Martin Luther King, Jr. and Positive Extremism

In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” dated April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the subject of extremism as it applied to the nonviolent direct action he was advocating in Birmingham. Specifically, he was responding to the fact that he had been labeled an extremist by “white moderates” and the Christian leadership of local churches. Rather than arguing against the label, King embraced it and justified it through a well thought out argument that both validated positive forms of extremism and equated the passivity of the white moderates to a form of extremism in itself, because their inaction resulted in a form of severe injustice. For King, extremism and the conception of extremism was a dynamic tool that he used to convey his message and advocate for the ending of segregation.

When the word extremism is used, the first thing that probably comes to mind are violent activities intended to create a political statement, including actions by groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or the Ku Klux Klan. One could even argue that some modern government policies are extremist. Certainly some people in the United States would consider the PATRIOT Act to be an extremist response to a problem, because it violates certain ideas that are held to be just and inviolable, like the right to privacy. Through his argument, King defended nonviolent direct action by establishing the concept of positive extremism. He defined it and presented it as a means of seeking justice which would result in brotherhood and understanding, or equal treatment for segregated people.

For King, the term extremism did not have one meaning. Extremism was dynamic and could be either a positive or a negative attribute. He described Jesus as an extremist for love, Amos as an extremist for justice, and Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel. He called Martin Luther an extremist for principles, John Bunyan an extremist for conscience, Abraham Lincoln an extremist for freedom and Thomas Jefferson an extremist for equality (King, 7). Using these examples, he tied extremism to historical figures that have gained widespread recognition as just and righteous men whose ideas and/or policies their contemporaries perceived as extremist. Doing this was King’s way of saying that what society may at first consider to be extreme, may on closer inspection be a positive change.

Extremism isn’t always a negative attribute. King redefined it as nothing more than a measuring stick to judge the level of passion a person has for a cause that they are engaged in. If someone has been labeled an extremist, that doesn’t necessarily mean their cause is wrong or unjust; it simply means that their goal contradicts prevailing societal norms. Considering the contributions to the world of the people King cited as being extremists, extremism can be greatly beneficial. It’s just a matter of how a person perceives what’s being done, so the key is to convince a person that they must engage with a topic, and then to get them to engage with the topic objectively. To do that, King advocated using nonviolent direct action. To be effective, King had to present nonviolent direct action in Birmingham as a form of positive extremism and, more importantly, defend the cause it supported as both universal and just.

Since King’s nonviolent direct action was termed extremism by the Christian leadership and white moderates, he created a case for nonviolent direct action being positive extremism. First, he defined nonviolent direct action as an attempt to create tension in society, but not violent tension. The point of the tension, he said, was to make an issue unavoidable, so that society would be forced to confront it, in much the same way that Socrates used his questioning to try to force a person to confront an idea directly (King, 2-3). He was criticized for pushing the issue, but King felt that this was necessary, since no problem will solve itself just by adding time (King, 3). The plight of Negroes in the United States had been actively ignored, even by the community he thought would be most ready to promote brotherhood and understanding: the white moderate and the leadership of the Christian church (King, 5 & 9). Change requires a catalyst and King intended nonviolent direct action to be that catalyst, not to harm anyone or specifically to cause violence, but to force the public to engage with the topic and examine it critically. When an issue is pushed to the side and isn’t in the limelight, it’s easy to forget about it, or to mentally gloss over the subject and continue accepting the status quo, an attitude that King was firmly against (King, 3).

To universalize the goal of the nonviolent direct action in Birmingham, desegregation, King equated it with the pursuit of justice. Since his audience was primarily Christian, he did this by appealing to Christian morality. He wrote that, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (King, 4). He went on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, a notable Christian thinker as writing, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust” (King, 4). King then explained that since segregation distorted the soul and damaged the personality, it was inherently unjust, according to Christian thinking and conceptions of morality (King, 4). He also compared the segregation of society to the separation of man from God, which is a powerful image, considering the goal of Christianity is to reunite with God through righteous action. By appealing to Christian concepts of justice and unification, King legitimized the movement’s goal of desegregation to his audience.

Having defined the issue of segregation as morally wrong and unjust and nonviolent direct action as positive extremism, King was left with the task of engaging the moderate whites and Christians in a way that would imply that inaction was in itself a form of extremism. He did this by defining passivity in the face of an unjust situation as a form of extremism. King began by criticizing town leaders for not agreeing to engage in negotiations with Negro leaders. He also criticized shopkeepers for failing to adhere to previously made agreements regarding racially motivated signage (King, 2). To tackle this problem, King refers to the fact that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” (King, 5). This analogy equates the passivity of the white moderates in Birmingham with the (presumably) white moderates in Germany, drawing parallels between the status of Jews in Germany and the status of Negroes in Birmingham. While not a perfect analogy, it catches the attention and gives a very real and tangible example of what can happen when good people do not speak up in the face of oppression and injustice. And, certainly, contributing to the death of six million people through inaction could be interpreted as a passive extremism.

One of King’s main themes in his letter is that sometimes society must be disrupted so that people reach a better understanding of what processes are actually affecting society and how to change them for the better. Having quoted Socrates in his letter and incorporating the idea of risking social disruption in pursuit of the ‘good’, in this case desegregation, it is obvious that King was familiar with the themes of Plato’s work, specifically The Trial and Death of Socrates. One of the themes of The Trial and Death of Socrates is the conflict between maintaining the status quo versus risking social disruption in the pursuit of truth, or the ‘good’. Socrates does not intend to disrupt society to its detriment, but rather to call into question firmly held beliefs for the sake of the betterment of society through a deeper understanding of what justice is. In the same way, King does not intend to disrupt society to its detriment, but rather to call into question firmly held beliefs about segregation for the betterment of society through a deeper understanding of brotherhood.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a very well read and intelligent activist for desegregation. He incorporated successful arguments from historical sources (he also drew from Machiavelli’s philosophy) into his writing and added his own spin, the appeal to Christian values, in a way that blends them perfectly into a rational and convincing argument addressed to his specific audience. He justified his use of nonviolent direct action by redefining the idea of extremism and then identified his cause as just by associating it with Christian morality. Finally, he issued a call to action to the white moderates and Christian leadership by demonstrating that passivity is itself a form of extremist behavior when it leads to severe injustice. King was accused of extremism, so he turned extremism into a tool that could help him achieve his goals.

