It’s Gandhi Jayanti, and Non-Violence Day. So, who better than Thich Nhat Hanh, tireless advocate of non-violence, to guide a Peace Edition?

2 10 2008


We hope his message will foster reconciliation and compassion


Source: TOI

Midway through the news meeting on Wednesday, the grim news came in: Agartala had been rocked by serial blasts. All eyes immediately turned to Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, the Guest Editor for our special Peace Edition. As journalists, what should we do on a day like this?

The Zen master, who has rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centres, resettled homeless families and for a lifetime advocated tirelessly the principles of non-violence and compassionate action, pondered for a while.

When he spoke, it was with great clarity,‘‘Report in a way that invites readers to take a look at why such things continue to happen and that they have their roots in anger, fear, hate and wrong perceptions. Prevent anger from becoming a collective energy. The only antidote for anger and violence is compassion. Terrorists are also victims, who create other victims of misunderstanding.’’

This, remember, is the monk — now 82 years old — credited with a big role in turning American public opinion against the war in Vietnam, for which Martin Luther King Jr had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. And so, his words are not to be dismissed lightly.

‘‘Every reader has seeds of fear, anger, violence and despair, and also seeds of hope, compassion, love and forgiveness,’’ said Thich Nhat Hahn, affectionately called Thay. ‘‘The stories should touch the seeds of hope. As journalists, you have the job of selectively watering the right seeds. You must attempt to tell the truth and yet not water the seeds of hate. It’s not what’s in the story, but how you tell it that’s important.’’

But how should the State deal with terror? Thay’s answer: ‘‘We should invite those who believe they are victims of discrimination and injustice to speak about it. We should initiate sessions of deep listening and invite deeply spiritual people, who don’t have to be famous, to attend these. We must televise these sessions nationally. I am sure you will see a dramatic drop in the level of violence. The key to compassion is understanding. A war on terror cannot succeed, because you cannot bomb perceptions. The only solution is dialogue.’’

Compassion first step towards non-violence

He cited the example of an experiment by his own group of monks and nuns at Plum Village, south of France, in 2006. ‘‘We asked people to write letters to terrorists and more than 40 letters came in. Some claimed, ‘I am the terrorist because I am also violent and there is suffering in me as well’. We need to get together. When we address suspicion and anger as a collective, when we talk informally about suffering, then we can find answers. If we reduce the violence in us, and change, then we change others around us because then we are connected to them.’’ Talking about world peace, the monk said, ‘‘Political leaders meet at peace summits but no lasting solutions to the world’s problems are found. Therefore, political leaders, before they get down to talking at summits, should practice sitting and walking in mindfulness, talking informally with each other and practice techniques to calm themselves. Only then can talks lead to positive results.’’

The history of Vietnam in the last century was fraught with violence. Thay has himself seen war from close quarters. Naturally, the question came up: Does he believe nonviolence can help find solutions in today’s complex world?

Thay’s reply was surprisingly pragmatic. ‘‘Non-violence can never be absolute. However, you can make aggressive action less violent. In war, the generals must try and avoid the death of innocents. Even soldiers can show compassion. The first step towards non-violence is to be calm and compassionate yourself.’’

Questions on wars and conflicts led to the next logical query. How can humanity relate with each other when it is divided within confines of national or ethnic or racial identities?
That brought the Buddhist teacher into his element, propounding on one of Buddhism’s basic tenets of ‘nonself’. The problem, he said, arises when one’s self is set against another’s self. Once we realize that self is made of non-self, then the issue of identity gets settled. ‘‘Man is made of nonme elements. I am made of so many non-me elements — my parents, the food I eat, the education I received, animals, vegetables. Take away all the ‘nonme’, and there is no ‘me’ left. Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements. A Christian is made of non-Christian elements and a Muslim is made of non-Muslim elements,’’ said Thay. Once we realize that we are all interconnected, we will begin caring for all other things.

