While most Americans
associate September 11th with violence, in one of history's great
coincidences, that date also marks the centennial of one of the most
significant steps in humanity’s long quest for peace.
On September 11,
1906, 3,000 people, mostly Indians, packed the old Empire Theater in
Johannesburg, South Africa. They came to protest a draft of the Asiatic
Law Amendment Ordinance that would require that every Indian over the
age of 8 be fingerprinted and carry a registration card. Moreover, the
law stipulated that the police could enter the home of any Indian at
their discretion and fine, imprison or even deport those found without
A young lawyer,
Mohandas K. Gandhi, took the stage to explain a resolution that he had
helped draft that pledged that no Indian would cooperate with the
proposed law if it passed. In the heat of the moment, one of the
speakers following Gandhi vowed "in the name of God" that he would never
comply with the degrading law and urged everyone present to do the
Being a deeply
religious man, Gandhi was startled. Not knowing what he was going to
say, but feeling compelled to explain the gravity of invoking God in
such an oath, he rose again to address the audience.
"It is not at all
impossible that we might have to endure every hardship that we can
imagine" without resorting to violence, Gandhi warned. The crowd sat in
solemn silence. While "everyone must only search his own heart" about
taking the vow, Gandhi announced that there was only one course open to
him: "to die but not submit to the law." Nevertheless, Gandhi was an
optimist. "I can boldly declare, and with certainty," he assured, "that
so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there
can be one end to the struggle, and that is victory."
Awestruck by the
eloquence and power of Gandhi's words, all present in the theater that
fateful afternoon stood together with their hands raised and took an
oath of nonviolent resistance.
This dramatic scene,
captured so vividly by Richard Attenborough's Oscar-winning film
“Gandhi,” was the birth of Satyagraha. Gandhi coined this new word to
replace the misleading phrase "passive resistance," and defined it as
"the force which is born of truth and love or nonviolence." Using
Satyagraha, Gandhi not only led India – the jewel of the British Empire
- to independence in 1947, but inspired numerous other nonviolent
movements around the world.
Nowhere was his
influence felt more than during the civil rights movement here in the
United States. "Satyagraha was profoundly significant to me," Martin
Luther King wrote in his autobiography. "It was in this Gandhian
emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social
reform that I had been seeking."
remarkable triumphs of nonviolence during a century so drenched in
blood, we continue desperately to cling to the myth that violence can
solve our problems. With this hope, we pour roughly as much money every
year into the Pentagon, according to the authoritative figures of the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as the rest of world
combined spends on defense. The sad results, however, of this misplaced
faith are evident.
George W. Bush launched his "crusade" against terrorism, the number of
terrorist attacks worldwide has skyrocketed. A surprising consensus even
emerged in a recent survey conducted by “Foreign Policy” magazine of
more than 100 leading experts that the United States in losing the "war
The effects of our
war in Iraq are no different. As a recently released poll by the Pew
Research Center revealed, much of the world that once had sympathy for
us now considers the United States the greatest threat to world peace.
Violence is bankrupt,
and as the adage goes, inevitably breeds more violence. This may be the
greatest lesson that we can learn from what happened on September 11th
five years ago and our disastrous reaction to it. Thankfully, on that
same date 100 years ago Gandhi showed us the only path out of this
Eric Stoner is a
researcher at Rolling Stone magazine.
© 2006 Minutemanmedia.org