Works Cited

King, Jr., Martin Luther. 1963. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Birmingham, April 16.

Islamist Political Thought in Egypt: al-Banna to Faraj

The following is a short essay I wrote for an undergraduate college class on the history of Islamist political thought:

On June 30th, 2012, Mohammed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, assumed office as the 5th president of Egypt.  In modern politics, the Muslim Brotherhood holds the highest offices of power in the state, but it began as a small movement in the port city of Suez with a membership of seven.  Today, the Muslim Brotherhood expresses the culmination of decades of Islamist thought and is a diverse movement with members who champion women’s rights and push for greater integration with Christians and other minorities, as well as more conservative, Salafist and Qutbist members.[i]

The shape and expression of Islamist thought has changed dramatically over the years, but the ideology expressed in the Muslim Brotherhood today has its foundation in the political writings of Hasan al-Banna, the man who founded the organization.  From an early age, Hasan al-Banna took a strident stance against the British presence in Egypt, Christian missionary activity, and behavior that was deemed un-Islamic.  Rather than pursue religious studies, al-Banna became a teacher and was posted at a school in the Suez Canal Zone, where he was appalled by what he saw as the dominance of materialism, secularism, and a trading of Islamic morals for Western decadence.  He was also repulsed by the sight of Egyptians being exploited for the economic benefit of foreign powers.[ii]

The problems Egyptian society faced in confronting Westernization and colonial exploitation weighed heavy on Hasan al-Banna’s mind and the only solution he felt was appropriate was a return to Islam.  In a letter al-Banna sent to heads of state and other influential people, he said, in regards to Islam: “If we take the nation along this path, we shall be able to obtain many benefits …  For then we will construct our lives on our own principles and fundamental assumptions, taking nothing from others.  Herein lie the highest ideals of social and existential independence, after political independence.”[iii]  From this, we can see that al-Banna rejected Westernization as a system of living, opting instead for Islam as a native, natural, superior and complete way of life.[iv]

Al-Banna left it to other thinkers to flesh out his ideas and focused instead on social welfare programs and expanding the Brotherhood’s membership.  However, al-Banna did firmly establish the concept of a dichotomy of Islam versus the “West,” attributing the decline of Muslim civilization to the wholesale adoption of Western values and social norms, and argued for a return to Islamic values as a solution to the social malaise being experienced in Egypt.  He presented Islam as an opportunity for Egyptians to throw off the shackles of second-class humanity and reclaim their former glory, the former glory of their Islamic heritage.  He also established the important concept of modernity and Islam not being mutually exclusive.  A civilization does not have to be “Westernized,” or secularized, in order to be modern.  A civilization can be Islamic and modern as well:  technologically advanced, socially progressive, but still retaining the values, beliefs, and social norms that make Muslims and Islamic civilization distinct.

While some of al-Banna’s writing emphasizes the rejection of pacific forms of jihad in favor of armed conflict with unbelievers, al-Banna was pragmatic, conciliatory and willing to compromise.  For example, while he disapproved of the Egyptian political system, he participated in elections.[v]  Other Islamists that followed al-Banna were less forgiving.  For example, Sayyid Qutb was decidedly more in favor of violent jihad, earning himself the nickname “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror.”[vi]

Sayyid Qutb was born in Upper Egypt in 1906 and, like al-Banna, began his career as a teacher.  He also adhered to al-Banna’s ideology of Islam being the correct path for Egyptians to follow in order to regain their power as a civilization and joined the Muslim Brotherhood.  Where Qutb differed was in his stridency and his message of Islam being the only correct lifestyle in any part of the world where Muslims live.  He was firmly against any system that gave legislative authority to man and, unlike al-Banna, did not compromise in his ideology.  He wrote that “submission to God alone is a universal message which all mankind must either accept or be at peace with.  It [a legal framework] must not place any impediment to this message, in the form of a political system or material power.”[vii]

He also believed that establishing this legal framework required more than “verbal advocacy of Islam,” because “the problem is that the people in power who have usurped God’s authority on earth will not relinquish their power at the mere explanation and advocacy of the true faith.”[viii]  Qutb did not believe in idly sitting by and hoping that Islam would become dominant in the world of its own accord.  He believed that Muslims have an obligation to actualize proper Islamic governance through action.  He wrote, “… knowledge is for action… the Qur’an was not revealed to be a book of intellectual enjoyment, or a book of literature or art, fables or history… Rather, it was revealed to be a way of life, a pure mode of being from Allah.”[ix]  Combined with Qutb’s idea of a single, true version of Islam, this concept of bringing about God’s law on earth through action contributed to the rise of violent jihad.

Building on Sayyid Qutb’s ideology, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj advocated the jihad of the sword as the only legitimate interpretation of jihad, dismissing the greater jihad of internal struggle against sin as a fabrication meant to pacify the Muslim masses.[x]  Like Qutb, Faraj saw (Western) modernity as a condition of moral bankruptcy, and as an infection that was destroying the ummah from within.[xi]  In 1981, using his reworked definition of jihad, Faraj published a collection of justifications for violent jihad against un-Islamic rulers in a pamphlet called al-Farida al-Gha’iba (The Absent Duty).  A few months later, the militant group that Faraj belonged to, Jama’at al-Jihad, planned and executed an assassination of President Anwar Sadat, a secular leader intent on rapid modernization.