That’s why, Thay says, we need to learn from suffering. Because only after we have understood the nature of suffering can we understand true happiness. ‘‘Happiness and safety can’t be individual matters. If you have peace inside yourself, only then can you promote peace in the world. Individual happiness is impossible, as is individual suffering. Because we are interconnected, not one but a collective.’’ And what about the financial crisis that is causing many to suffer? The answer, says Thay, is related to greed and fear. ‘‘As journalists, you must help people so that they don’t become victims of greed and fear. If the aim is happiness, then you must be prepared to give up riches and fame and power, all of which are transitory.’’ Can the modern economy — fuelled by conspicuous consumption — co-exist with a monk’s lifestyle? After all, if everyone stopped consumption, industries would shut down and unemployment would rise. So should individuals, in their pursuit of ‘selfish’ happiness, create unhappiness for others?

‘‘Many of us have started believing in happiness through consumption. But happiness is largely a problem of the mind. You don’t have to run into the future, you have enough conditions to be happy right here and now. But in our search for more conditions to be happy, we sacrifice the present. The remedy for us is to go home to the present moment. Don’t get stuck with the past or get sucked into the future. So many wonders of life are with you. Development is like a wild horse that we are riding, over which we have lost control,’’ responded Thay.
But then, isn’t it much simpler for a monk to talk about not consuming than for people who have to deal with the world on the world’s terms? Can regular people with regular lives follow his teachings?

According to Thay, ‘‘The meditative practice is for everyone, monks and non-monks, the young and the less young. The conditions for reaching out for Buddha-hood are there for everyone. We are just caught up in our worries and projects. The kingdom of God is available for you. But are you available for the kingdom?’’

All you want to know about terrorism in India

12 06 2008

Dr Anil A Athale
June 11, 2008After the Jaipur terror attacks on May 13, we saw the routine that happens after every attack. There were VIP visits, compensation announced to the victims, politicians spoke of ‘zero tolerance’, television channels held the usual debates, the police announced imminent breakthroughs. Soon everything is forgotten, till the next terror attack. At which time, I am sure the same sequence will be repeated.

I have been a student of insurgency and terrorism for 24 years. At social gatherings when asked what I do for a living, my answer invariably provokes a flurry of questions, much to the annoyance of my better half (who glares and hints that I should stop holding forth on my pet topic and not ‘spoil’ the party). Here is my attempt to answer some of those frequently asked questions.

Why are attacks by Islamic groups called Islamist terrorism? Other terror groups like the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) or the IRA (Irish Republican Army) have Hindus or Christians but are not called Hindu or Christian terrorists?

It is undoubtedly true that there are other terrorists as well, for instance the Naxalites or Maoists. The reason why the adjective ‘Islamists’ is used is that no other terror group invokes religious sanction or quotes religious texts to justify their acts. In fact, the Tamil Tigers has Hindus as well as Christians (their spokesperson for many years was Anton Balasingham, a Christian). Neither has the IRA nor Tamil Tigers ever quoted any religious scriptures to justify their actions, the Islamists have and continue to do so. The link between religious places and schools to these acts, is also well established.

Finally, the Islamist terrorists themselves have time and again openly admitted the religious nature of their ultimate goal — Islamisation. It would be dishonest if this reality is ignored.

What about State terrorism?

It is true that the State also uses force to deal with revolts and violence and against criminals. But in a democracy with a judiciary and rule of law, the use of force by the State is accountable and has to be within the bounds of law. At times individuals do transgress those limits, but those are aberrations. Use of force by a State to enforce law cannot be equated with State terrorism, unless that State has a policy of genocide or is dictatorial like Hitler’s [Images] Germany [Images] or Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Unfortunately social activists and champions of human rights forget that it is the legitimate function of the State to use force. If the State abdicates this responsibility then we are inviting anarchy and in words of Hobbes, a 16th century English philosopher, a situation of war of every one against every one and human life ‘nasty, brutish and short.’

You are biased, what about the terrorism of the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal etc?

These are indeed organisations that believe in violent means and must be dealt under the law. But at worst, these are extremists and militants, like militant trade unions for example. The shallow coverage by the media has created the confusion about definition of terrorism and who is a terrorist. There is tendency to lump together terms like militants, insurgents, extremists, fundamentalists and terrorists.

