NORTH NEWTON, KAN. The challenge for peace is a global one, Rajmohan Gandhi believes. His speech, "Security in a bitter world: A superpower’s options," drew 600 people to Bethel College Dec. 5 to the evening Peace Lecture sponsored by the college’s Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. He also spoke during a morning convocation. Calling himself a "warm friend and ardent admirer of the U.S.A.," Gandhi spelled out the complexity of issues that U.S. and world citizens face when challenged with hate and disagreements related to religion, ethnicity and politics. The grandson of India’s Mohandas Gandhi, who championed passive resistance during the first half of the 20th century, Rajmohan Gandhi presented his own ideas for bringing peace to a world where hate has taken hold.
"Why is America disliked in parts of the world?" he began by asking. "The literature on the subject of why America is hated is large and growing. A common explanation is that Arab and Muslim lands are failed states with autocratic, brutal or medieval rulers and with suppressed, frustrated, embittered populations. They nurse a self-hate that is projected outside their societies, religion and countries and directed at the West."
The Muslim explanation of their anger includes the "occupation of Arab territories, perceived lack of U.S. even-handedness in relation to the Middle East, suspicion that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq are a prelude to attacks on other Muslim lands, perception that Muslims are being targeted in the U.S., belief that influential voices in the U.S. have identified Islam as the central danger, axis-of-evil declarations, and sense that their oil is being coveted," Gandhi said.
Unable to isolate any root reason for the anger of the people in Muslim lands, Gandhi called for their anger to be "recognized and to be distinguished from terrorism. I pray for reflection on both sides of the divide. It is never wise, when dealing with human beings to say to them, ‘We know better than you why you are angry,’ or to pay no attention to what they say is the cause of their anger."
Gandhi analyzed the aims of the 9/11 terrorists, who set in place an operation that resulted in "illogical fears that struck one blow after another at the economy and normal life of this country."
President George W. Bush’s War on Terrorism may not have been the wisest response, according to Gandhi, who does not advocate nonviolence toward terrorists. "Which is wiser: a War on Terrorism or an Answer to Terrorism? A war hurts and alienates the people, and not just the rulers of a country attacked, whereas strategies for an answer to terrorism must involve a partnership with those people," he said.
Gandhi critiqued President Bush’s interpretation earlier this fall of Abraham Lincoln’s call for unity. Referring to the two sides in the Civil War, Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God. ..."
"Today," Gandhi said, "these lines speak not to two sides inside America but to two forces appearing to clash in the world: the West led by the U.S.A. and the Muslim world. The challenge that Lincoln today might pose is not merely the attainment of American unity but the healing of the larger global divide."
While some Islamic scripture may seem to justify killing and war, similar verses can also be found in the texts of other religions, including Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. The error, Gandhi notes, is in taking verses out of their contexts. Islam and Christianity, both Abrahamic traditions, have similarities, such as the opening chapter of the Qur’an and the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible.
"For Christians or Jews to defame Islam is, therefore, to defame siblings," Gandhi said.
The deeper question is one that judges people for their birth. The world has seen the horrors of the Holocaust, slavery and untouchability. Targeting a section of human beings because of who they are is wrong. Just as wrong is blaming all people of one religious group for the violent actions of a few.
Gandhi addressed what he believes is the eagerness of the United States to play an imperial role in the world. While in the early 20th century, an imperialist was one who treated the world as "his or her family" and imperialism was an antidote to isolationism, America today is not willing to embrace the long-term dedication needed to maintain the status of an imperialist. The U.S. government’s efforts to insulate America, its tight occupation in chosen areas of the world and indifference to other parts are challenges for the future.
"A good empire is not one-sided," Gandhi said.
During a question-answer time, Rajmohan Gandhi was asked about his grandfather.
"He was an ordinary man. He had his fears and complexities, but he made a decision early on to follow where his heart was leading him," Gandhi said. One of 14 grandchildren, Gandhi commented that the grandchildren received from their grandfather "an incredible amount of warmth, not an incredible amount of time." Rajmohan Gandhi was 12 when his grandfather was assassinated in India.
A journalist, political scientist and historian, Rajmohan Gandhi currently teaches and works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.