The debate over Islam and how it relates to government in Egypt continued into the 1990s, with two opposing views being presented by Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Min fiqh al-dawla fi’l-Islam and ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman in The Present Rulers and Islam: Are They Muslim or Not?  Qaradawi argued that democracy is compatible with Islam and wrote that “A call for democracy does not necessitate a rejection of God’s sovereignty over human beings.”[xii]  He explains that Islam contains elements of democracy and uses role of an imam as an example.  He says that an undesirable prayer leader may be removed, which is a precedent for the removing of an undesirable governmental leader, which in turn is an expression of democracy.  The people select who will rule over them.  Qaradawi argues that democracy is the best form of government for Muslims and it shouldn’t be rejected simply because it originated outside of Islam.  It should be incorporated, with useful elements being retained and the rest being discarded.[xiii]

‘Abd al-Rahman, on the other hand, advocated the rejection of any ruler that was not in full compliance with the concept of Islamic governance as expressed by Sayyid Qutb, even to the point of causing civil war.  He wrote that fitna (civil war), though a serious issue in the Muslim ummah, is preferable to being ruled by an un-Islamic ruler, and that “We would not, in fact, consider the resulting social discord [from eliminating an un-Islamic ruler] to be fitna at all; rather we would regard it as a struggle for reform because its ultimate aim would be the elevation of the Truth, the uprooting of corruption, and the reaffirmation of Islam.”[xiv]  For al-Rahman, whether or not to use violence is not a question, but rather a necessity, against any form of rule that is not compliant with the shariah and places legislative authority in the hands of man.  The removal of the leader should be immediate, or the people will be just as guilty of shirk as the leader.

Islamist thought in Egypt has branched out into a number of different schools of thought, from extremists who advocate violent jihad and a return to the fundamentals to those who try to reconcile Islam with democracy.  The common thread that holds them all together is their belief that the future lies in the Quran and man’s obedience to Islam and God’s law as a way to reestablish the power and dignity of Muslims.  With the recent political upheaval in Egypt and the coming to power of a Muslim Brotherhood member, Islamists may finally have the opportunity to realize some of their ideals.  Mohammed Mursi’s ascension to Egypt’s presidency is a remarkable event and Hasan al-Banna’s surving brother, Gamal al-Banna, believes the election would have pleased his brother, because “it was God’s will.”[xv]



[i]. “How Muslim Brotherhood went from 7 members to Egypt’s presidency,” June 29, 2012, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/06/29/154443/how-muslim-brotherhood-went-from.html.

[ii]. Roxanne L. Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 50.

[iii]. Euben and Zaman, Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, 58.

[iv]. Ibid.

[v]. Ibid., 52-53.

[vi]. Ibid., 129.

[vii]. Ibid., 146.

[viii]. Ibid., 147.

[ix]. Ibid., 141.

[x]. Ibid., 323.

[xi]. Ibid., 322.

[xii]. Ibid., 238.

[xiii]. Ibid., 230-245.

[xiv]. Ibid., 350.

[xv]. “How Muslim Brotherhood went from 7 members to Egypt’s presidency.”

Bibliography

Euben, Roxanne L., and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, . Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Youssef, Nancy A. “How Muslim Brotherhood went from 7 members to Egypt’s presidency.” McClatchy: Truth to Power. June 29, 2012. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/06/29/154443/how-muslim-brotherhood-went-from.html (accessed October 10, 2012).

 

Deir Yassin and the Flight of the Palestinians

This is a paper I wrote for an undergraduate history course called Modern Middle East.  I was taking a very involved course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict at the same time, so my papers for the Modern Middle East class focused on Palestine and Israel as well.  The paper was given 15/15 points.  I’d like to have written more, but it was only supposed to be 5 pages.  If I’d had more time (or a requirement for more pages!) I’d probably have written more about how the Arabs and Jews both deliberately exaggerated to the events at Deir Yassin to their own advantage, and detriment.

Deir Yassin Massacre Victims
Deir Yassin Massacre Victims via Palestine Solidarity Project

Impact of the Deir Yassin Massacre on the Palestinian Exodus in 1948

In 1917, Britain conquered Jerusalem and ruled the region through a military administration. In 1920, the San Remo Conference awarded Britain the mandate of Palestine, which was sanctioned by the League of Nations in 1922.[1] By 1947, the British had grown weary of the sectarian violence between the Zionist Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine and as part of an overall downsizing of their colonial holdings after the economic stresses of World War II turned over the Palestine Mandate to the United Nations, which decided, in UN General Assembly Resolution 181, to solve the problem by separating the parties through land partition.[2]

The 29 November 1947 UN partition plan would have granted 55% of the land (much of it desert) to the Jews and 40% to the Arabs, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem falling under international control. The Jews accepted the plan, reasoning that it would provide them a foundation from which to build a Jewish state. The Palestinians, on the other hand, rejected the partition and launched a three day general strike followed by a wave of anti-Jewish terrorism in the cities and on the roads.[3]

As British Mandatory rule drew to a close in early 1948, the conflict between immigrant Jews and native Arab Palestinians erupted into an open civil war. On May 14th, 1948, the day before the Mandate ended, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, changed the nature of the conflict by declaring the establishment of a Jewish state. The fighting between Jews and Arabs stopped being a sectarian struggle and evolved into a national struggle, not just between the new Israelis and the Palestinians, but between the newly formed Israel and the surrounding Arab states, who joined in the fighting. The war in 1947 – 1948 later became known as the War of Liberation to Israelis and as al-Nakba (“Disaster,” or “Catastrophe” in English) to the Palestinians and Arabs in the Middle East.[4] The Arabs were soundly defeated, leaving the Israeli state in control of more land than originally granted to it by UN Resolution 181, which the Arabs rejected under the assumption that the combined powers of the Arab armies could defeat the Jews.[5]

The conflict was a total defeat for the Palestinians. They not only lost control of a majority portion of the Palestinian Mandate territory, but they also failed to establish political independence. Only the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with larger boundaries than today) remained outside of Israeli control, but they were claimed by other countries who had participated in the war against Israel: Egypt and Jordan. After the 1948 war, Jordan retained control over the resource-rich West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps the worst blow to the Palestinians, however, was being driven from the land and being prevented from returning. During the fighting, Palestinians fled their homes in droves in advance of or during combat between the Jews and Arabs, or to evade Arab militias who abused villagers. A total of approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced by the 1948 war in Palestine, and the issue showed up time and again in peace talks in the form of demands for the right-of-return of refugees.[6] Today, the number of refugees has ballooned to approximately five million as new generations of Palestinians are born in refugee camps and inherit the refugee status of their parents.[7]

Many factors contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, including expulsion orders, such as those signed by Yitzhak Rabin (later a Prime Minister of Israel) that ejected the Arab population from Lydda;[8] voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes to other countries to avoid loss of capital during the fighting;[9] the flight of Palestinian leadership;[10] and as a result of Israeli actions during the implementation of “Plan Dalet” (also known as Plan D). Plan Dalet would later become known as a very controversial strategic operation which aimed at:

gaining control over the territory assigned to the Jewish state and defending its borders, as well as the blocs of Jewish settlement and such Jewish population as were outside those borders, against regular, para-regular, and guerrilla forces operating from bases outside or inside the nascent Jewish State.[11]

