Tag Archives: non-violence

The Mixed Legacies of 9/11

The Mixed Legacies of 9/11  —by Jinny Batterson

Recently I had a chance to host a set of international guests—three generations whose eldest member had grown up in newly-independent India as a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.  As she was about to leave our house, Ms. Mehta gave me a small booklet entitled “Hope or Terror: Gandhi and the other 9/11.” According to the booklet, on an earlier September 11, in 1906, Gandhi had launched the “satyagraha” movement that eventually helped lead to India’s independence in 1947. 

The booklet’s author, long term American peace activist Michael Nagler, spends most of the pamphlet giving examples of non-violent movements that have achieved worthwhile social aims with a minimum of bloodshed. His pamphlet was published in 2006, just five years after the 2001 terrorist airplane hijackings, destruction and loss of life that have created lingering unhealed physical and psychic wounds in so many Americans, both military and civilian. Nagler points to traits needed to participate more fully in satyagraha-like efforts, to use “integrative power” rather than “threat power.” So what can we learn from previous satyagraha struggles that may be relevant in 2019?

First, we can become familiar with the term “satyagraha,” which has several English translations—it can be rendered as “soul force,” as “love in action,” as “clinging to truth.” Many of us who have heard the term associate it primarily with Gandhi and his “salt march,” a long-distance 1930 walk to publicize and challenge the unfairness of British taxes on salt, a necessary nutrient that washes up freely on some of India’s beaches. Americans may be more familiar with the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose commitment to the related concept of non-violence was partially inspired by his study of Gandhi’s life and methods.

Nagler points out that there are two prongs to satyagraha efforts—one a resistance to coercion, the other a creation of alternative forms of organization that are freer and less coercive.  Most of us are likely to be more attuned to one prong than the other, so we need to partner with individuals and groups that are more highly skilled in the other prong. Otherwise, we can too often confuse tactics and methods with strategies and longer-term goals.

The passage in Nagler’s booklet that I found most heartening and persuasive concerns the way that satyagraha/nonviolence works:  “Nonviolence sometimes ‘works’ and always works, while by contrast, violence sometimes ‘works’ and never works.”

He explains his use of terminology this way: an action succeeds, or “works” based on its short-term, obvious effects, while it works (without quotes) in how it impacts situations and participants under the surface, producing longer-term effects that are not always obvious at the time.

I’m not sure what commemorations will occur on September 11, 2019. The lingering war in Afghanistan seems no closer to resolution; gun violence in the U.S. claims or maims too many lives; organized violence in many parts of the world dominate our headlines and media reports. Climate change can pose global challenges we often seem powerless to respond to. However, there are other actions going on, other factors at play. One was a last-minute decision to open our home for a night to a family of strangers who are strangers no longer, with an aging Indian matriarch who replanted a seed of hope.     



International Day of Peace, September 21

International Day of Peace, September 21    —by Jinny Batterson

For nearly a decade, I’ve received annual reminders of a celebration of an “international day of peace” on September 21, around the time of the equinox (autumn in the northern hemisphere, spring in the southern).  I relish these reminders to refocus during what too often can be a harried and hurried time, with back-to-school events, work crises, health check-ups, omnipresent political campaigns.  So this year’s reminder was especially welcome—2016’s politics in my home country, the United States of America, appear even more ugly than usual. The timeframe for this year’s peace celebrations has expanded, I learned, now encompassing the eleven days between September 11 and September 21. This year’s celebrations focus on global development goals. 

As nearly as I can tell via online search, the United Nations began issuing annual proclamations for a day of peace in 1997 as part of a broader global effort to advance a transition to a culture of peace. Their initial resolution called for a “transformation from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence.” The resolution defines the culture of peace as based on “respect for human rights, democracy and tolerance, the promotion of development, education for peace, the free flow of information, and the wider participation of women,” in addition to disarmament efforts. This year’s events include several in the area of central North Carolina where I live. I hope to attend at least some of them: http://www.paceebene.org/event/cnv-actions-raleigh-areanc-peace-week/.

My understanding of peace continues to evolve from an initial aversion to my fiance’s draft status in 1969 near the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Over time, I’ve come to believe that peace is much more comprehensive than the absence of armed conflict, whether among nations, among non-national groups who use violence to try to further their aims, or between individuals. It seems increasingly clear to me that peace needs to exist at all the same levels in which violence can incubate, from a single person to the entire global community. Peace grows best in an atmosphere of abundance, based partly on sharing, and partly on our inner conviction that we have, and, more importantly, ARE enough. 

One group that I support whose peacemaking involves a transition to abundance is Heifer International. First started in the wake of World War II as a way to restock farm animals to war-ravaged areas of Europe, the program now exists in 30 countries on five continents. Heifer conducts long-term efforts to alleviate poverty and promote peace through both donations of farm animals and education in sustainable farming practices. The autumn 2016 issue of their magazine, World Ark , includes an extensive interview with author/activist Frances Moore Lappe, first known for her seminal work on global food resources, Diet for a Small Planet (published in 1971). Lappe has gone on to publish fifteen more books, and to become a global activist for peace and development. Her take on what may be needed to transition toward peace and abundance resonates with me:  “While scarcity can be a lack of the physical resources that we need to thrive, such as food, water and energy, it can also be a presumption of the scarcity of goodness in human beings. Unfortunately, our media largely offers the most frightening and horrifying news, reinforcing this sense of lack of goodness in us. As you know, there are many fewer stories about our nobility, humanity, and our natural desires to help, to share and be compassionate, than there are about our brutal side.” 

Part of my individual effort this season to cultivate peace is to minimize my media exposure, while at the same time staying informed enough to function in our increasingly interconnected, interactive world. Another practice has been inspired by one of the more heartening reactions to September 11, 2001: a musical setting to a breathing meditation by a Georgia-bred songwriter who reacted to the airplane-mediated suicide bombings by creating a melody and chorus:  “When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace, when I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”  (The entire song, including verses, is online at http://www.sarahdanjones.com/music-1.html).

It turns out that the equinox here this year will not be until September 22. Peace activities in my town won’t culminate until Saturday, September 24. Still, I urge all of us who breathe to try today, as the simplest, smallest step toward peace, to take at least a couple of breaths using the “breathe in peace” refrain.