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Pere Ortega
The Delàs Centre for Peace Studies
Pere Ortega

Pere Ortega

At a time of crisis - and not only in economic terms - talking about Gandhi's work is a challenge to the vulgarity of prevailing opinion. But above all, because of its extremely topical nature, in view of the violence unleashed after 9/11 by fundamentalisms that were allegedly inspired by religions - both that of Islamic terrorism and that of George Bush, who began wars by invoking the Bible. Gandhi's nonviolence is inspired by the foundations of religion and paves the way for a new type of social and political thought.

Gandhi's nonviolence is almost unprecedented in history, with the sole exception of Leo Tolstoy, with whom the young Gandhi exchanged correspondence and by whom he was influenced. Tolstoy should be considered responsible for the beginning of nonviolent thought as political action. Tolstoy based his own philosophy on the Christian principles of universal love and turning the other cheek, which led him to conscientiously object to the laws of the State that involved violence. This led to a confrontation with the state, for which he felt enormous disdain and to which he attributed the greatest of evils, including subjecting its citizens and preparing armies to make war. And that meant that only one path was left open to him: conscientious objection.

But Gandhi went much further than that. What in Tolstoy are ideas for a universal peace in the face of the evil of the laws of states, Gandhi made into a theoretical body of work with firm foundations, which is constructed using a system of values based on nonviolence, which act as social norms for any human community. And which he put into practice, first in the struggle for Indians' civil rights in South Africa, and then in India in the struggle for independence from the British Empire. And from where Gandhi obtained the ideas to first convince the Indian people and then the rest of humanity, as like Tolstoy, he used the texts on which the great religions are based.

But Gandhi not only also used the Bible; he was also inspired by the Koran, the Gita and the Mahabharata, and by his reading of Zen, Confucius and Buddha. But it was the Bhagavad Gita that provided him with his maxim of ahimsa, or do no harm, based on a negation (a) and himsa, which means 'violence'. In other words, do no harm to any living being: people, animals or the environment. He completed this with readings of the Gospel with his message of peace, love and forgiveness, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, which he admired greatly.

The concept of nonviolence created by Gandhi is not a simple innovation in the world of ideas. Neither is it a new social utopia, but it is instead a revolution comparable in its dimensions to Montesquieu's theory of the separation of powers or Marx's idea of surplus value, and like them, is a new paradigm for the social transformation of humanity.

This can be seen by the amount of followers that Gandhi has influenced, in both politics - Luther King, Petra Kelly, Nelson Mandela, Vandana Shiva, Aung San Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama, Ibrahim Rugova, Corazón Aquino and many others - and in the field of nonviolence theory, where the list is a long one. As for as I know, Italy has for reasons of proximity been the source for texts by Lanza del Vasto, Lorenzo Milani, Aldo Capitini, Danilo Dolci and Giani Pontara; from the USA, there is the work of Gene Sharp, the academic who developed nonviolence into a methodology, and a long stream of authors yet to be translated in this country; from France, Jean Marie Muller; from the United Kingdom, Bar de Ligt and Michael Randle; from Norway, Johan Galtung, and Gonzalo Arias, who is the most well-known in Spain.

Gandhian nonviolence can be synthesised as a few basic ideas: nonviolent society must be constructed democratically from the bottom up, seeking consensus and convincing people to act in the name of truth; the search for the truth can only take place by means of a process of self-reflection, appealing to one's conscience and preparing the body and mind for the struggle for transformation; in order to fight against and prevent injustice it is necessary to be aware of and choose the types of nonviolent struggles; having defined the source of the problem, one's opponents must be convinced, rather than destroyed, as opponents must be respected and receive justice; work must be done to end the inequalities that subjugate people, between men and women and between social classes, including cultural inequalities and those in the social structure; nonviolence is simultaneously a means and an end; it is therefore not only a method, it is also a holistic and liberating way of thinking that embraces humanity as a whole.