To its critics, especially those in Arab states, the plan called for nothing short of the ethnic cleansing of the land allotted to Israel in the 1947 United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 181, which partitioned the land of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.[12]

Plan Dalet wasn’t necessarily a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestinians en masse. It was governed by military considerations and, given the nature of the war and the admixture of populations in Palestine, securing the interior of the Jewish state from ‘external’ threats required the depopulation and destruction of villages that housed hostile militias and irregulars.[13] It was also common for roving irregular forces from other Arab states to impose on villages by demanding housing, since they were there fighting for their interests, supposedly.[14] The people of Deir Yassin had decided to remain neutral in the conflict, refusing entry to outsiders, and worked out a system of signals with the nearby Jewish settlement of Givat Shaul to alert them that roving militias and irregulars were in the area. Deir Yassin hoped that by cooperating, their town would be spared the hardships of war.[15] They would, however, be disappointed.

A widely implemented tactic by the Arabs was to cut off supply lines between the Jewish coast and Jewish population centers inside the country, like Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc. Opening up these supply lines became a priority.[16] At David Ben-Gurion’s insistence, a force of 1500 Jewish troops was mobilized to take part in Operation Nachshon. No longer would the Jews passively protect their convoys with guards; they would instead conquer and hold the routes themselves, as well as the heights surrounding them.[17] It was during Operation Nachshon that the Deir Yassin massacre occurred. The operational order of 3 or 4 April states that “all the Arab villages along the [Khulda-Jerusalem] axis were to be treated as enemy assembly or jump-off bases” and according to Plan Dalet, villages so defined, if offering resistance, should be depopulated (through forced migration) and destroyed.[18]

It’s not clear why, but the Haganah command allowed two Jewish militant extremist groups to participate in Operation Nachshon, perhaps because of the importance of securing the routes and the need for able bodied fighters. Irgun Zevai Leumi (Irgun) and Lohamei Herut Israel (Lehi, aka the “Stern Gang”) were widely regarded as terrorists by British mandatory authorities and the Israeli defense establishment itself.[19] For example, in 1946 the Irgun, acting under the direction of Menachem Begin, who would in 1977 become the Prime Minister of Israel under the Likud Party, ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel, which housed the British Mandate headquarters. The final casualty list included ninety-one British, Arab, and Jewish dead.[20]

The result of the Irgun and Lehi’s participation in Nachshon was a massacre of civilians. Despite Deir Yassin’s non-belligerency agreement with neighboring Givat Shaul, Irgun and Lehi forces entered the town to occupy it and met with unexpectedly strong resistance from residents who probably felt betrayed by their Jewish neighbors. During the fighting, Irgun and Lehi forces blew up several houses and gunned down families in the streets. They also rounded up groups of unarmed residents of both sexes and murdered them en masse. Some residents were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem before being taken back to Deir Yassin to be murdered.[21] A Haganah Intelligence Service report states that “whole families – women, old people, children – were killed.”[22] The following day the author of the report added: “[Lehi] members tell of the barbaric behavior of the [Irgun] toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the [Irgun] men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward (we don’t know if this is true).”[23]

Regardless of whether or not it was true, reports like the one above and the stories told by the survivors rapidly spread throughout the region, becoming headline news. Altogether, about 100 – 120 villagers died that day, but the event became amplified through gossip and the media to such a degree that it became extremely influential in affecting the flight of the Palestinian population.[24] When trying to justify their actions after the fact, the Irgun cited the fear and panic the act caused and its beneficial impact on the Israeli war effort.[25]

The massacre and the way it was emphasized and possibly exaggerated in the media strengthened the resolve of Arab leaders to aid the embattled Palestinians and defeat the Jews. It also caused problems for the Jewish forces when criticized by the Western media, but the most important aspect of the massacre was the role it played in increasing flight from the Palestinian villages.[26] In Beit Iksa, fear caused the start of an immediate evacuation. The same occurred in al-Maliha and the residents of Fajja, near Petah Tikvah, Mansura, and near Ramle quickly called their Jewish neighbors and promised to not fight. In Haifa and surrounding villages, Palestinians heard rumors of Jewish atrocities at Deir Yassin and took flight. In the village of Saris, Arabs offered the attacking Haganah no resistance whatsoever, for fear of sharing Deir Yassin’s fate. [27] The fear of another Jewish massacre of civilians had an impact on the behavior of Palestinian villagers across the territory.

The British noted that whether or not all of those atrocities actually took place, the Haganah and the Jews had certainly profited from it and Jewish political leaders determined that the Deir Yassin massacre was one of two pivotal events in the exodus of Palestine’s Arabs, the other being the fall of Arab Haifa.[28] The psychological impact of the massacre may not have been the main cause of the Palestinian refugee crisis, but it certainly increased the number of people affected, making resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict that much more difficult for generations to come.


[1] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 95.
[2] Ibid., p. 134.
[3] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 13.
[4] Ibid., p. 145.
[5] Tom Segev, One Palestine: Complete, p. 496.
[6] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p. 7.
[7] “Palestine refugees”, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
[8] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 429.
[9] Ibid., p. 67.
[10] The Pittsburgh Press, “British Halt Jerusalem Battle,” 1948.
[11] Quoted in David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.
[12] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.
[13] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 164.
[14] Ibid., p. 123; p. 114.
[15] Ibid., pp. 90 – 91.
[16] Ibid., p. 66.
[17] Ibid., p. 233.
[18] Ibid.
[19] The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Accept Ultimatum,” 22 September 1948; The Pittsburgh Press, “Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told,” 30 July 1947; St. Petersburg Times, “Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists,” 19 September 1948; St. Petersburg Times, “French Uncover Plot To Bomb London,” 8 September 1947.
[20] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 129 & 259; The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Message Admits Guilt in Death Blast,” 24 July 1946.
[21] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p 237.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 238.
[24] Ibid., p. 238.
[25] Ibid., p. 239.
[26] The Indian Express, “Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State: Azzam Pasha Outlines New Policy,” 21 May 1948.
[27] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 240.
[28] Ibid.



