Page One

Gandhi’s lessons for Middle East

Doris Haddock
Wednesday April 17, 2002

To the Editor: 


The man most missing today in Israel, Palestine, India and Pakistan is Mr. Gandhi. It is a great tragedy that his methods of overturning injustice are not taught and understood by oppressed and endangered people everywhere. 

There is no doubt but that the warring parties would long ago have secured safe and prosperous living arrangements had they embraced Mr. Gandhi’s methods. Those methods are successful in any dispute which is sensitive to world opinion and human sensibilities. 

Mr. Gandhi1s awesome technology for peace and justice involves five easy-to-learn but difficult to perform steps. The first is to clearly document the injustice, using outside observers and judges where possible. 

Establishing the truth of a situation is not easy, especially when one side views history by decades and the other by centuries. The truths of these present conflicts are not that difficult to establish, however. The first truth is that both sides of both disputes have legitimate claims to residency, security, religious freedom and economic prosperity. 

Perhaps a second truth is that these claims cannot be resolved at the group level, but only at the individual level. The greatest crime of the Twentieth Century came about in Europe when immoral leadership prompted one people to see millions of others as undifferentiated members of a racial-cultural group, rather than as individual human beings. Group-oriented approaches in the current conflicts have invited genocidal responses from both sides. When group affiliations get in the way of peace and justice, they must be dropped in favor of individual rights, enforced by a constitutional system of fairness. 

That is what keeps the political peace, imperfectly but surely, in America and other lands of diverse populations. Such systems must be agreed to by the parties, or imposed for a time by a more civilized--or at least calmer--world. 

The truths of the situation in the Middle East today must be understood by each side as best they can, using their long traditions of fair inquiry and scholarship to rise above the pain of their fresh losses. That is the first step toward peace. 

The second step is to take the truth to the door of the oppressor and ask for change. It may seem too late for such a step by either side, but it must yet be done, or done again, and respectfully so. The requests must be reasonable and the other side must be given an opportunity to consider the request and to respond. That is difficult when children are dying. In thepresent circumstance, it is nearly impossible to imagine this happening, but when a peace is finally achieved and historians retrace its path, they will see that this happened somehow. Clearly, it is an area where credible,non-partisan, outside peacemakers have an opportunity and a summons. 

The third step is to engage the thinking of the larger world in the issue. For Gandhi, that meant inviting reporters along on his reform protests, so that many people all over the world might understand and care about the issues, and then work for peace and justice. There is no shortage of international attention to the Middle East1s or the Asian Subcontinent's problems. That step toward peace is taken daily, as the world1s newspapers fill with photos of every side1s suffering. 

The forth step, necessary if the opposition does not agree to correct the proven injustice, is to put one1s self physically in the way of the injustice and suffer the personal consequences. This is done to demonstrate the depth of concern, and to crystallize the injustice in a way that it might be more quickly understood and resolved. Dr. King, on the Selma march, understood that he was marching into the raw violence of segregation, and he knew that, by suffering its batons that day instead of responding in kind, he would lose the battle but win the war. That is always the case when all Gandhi1s elements are in place and when the conscience of the world is engaged.  

The fifth step, always necessary when the other steps are properly taken, is to accept victory graciously. Victory always comes after a sufficient self sacrifice. Gandhi had an opportunity to obtain India1s independence during the Second World War, when Britain could not fight on yet another front. 

Gandhi, remarkably, ever confident of the ultimate success of his method, told his followers to cease all resistance until after the war. He said that India and Britain had gone down a long road together, and should part as friends. They did so immediately after the war. This attitude was difficult to maintain in a time when Indians were being killed and Gandhi himself was imprisoned. But his patience and his respect for the lives of all people, including his oppressors, created a victory for both sides--the natural result of his method. 

History cannot stand forever against a people who generously sacrifice their own safety in the cause of truth and justice. They must be brave and principled enough to do so with no harm to others, or else their moral position and their sure path to victory quickly erodes. It is a path that can yet be taken by those in the Middle East, and in India and Pakistan, and indeed anywhere where injustice turns us for a time against each other. 


- Doris Haddock