized with the ascending of Obama as president of the USA. Martin was against the Vietnam War. He did not like violence. Martin was 39 when he was killed.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal on the 7th of October 1931 in South Africa. As a vocal and committed opponent of apartheid in South Africa he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He was generally credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa after 1994 under African National Congress rule. The expression has since entered mainstream consciousness to describe South Africa’s ethnic diversity. Tutu was the first black ordained South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Other awards given to Desmond Tutu include The Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and the Magubela prize for liberty in 1986.33
Desmond Tutu has formulated his objective as “a democratic and just society without racial divisions”, and has set forward the following points as minimum demands: 1. Equal civil rights for all. 2. The abolition of South Africa’s passport laws. 3. A common system of education. 4. The cessation of forced deportation from South Africa to the so-called “homelands”.
Christian Cardinal Tumi: Man of God, Vociferous Prophet, True Patriot
Born on 15 October 1930 in Kikaikelaki, North West Region of Cameroon, Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi is the Emeritus Archbishop of Douala. Cardinal Tumi is one of the rare prelates to publicly denounce the political situation of Cameroon where so many of his kind seem to be silent. As a priest of God, he clamours for justice and peace and fights for the human rights of his compatriots. His public pronouncements have led people to think that he is interested in taking over the presidency of the country. Many see him as “A prominent Cameroonian Statesman and a true patriot who has never been silent in the face of injustices and oppression in Cameroon is Christian Cardinal Tumi, Archbishop emeritus of Douala.” Tumi’s time bomb exploded when he published a book entitled The political regimes of Ahmadou Ahhidjo and Paul Biya, and Christian Tumi, Priest.” His latest work My Faith: A Cameroon To Be Made Anew exposes the importance of building the nation based on value oriented systems.
Nonviolence doctrine, especially Gandhi's ideas have fuelled not only struggles against foreign domination and tyrannical rule, but also need to build nations. It is quite clear that violence does not build a nation. A great writer, Dobbins, J in 2003 examines six major ‘nation-building’ operations since 1990 in which U.S. military forces helped in the ‘transition’ to democracy. (cf. America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq. Survival, 45:4, 87–110). Of the six, two—in Somalia and Haiti—represent clear failures, while those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq remain unresolved. Military solutions often do not address the underlying causes of the conflict, but may perpetuate animosities. The Sudanese civil war lasted intermittently for nearly half a century. The Angolan civil war that ended in 2002 persisted for twenty-seven years.
All these show that violence can never build a nation. On this note, following the examples of Gandhi and the host of other mentioned above should help us conclude that nonviolence is an existing theory and a practice, which has affected the lives of many people in recent times. In a world assailed by violence, injustice, wars and hatred, hopelessness and lack of vision, the greatest and best thing to do is to adopt a value oriented system—a system of nonviolence. We can transform our world through Nonviolence.
Rev. Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh Basebang, cmf
Claretian Missionary, Yaounde
Republic of Cameroon