Bibliography

“Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State.” The Indian Express 21 May 1948: 5. Web Archive. 18 May 2012. .
“British Halt Jerusalem Battle: Fresh Troops Pour into City To Keep Peace.” The Pittsburgh Press 3 May 1948: 1. Web Archive. 8 May 2012. .
“Irgun Accept Ultimatum.” The Glasgow Herald 22 Sep 1948: 5. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Irgun Message Admits Guilt In Death Blast: Communique Purported From Underground Claims Warning Went Unheeded.” The Montreal Gazette 24 Jul 1946: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists.” St. Petersburg Times 19 Sep 1948: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. New York: Beacon Press, 2007. Kindle edition.
Lesch, David W. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
McGhee, George Crews. On The Frontline in the Cold War: An Ambassador Reports. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997. Google eBook.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
“Palestine refugees.” n.d. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Web. 17 May 2012. .
Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001. Print.
“Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told: Sergeants Hanged, Underground Claims.” The Pittsburgh Press 30 Jul 1947: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .

Unity, Support and Power: Failure of Palestinian Nationhood

Note: This is a paper that was written for a Modern Middle East undergraduate history course.  The paper was supposed to be five pages long, but I went a little overboard.  Even so, I don’t think I even came close to fully covering the topic, not that I really could in a semester, or in one short research paper.  Nonetheless, this paper received an A.

1948 Map of Conflicts in Palestine.
Zionist Military Operations Outside UN-proposed Jewish State, 1 April to 15 May 1948. (Source: Greenpolitics)

At the end of World War I, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the entire Middle East was in a state of flux. What used to be a single sovereign entity was carved up into modern nation states by the victorious European powers. At a conference in San Remo in 1920 Britain and France, according to an arrangement known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), drew the borders for four new states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. In 1922, Palestine was further divided into Palestine and Transjordan. These new countries were legitimized as mandates of the League of Nations, states that would be protectorates of European powers and eventually gain independence. Thus, Britain retained control of Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan and France retained control of Syria and Lebanon, directly and indirectly.[1]

Over the following decades, each of the mandate states threw off the shackles of colonialism and won independence, with the exception of Palestine. The pursuit of national independence for Palestinians has been impeded by a series of complications, starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917:

His Majesty’s Government [of England] view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[2]

The Balfour Declaration is a letter that was issued by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. British government officials believed that the Jewish ‘vote’ needed to be won to ensure victory in World War I. If the British didn’t secure Jewish backing, the Germans would “buy them” and use them to influence Russia into signing a separate peace treaty with Germany, allowing the Germans to focus on the western front.[3] The Balfour Declaration was a response both to the fear of the supposed power of world Jewry and the sympathetic nature of some British government officials to the Zionist cause.[4] Zionist leaders did their best to encourage these feelings, resulting in the inclusion of the wording of the Balfour Declaration in the League of Nations sanctioned British mandate for Palestine in 1922.[5]

Contrary to the popular idea that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land, the area was well populated. At the beginning of the Zionist influx into the Palestine Mandate area, there were approximately 450,000 Arab and 20,000 (Arab) Jewish residents.[6] Direct British rule and British efforts to fulfill the obligations of the Balfour declaration combined with the influx of European Jews created a volatile situation that retarded the national development of Palestine. Instead of developing modern governing institutions like other newly formed Middle Eastern nations, Palestine’s residents spent the mandate period in conflict and constant competition between British, Jewish and Arab interests.

The major conflict between the two groups was based on the meaning of the Balfour Declaration. The Zionist interpretation of the Balfour Declaration was that it intended the creation of a Jewish state that, as Chaim Weizmann (Chair of the Zionist Commission and later first president of Israel) said, would be as Jewish as England is English.[7] Critics of the Zionists interpreted the Balfour Declaration’s goal as the creation of a Jewish cultural center inside an independent Arab state. The ambiguity was introduced into the document to give the British room for diplomatic maneuvering, but in the end, all it did was complicate their position in Palestine. They were never able to resolve the contradiction inherent in their promise.[8]

The confusion in policy created by the Balfour Declaration led one senior British official to say, just prior to leaving the country, that Britain had “nothing but fluctuations of policy, hesitations…no policy at all.”[9] The British alternately supported Jewish development of a national home and Arab national aspirations in a precarious balancing act intended to maintain the status quo. This remained true until their withdrawal from Palestine in 1948, twenty five years later. When the last British High Commissioner departed Haifa, there was no formal transfer of powers to a new local government because there was no government in Palestine. When the mandate ended, the Jews and Arabs were left to struggle for supremacy.[10]

The internal struggle for power in the years and months leading up to the end of the British mandate for Palestine and the subsequent war that started on May 15th, 1948 with the end of British mandatory rule between Jewish and Arab irregular forces from the surrounding nations saw the birth of the state of Israel and the failure of the Palestinians to establish a nation. The reason for the success of the Jews over the Arabs boils down to three key differences: unity, external support and military power. The Jews entered Palestine with a unified goal, if not a unified ideology. They enjoyed wide support from Jewish and Christian communities around the world, as well as the backing from Britain guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration. They also took advantage of their ties to Europe to advance their military prowess, which proved decisive in the 1947-1948 conflict with the Arabs, also known as the first Arab-Israeli War. The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, were completely unprepared for the task ahead of them.

During the early years of the mandate, the Arab notables felt it was only natural that they should govern the land they had lived on for centuries.[11] They were convinced that at some point the British would come to their senses and stop supporting the Jews. In the meantime, the Arab notables in Palestine did what they could to maintain their social status, including working with the British mandate authorities, who supplied them with positions of authority.[12] For example, the British created the office of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and assigned al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni to the role. Later the British created the Supreme Muslim council, which Husayni headed.