While all the variety of people fighting for some cause or other may at times indulge in terrorism, a terrorist is one whose primary aim is to cause maximum destruction. In that sense strictly speaking, when a Kashmiri extremist attacks a soldier, it is wrong to call it a terrorist attack, it is part of an insurgency. We must be clear about this difference.

A terrorist is an individual who carries out a terrorist act. A terrorist act is one in which totally unconnected persons are targeted and killed. Terrorism is random violence that makes no distinction between people and promotes fear. It is no accident that in the Jaipur attack as well as elsewhere, many Muslims lost their lives.

It is a fallacy to claim that everything is fair in love and war. Even in war there are written and unwritten rules. The terrorists do not follow them. For instance in war, civilians are not deliberately targeted (they still die as collateral damage) while terrorists, for instance in Beslan in Russia [Images] chose a school or local trains in Mumbai.

While there are groups and organisations that are militant, fundamentalist and violence prone, they have not yet graduated to earn the ‘terrorist’ tag. If the State fails to curb minority terrorism then the majority may well begin to have its own terrorist organisations.

If we use violence against terrorists then are we not betraying our Gandhian legacy?

Gandhian methods of non-violent struggle were successful against the British colonialists. But the British were a civilised people. British liberals like Edmund Burke were in favour of Indian independence as early as in 1773 (Burke’s speeches in the British parliament on the Regulating Act). To assume universality of success of these methods for all times to come is false.

Did the non-violent Jews survive Hitler?

Closer home, in Gandhi’s lifetime itself, in October 1947, it was force that saved the Kashmir valley from Pakistani-backed raiders. Even more telling, the same non-violent movement in the Portuguese colony of Goa [Images], failed in 1956-1957. Goa was liberated by force in 1961.

An oft quoted Gandhian phrase is that if all were to follow an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, then the world would go blind. The counter to that is that if only some follow this and others don’t then it is the non-violent who would go blind while the rogues will rule the world.

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is former joint director, war studies, ministry of defence, and co-ordinator of the Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament

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The moderate elements online

1 12 2007

As a policy of encouraging debate on religion and debate against fundamentalism FACT (Foundation against continuing terrorism) has started the project DARA SHIKOH. Dara the prince royale that would have changed the way India is , is a role model for most fundamentalists.

Online on the web despite more venom and slit the throat, Jehad and Holy wars here is one blog that lists the FATWAS against the Terrorists and I would make it a point to list more such debates on this blog. The blog claims in its own words

We’re not getting all the news from the media, and we’re sure not hearing it
from the plethora of Islamophobic sites online. Talk radio suppresses this news,
too. There are Islamic sites and Islamic associations, religious and political
leaders that strongly condemn terrorism and violence, that are strongly allied
with the US in the war on terror, but not enough people know this. This site
will bring you that news.
This is one site that hosts discussions on various topics and the ins and outs of ISLAM.
The site claims

Tehelka like operations on the anti-Sikh riots and Naxalite violence : SRI SRI

15 11 2007

“If what they have revealed is true, it is extremely shocking because Hindus are not known for such acts. It is not in the character of Hindu society to kill and burn others,” the spiritual guru told reporters during his visit to Maharashtra’s Vidarbha district, an area affected by a large number of suicides by distressed farmers.

“I congratulate the reporter (of Tehelka magazine) who has done this (the sting operation in which the perpetrators of the violence have been caught on camera admitting to the killings) and would like him to undertake similar operations on the anti-Sikh riots (of 1984) and Naxalite violence in the country,” Sri Sri said.

Describing the Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as the biggest threat to the country’s internal security, Sri Sri urged the media to address the serious problem.
“I would appeal to the media to insist on the introduction of moral and spiritual instruction in the school curriculum as that would ennoble the young, impressionable minds,” he said, attributing violent tendencies to the disappearance of spiritual content from instruction at homes and schools.
“This is particularly true of the Hindu society today, which is why you will generally find Hindu youths among Naxal cadres,” Sri Sri said, pointing to the presence of Maoist rebels in Nepal but their absence in Bangladesh.