The Colgate Scene
January 2003

Peace and security in the 21st century
A few words from human rights scholar Rajmohan Gandhi

Maureen Hays-Mitchell, associate professor of geography, looks on as her eight-year-old son, Zachary Mitchell, embraces human rights scholar-activist Rajmohan Gandhi moments before Gandhi spoke to a capacity crowd in Memorial Chapel in November. (See also a letter about Zachary Mitchell's meeting with Gandhi.) [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

The grandson of one of the most influential world figures of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi has written widely on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, Indian-Pakistani relations, globalization, human rights and conflict resolution. He has held appointments as a visiting professor in the United States and Japan and received honorary degrees from universities in Canada, Japan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Gandhi has also served as a member of the upper house of India's parliament and led the Indian government delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission annual meeting in Geneva. He is currently academic director of the Global Crossroads program and visiting professor in the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Gandhi visited Colgate in November to deliver a lecture sponsored by the Peace Studies program titled "Power and Peace in the 21st Century." The Scene interviewed Gandhi prior to his lecture.

We appear to be at an especially anxious point in world history. There is the possibility of war between, at minimum, the United States and Great Britain on one side and Iraq on the other; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows no signs of abating; India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons pointed at each other; and terrorism in several forms threatens the security of even the wealthiest and most powerful countries. Is it naïve to talk of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation against this backdrop?

The need for healing and reconciliation will become even greater, assuming there is a war. I'm assuming that countries are bombed and some people are killed and some places are occupied. There will be feelings of great anger and great resentment, so healing and reconciliation will be called for more than ever. If I were to prescribe healing and reconciliation as the only things the world needs to do, I think that might be naïve, but I think it is naïve to say that we can go about our business, and react as human beings [naturally] react, and hit back and take our revenge or achieve retribution in the world and forget about healing and reconciliation.

You've often spoken of the impact of globalization. What do you think globalization means?

Well, globalization is a word that can mean anything. It can mean the kind of conversation you and I are having today, because I come from one part of the world, you come from another part of the world, and it's natural for us to meet and have this conversation. That didn't happen some decades ago. That's one aspect of globalization. Another aspect of globalization is if one culture overwhelms other cultures and things that we are very proud of -- our foods, our languages, our clothes, our priorities -- if those get destroyed in the process of the whole world coming together, that is something that we should be concerned about. So, that would be a negative aspect of globalization.

What would be a positive aspect?

A positive aspect of globalization is that the world is, in fact, a family, and a family cares for its weakest members, for its disabled members, for its old, its sick. So, if the world is globalized, the needy will get some attention that they are not getting today. That would be a positive aspect.

I wish the citizens of the U.S. would take much greater interest in the division and the hostility and possibility of confrontation and war between India and Pakistan. It's not enough for the U.S. to say that if our international interests are threatened, then we'll do something. I think a country like the U.S. with its unique legacy of wanting to create a new world, can't afford to say that only that which affects us will involve us. So, whether it is disease in the world, whether it is conflict in the world, whether it is poverty in the world, if globalization really means what the word indicates, then it would mean that a country like the U.S. will be involved in these issues worldwide

During the anniversary of September 11, you suggested that Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address might be more appropriate for the times than the Gettysburg Address, which was recited at Ground Zero in New York City. Why?

I didn't mean to suggest that the Gettysburg Address wasn't appropriate. I think it's a fantastic address and it was very appropriate for it to be read aloud in New York. But the Second Inaugural Address has this most magnificent notion of both sides praying to the same god, each side believing itself to be right. That is, of course, in reference to the Civil War here, but why should it not apply to the world as a whole? Many people in the Islamic world believe that God is on their side. They're praying to God for victory. But of course, Americans have prayed likewise, and so, if we can recognize that it isn't a battle between good people on one side and bad people on the other side, but that it's a battle between good and bad inside all of us, inside all our nations, if we accept that we are all part of one common humanity, and that we don't disapprove of or despise another group merely because of their ethnicity, their nationality or their religion, then we are a great way ahead. And that is, I believe, the relevant meaning today of the Second Inaugural Address.

If you could ask world leaders questions about how a more peaceful and secure world can be achieved, what would you ask them?

I would ask them what their short-term plans are, and what their long-term plans are. I wouldn't ask them to disarm or to disband their military; I don't think that's realistic or even wise, but I would ask them to look beyond dealing with and overcoming conflicts and succeeding in their battles. I would say the war on terrorism is an unavoidable and necessary war, but even that has to be only a stage in our planning and thinking; what happens after that? What about the Middle East? What is our solution? By all means, let's have a really secure Israel, but is it wrong for Palestinians to claim a homeland that has been their homeland for centuries? Why should they also not have an independent country -- a peaceful country -- that does not attack Israel? Likewise, Palestine should be secure from attack. So, we have to look for just solutions and not just for the elimination of terrorism. The existence of terrorism does not eliminate justice as a value in the world.

Is the doctrine of passive resistance championed by your grandfather passé, or can it still be a positive force for change?

I think that it's a tremendously relevant force now. If those who are fighting for human rights and self-determination in Palestine and Kashmir were to take to non-violent resistance, they would gain greater goodwill in the world than they are doing with violent methods. With the violent methods, they make news, headlines, they make noise, but they estrange, they alienate large chunks of humanity. So, those who are fighting for justice may find that non-violent methods of fighting are really more effective than the explosive, violent methods.

What do you recall of your grandfather? How did he influence you?

I was 12 when he was killed [in 1948]. That is the time when India became independent, but also a time when it was divided into two parts, a time when there were a great many people killed. Therefore, it was a time when people were unhappy as well as jubilant. They were jubilant because of independence, and unhappy because of violence. And many of the unhappy men, women and children came to my grandfather to tell their woes to him. Some of them were not only sad, but more of them were angry because he was supposed to be the leader, the father of the nation, as many people called him, and he hadn't been able to prevent these very sad happenings. Some of them who had lost their loved ones would also express their anger to them. In some cases they were mad at him because he was advocating reconciliation with those who had caused the killings. Muslims were mad at him because Hindus had attacked Muslims, Hindus were mad at him because Muslims had attacked them and they were mad because he was advocating reconciliation between the two. So, in that final phase of his life I saw him patiently, affectionately even, listen to those who were attacking him, holding on to his convictions, saying that he would continue to believe in reconciliation, even if people were angry. Although I was only a boy of 12, I said to myself, "This man has some guts." That's the impression that he left on me.

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