The reliance of Arab leadership on the British caused them to mostly work with, rather than against, the mandate government, which also meant that they were indirectly supporting the Zionist occupation of what they considered to be Arab land. The Arab notables attempted to negotiate with the British privately while condemning British support of Zionism publicly, all the while working to ensure there would be no disruptive mass political demonstrations that could destabilize their social and political positions.[13] The need to stay on good terms with the British undermined the authority of the Arab notables in the eyes of the public.[14] Further complicating the Arab political atmosphere in Palestine was the constant rivalry between the two prominent families in the region: the Husaynis and the Nashashibis. Their attempts to create rival power bases in Palestine prevented Arab unity. The inter-Arab rivalries and reliance on the British, together with the need to suppress popular movements to maintain their positions, caused the Palestinians to never be capable of forming a unified front, which effectively neutered the Palestinian political body and Palestinian aspirations of nationhood. It would be fair to say that the goals of the Arab leadership (to maintain their positions) did not match the goals of the Palestinians, but due to the Ottoman top-down power structure, the average Palestinian had no way to directly influence the decision making process until later in the mandatory period, when guerilla leaders like al-Qassim began to rally popular support.

Compounding the problem was the lack of any meaningful external support for the Palestinian Arabs. To start with, none of the Arab political institutions formed in mandate Palestine were recognized by any international authority, not even by the Arab states, who took it upon themselves to speak for the Palestinian Arabs.[15] But, their motives weren’t entirely pure either. Throughout the mandate period, the surrounding Arab states had, despite repeated requests, failed to supply the Palestinian Arabs with arms, food, or any financial support. The Arab states each had different agendas in terms of what they wanted to accomplish in Palestine, but the rights of the Palestinians themselves probably ranked very low on their list of priorities. Most of the surrounding states were solely interested in land grabs to increase the power of their respective states in terms of inter-Arab regional politics.[16]

By the time hostilities broke out in Palestine after the November 1947 announcement of the UN Partition Plan, the Arabs felt a distinct sense of abandonment. They had no effective leadership and they had been isolated by the surrounding Arab states. According to Rashid Khalidi,

The Palestinians entered the fighting which followed the passage of the UN Partition Resolution with a deeply divided leadership, exceedingly limited finances, no centrally organized military forces or centralized administrative organs, and no reliable allies.[17]

According to a Haganah Intelligence Service – Arab Division executive, the average Palestinian had come to the conclusion that they could not hold their own against the Jews.[18] HIS – AD further reported that most of the Arab public would be willing to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan and lacked a desire to engage in a war with the Jews because of a lack of weapons and internal organization.[19] Many were unwilling to fight because if they died, there would be no compensation for their widows and/or orphans.

 

Ghandhi & Terrorism: Tackling the “Mad Idea”

With globalization being so popular an idea these days, we often seem to forget that nations do have sovereignty over their own territory.  That sovereignty comes with the ability to live in ways that don’t necessarily agree with our own values, expectations or religion and to create law systems that have a foundation on something other than a mirror of our (US) constitution.  One example that comes to mind right away is the shocked reaction that everyone had when Egyptians decided they wanted to replace Mubarak’s tyranny with a government based on Islamic values.

I mention sovereignty because it seems to me that most of the world’s problems come from unrealistic expectations that ones’ own way is not only the best way, but the only way.  If anyone doesn’t want our way, we use it as an excuse to force it on them for their own good while exploiting them for economic gain.  In India, that behavior led to a revolution that, thankfully, wound up being more peaceful than it would have been due to the hard work of a man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma.  In the Middle East, Western meddling planted the seeds that would eventually grow into global terrorism on a grand scale.

Tying Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation into modern day problems with terrorism was the focus of a class I took over Winter Session.  It was 3 weeks of class, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, that culminated in an oral presentation and a 10 page paper after having read 3 books on Gandhi’s philosophy and 1 on the rise of religious terrorism.  It was difficult, but educational.  Looking at the paper now, I wish I’d had more time to directly compare Gandhi’s goals with bin Laden’s goals, and to compare their use of religion as a tool to achieve an end.  Instead, I tried to explain the mentality of religious violence and how meeting that violence with more violence only perpetuates the cycle and, even worse, justifies and empowers the terrorist ideology of hatred.  In a way, meeting violence with violence is cooperating with the terrorists, and after you read this you might have a better understanding of why.

[Sources and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City
The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

On August 15, 1947, India acquired independence from the British Empire. The country’s road to freedom was paved not with violence, but with Satyagraha, a method of non-violent non-cooperation employed and promulgated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Mahatma (Great Soul) who expanded on this unique style of civil disobedience in South Africa.[1] The word Satyagraha is a Sanskrit composite formed from satya and agraha. Satya implies love and agraha firmness, which is synonymous with force in terms of the force born of “Truth and Love or Non-Violence…”[2] Gandhi didn’t claim to have invented Satyagraha. Rather, he just named it. Gandhi was certain of the existence of Satyagraha prior to his use of it by the very fact that the world still lived on, despite the constant warfare. He cited Satyagraha as the force that amiably dissolves the quarrels of millions of families daily and emphasized that the only reason it’s not mentioned in history books is because history itself is a record of the disruptions of Satyagraha, or ahimsa, which is the natural course of nature.[3]

Mahatma Gandhi successfully used Satyagraha to fight for Indian rights in South Africa. He used it again to win independence from the British Empire for India. Dr. Martin Luther King adapted Gandhi’s ideology to his own movement and successfully fought for equal rights for African Americans. Without using weapons, Gandhi’s Satyagraha has been proven to work. So, does that mean it has applications for today’s modern war on terrorism? And how would we go about making the changes necessary to effectively employ this force against the ‘enemy’ and bring about a peaceful resolution of conflicts?

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India
Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi said, “…if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong…we grow stronger and stronger every day.”[4] Satyagraha is an ideology of empowerment that places emphasis on maintaining the moral high ground through “self-help, self-sacrifice and faith in God…”[5] Naturally, this is something one must do oneself for it to work properly, which is why Gandhi said that Satyagraha is for self-help and declined the assistance of foreigners in fighting for India’s freedom, except insomuch as he wanted their attention and sympathy.

Gandhi believed that the process of Satyagraha could only happen if one maintained a total absence of violence, both in one’s actions and one’s thoughts. For Gandhi, a “struggle could be forceful…but it could not be violent,” so willing self-sacrifice played a key role in achieving one’s goal.[6] Through non-violent self-sacrifice a movement gains both public sympathy and the admiration and respect of the aggressor, eventually inducing a change of heart and an amiable resolution to conflicts.

Most importantly, by not using violence, Satyagraha creates solutions that break the cycle of violence. Gandhi said, “A non-co-operationist strives to compel attention and set an example not by his violence but by his unobtrusive humility.”[7] The moment violence is used the means become corrupted, which invariably leads to a corrupted end. Gandhi used this argument to counter the call for violent revolution against the British in India. He said that “by using similar means we can get only the same thing that [the British] got” and compared gaining morally pure rule through violence to planting weeds to grow roses.[8]

A violent response escalates the level of violence used. Gandhi believed that winning independence through violence would leave India just as bad off as it already was, because it would mean that violent people would be assuming control of the country.[9] He did agree that he would rather have bad home rule rather than suffer under a foreign master, but Gandhi’s goal was to achieve a free India that could initiate a new government with clean hands.[10] To do this, Gandhi believed that India had to break with modern secular Western society. He described the materialism of Western civilization as a sickness.[11] Britain’s industrialization, and all industrialization, relies on the exploitation of other countries. Engaging in industrialization would pollute India and India would become no better than the former masters’ whose yoke she had thrown off.[12]

1993 World Trade Center Bombers
1993 World Trade Center Bombers

According to Mark Juergensmeyer, the advent of modern Western society has devalued religious belief, replacing theology with secular morality and the Church with the nation state. Social identity has shifted from religious affiliation to national citizenship. Some religious activists believe that “secular society and modern nationalism can [not] provide the moral fiber that unites national communities or the ideological strength to sustain states buffeted by ethical, economic, and military failures.”[13]

In an interview with Mahmud Abouhalima, convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mark Juergensmeyer asked him what it was that secular America was missing that caused it to not understand him and others like him. Abouhalima answered, “the soul of religion.”[14] He went on to compare secular life to an ink pen that was missing its ink. He said, “An ink pen, a pen worth two thousand dollars, gold and everything in it, it’s useless if there’s no ink in it. That’s the thing that gives life…”[15]

Western societies may see secularization as a positive process, a freeing of the population from archaic dogmas, but people like Abouhalima and even Gandhi were adamantly opposed to separating religion from life.[16] Without religion, Abouhalima would have no meaning in his life, and Gandhi would not have had the strength to free India. Thinking in those terms, any encroachment of Western society in the modern Middle East may be viewed by the locals as not only unbeneficial but harmful, and potentially as an attack on fundamental values and religion itself, which for Muslims constitutes a large portion of their everyday life and culture.[17] Gandhi believed that all change has to come from within to be lasting. It cannot be forced upon people, and attempting to use violence through sanctions that cause hardships or through rhetoric and demonizing will have no effect but to draw sympathy to the victimized, even if their cause is wrong.[18]

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City
2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

In today’s War on Terror, responding to terrorism with acts of violence empowers the terrorists by cooperating with their ideology of hatred, by affirming that the secular West is indeed evil and intent on destroying the religion and culture of the average person. Mark Juergensmeyer wrote that “many secular political leaders have described [the War on Terror] as a war that must be won—not only to avenge savage acts as the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, but also to allow civilization as the modern West has known it to survive.”[19] In a war between civilizations where the existence of each civilization’s future is at stake, only one can remain at the end of the conflict. The sort of rhetoric being used to promote the War on Terror is one of absolutes and only further justifies the teachings of terrorists: that the US must be defeated for Islam and Islamic culture to survive. The immediate response after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City was to launch a retaliatory attack, but has that attack actually solved anything? Did we not in fact validate the terrorists’ ideology of hatred by destroying the lives of the innocent along with the accused through long-term warfare?

Madanlal Dhingra
Madanlal Dhingra

In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an Indian student in England, assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a political aide to Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary of State for India. According to Sankar Ghose, “Winston Churchill regarded Dhingra’s last words “as the finest made in the name of patriotism…”[20] Gandhi had a completely different opinion of Dhingra: “It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk, a mad idea can also do so… Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. He gave his body in a wrong way, its ultimate result can only be mischevious.”[21] Gandhi, a man so religious that his last words after being shot by an assassin were “Hē Ram (Oh God),”[22] was absolutely opposed to violence in any form, for any objective, which makes it all the more surprising that terrorism today is most often tied to extreme religious views. In his own way, Gandhi was an extremist, but he was an extremist who used and advocated extremes of peace and love to achieve what he considered just ends. Today’s religious extremists are not so different from Gandhi, in that they go to extremes to ensure that their views are made known. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s goals were not that different from Gandhi’s.

In 1991, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, prompting a coalition force of Middle Eastern and Western nations (including the United States) to engage in military operations in defense of Kuwait. Military operations began on January 16th, 1991 with air and missile attacks on targets in both Kuwait and Iraq. After an unavoidable ground war, Iraqi forces were put into full retreat. On February 27th, 43 days later, President Bush declared a suspension of offensive combat. During the war, Saudi Arabia was used as a launching point for allied offensives against Iraq.[23] After the war ended, the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained, further outraging some religious conservatives that consider Saudi Arabia to be the holiest of Islamic lands, being home to both Mecca, where the Ka’aba resides, and Medina where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community. The Ka’aba is the center of the Muslim world. Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. One of the five pillars of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba.[24]

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden

Among those angered by the continued presence of US troops on Saudi soil was Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network. On August 3rd, 1995, he issued a message called “an Open Letter to King Fahd,” outlining grievances against the Saudi monarchy, notably calling for a guerilla campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. In July 10, 1996, a British newspaper (The Independent) quoted bin Laden as saying that Saudi Arabia had become an American colony. He also stated that the real enemy of the Saudi people is America. In August of 1996, bin Laden issued a document known as the “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The two holy mosques he references are Mecca’s Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were stationed, and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Osama bin Laden considered Israel to be a US puppet regime, so fault for occupying Jerusalem was transferred to the United States. In a CNN interview in 1997, bin Laden began to solidify his message with demands that may sound familiar to anyone familiar with India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. He said:

We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation…. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God’s word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries…. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country.[25]

Almost a year later, he goes on to make the following demands:

For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. We–with God’s help–call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it… in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.[26]

Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi both had similar goals. Both felt oppressed by foreign powers who meddled in local affairs, to the detriment of the native populations, and in both cases as a result of something Gandhi warned of: the need to exploit other countries to support the industrialization of modern Western culture.

The implied conflict for the survival of civilizations and the perceived attack on religion causes some religious activists to use violence to try to bring attention to their stated goals. From Gandhi’s teachings, we know that he could have in no way supported the terrorism of today to attain independence from foreign oppression, but it is reasonable to believe that he would have empathized with Osama bin Laden’s goal.[27] When Gandhi condemned Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie, he didn’t condemn his goal; he instead called him a patriot and condemned the means he used. This is where terrorists like Osama bin Laden differ from Gandhi, in the means they use to reach their ends. The results of the two methods have been drastically different. Where India gained the sympathy of the world and won her independence through Satyagraha, Osama bin Laden’s use of violence has escalated out of control. Osama bin Laden himself has met a foul end and the Middle East has not been freed of foreign influence.

Gandhi believed that violence created a cycle, saying “Who lives by the sword must perish by the sword, and if the Asiatic peoples take up the sword, they in their turn will succumb to a more powerful adversary.”[28] That teaching is just as applicable today as it was during his fight with the British. In 1998, when the US launched retaliatory missile strikes on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, the attack “provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots.”[29] The attacks also increased bin Laden’s image as an underdog and damaged the United States’ international reputation. In July of 2002, an Israeli plane bombed the home of Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehada, wounding 140 people and killing 11 people, 7 of which were children. Another Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, responded by opening up targeting of terrorist attacks to all Israelis, including women and children.[30] Violent actions only led to an escalation of the level of violence employed by each side. The only way to ‘win’ is by breaking the chain of violence. An example is the 1998 Omagh bombing by a fringe element called the “Real IRA”. The bombing occurred during peace talks that would stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Rather than retaliate with more acts of violence, the guilty parties were arrested and tried using the existing legal system.[31]

So, what is the solution for stopping violence in the Middle East today? Rather than dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, the violent actions, the US should instead tackle the source of the problem. Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 understood this and “spoke about the necessity of dealing with the social and economic grievances that fueled the anti-American disaffection in the Middle East and elsewhere as a way of undercutting al Qaeda support.”[32] Colin Powell was expressing an idea that Gandhi emphasized himself, in regards to responding to terrorism. Gandhi described Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie as being like a drunkard, caught in a “mad idea.” It’s that mad idea that we need to tackle: the belief in the Middle East that the United States is incapable of good and morally unambiguous behavior.

The first step is to stop responding to violence with violence. Violent action only succeeds in causing the conflict to escalate. That’s not to say that nothing should be done in the face of violent terrorist attacks. Even Gandhi didn’t believe in inaction.[33] Gandhi believed that no one had a complete view of the truth and the very existence of a conflict was the proof. He believed that every conflict was an “encounter between differing “angles of vision” illuminating the same truth.”[34] The key, then, is to take the moral high ground and understand that a response of violence will be satisfying in the short term, but will yield no real results.

The second step to solving the problem would be to address the problem of public opinion of the United States in the Islamic countries. After many years of duplicitous behavior on the part of the United States, finding a way to positively engage the Islamic community may be difficult without inciting suspicion and distrust, so it would be a gradual progress, in much the same way that Satyagraha was a gradual progress. The first efforts would have to be in areas that are politically and religiously neutral, such as providing medical care, basic literacy education in English and Arabic, building homes for the homeless, and acting in advisory capacities for social programs that would address other needs of the country. It’s a small step, but small steps add up and 30 years of providing education to the poor will mean more to them than bombing their fields to smoke out suspected terrorists. Additionally, we could take the biggest step towards having a friendly relationship with Islamic countries by respecting their sovereignty and allowing the people to determine their own futures through their own elected governments. Additionally, we could remove the US troop presence from Islamic countries and allow the people to fight for and affect their own social reforms. That would mean more to them than having the reforms handed to them with the help of Westerners. As Gandhi said, lasting change has to come from within.

One of Gandhi’s favorite quotes from Tolstoy sums up this policy best:

…if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbors by ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is conterminous with that of the whole world.[35]

 


[1] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 1, p. 3.
[2] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 6, p. 77.
[3] Ibid., p. 79.
[4] Ibid., p. 78.
[5] Ibid., p. 81.
[6] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[7] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 15, p. 59.
[8] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 10.
[9] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[10] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 7, p. 102.
[11] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[12] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 22, p. 249.
[13] Ibid., Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 229.
[14] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 70.
[15] Ibid.
[16] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 171, pp. 364-365.
[17] “Introduction to Islam”, describes Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
[18] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 18, p. 220.
[19] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror In The Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 233.
[20] Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi, Chapter 10, p. 98.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’: book”.
[23] “1991 Gulf War chronology”.
[24] Rosemary Pennington, “What Is The Ka’aba?”.
[25] Osama bin Laden, “Osama bin Laden v. the U.S.”.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 10, pp. 132-134.
[28] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 71.
[29] Barbara Elias, “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired”.
[30] James Bennet, “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home”.
[31] Henry McDonald, “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing”.
[32] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 234.
[33] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[34] Ibid., p. 3.
[35] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 46, p. 112.

 

Works Cited

<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>”1991 Gulf War chronology.” 3 September 1996. USA Today World. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Bennet, James. “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home.” 23 July 2002. The New York Times: World. Web. 23 January 2012. .
bin Laden, Osama. “Osama Bin Laden V. The U.S.: Edicts And Statements.” n.d. PBS Frontline. Web. 17 January 2012.
Elias, Barbara. “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired.” 20 August 2008. The George Washington University: The National Security Archive. Web. 22 January 2012.
Gandhi, M. K. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). New York: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Gandhi. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2002. Print.
“Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’:book.” 29 January 2008. hindustantimes: news. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Ghose, Sankar. Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1991. Print.
“Introduction to Islam.” 2000. islam.com. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Juergensmeyer, Mark. “Gandhi vs. Terrorism.” 2007. Mark Juergensmeyer: Global Studies, UCSB. Web. 16 January 2012. .
—. Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.
McDonald, Henry. “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing.” 8 June 2009. The Guardian. Web. 23 January 2012.
Pennington, Rosemary. “What Is The Ka’aba?” 22 October 2008. MuslimVoices.org. Web. 22 January 2012. .