The world has witnessed an incredible amount of progress in the last five decades that has transformed lives and made people richer and many nations prosperous. The pace of the change has been so dramatic, and more people today have the means to lead a prosperous and peaceful life than ever before. However, what we are witnessing now is a turbulent world reeling from the effects of a Pandemic, fearful, and uncertain of their future having lost the faith in their leadership.
The world has indeed seen destruction and human misery from the time immemorial. After the Second World War, the victorious powers decided to prevent another war by founding the United Nations. The primary motto of the organization was to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war. What happened since then is well documented. Cold war followed the world war with proxies of cold war antagonists fighting all over the globe. The world was divided into first, second, and third worlds. Finally, the Berlin wall came down, and Communism was defeated, and the world was ready for a peace dividend!
Did it happen? No, during the 1990’s the pattern of the conflict has changed. Today, ninety percent of the conflicts are taking place within rather than between states. World politics have indeed entered a new phase. The fundamental source of conflict in today’s world is not ideological or economic. The great source of conflict that is dominating today is cultural. The differences between cultures are real; they are basic. The people of different cultures have different views on the relations between God and man, individual and the group, man and woman, and differing views on rights and responsibilities. These differences are the product of centuries, and it will not disappear anytime soon.
What has transpired in the former Yugoslavia is a clear example of this type of conflict. Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians, and Croatian Catholics seemed to enjoy distinct cultures and were unwilling to compromise on a common platform. It is obvious that western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other cultures. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have very little resonance in other cultures. The notion that there could be a universal culture is a western idea that is in direct conflict with most Asian societies and emphasizes what distinguishes one person from another.
The late Indira Gandhi once commented, “never in the last two decades has the international outlook been so grim as it is today. This is not merely my own assessment but that of the scores of the world leaders from five continents whom I have met in the past year. I am not given to alarm or exaggeration. Yet, I must warn that at this time, we simply cannot afford to be complacent or sit back, hoping that matters will somehow be sorted out”. Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, once asserted, ‘I see no hope for permanent world peace. We have tried hard and failed miserably. Unless there is a spiritual awakening on a worldwide scale, the civilization is doomed”.
And one wonders why? One sees a world that is reluctant to accept remedies peacekeepers want to implement, how then we could understand, explain, or turn around tragedies?
On 15 June 2007, United Nations passed a resolution to observe International Day of non-violence each year on the birth anniversary date of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India to its Independence and inspired movements of civil rights across the world. What it shows is that the UN recognizes that ultimately it is not discussion and dialogue, but an inner awakening of the soul will only make a real difference from the impasse of scores of issues that are confronting the world today. Martin Luther King, a great follower of the Gandhian method of non-violence, once said, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable; we may ignore him at our own risk.”
Addressing the United Nations on the eve of passing the resolution, Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, said the following: ‘the world is facing the violence of various kinds, and there was a collective failure of the International community in tackling terrorism and checking nuclear proliferation. Fallacies about non-violence are abound but to practice it in its true spirit demands strict discipline of mind: the courage to face aggression, the moral conviction to stay the course, and the strength to do so without harboring any malice towards the opponent,” she told the 192-member Assembly. At the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, she said, was his belief that strength comes from righteousness, not force, power comes from truth, not might, victory comes from moral courage, not imposed submission.
In the same General Assembly session in 2007, honoring Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, Ban-ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated the following: “Mahatma Gandhi is also a personal hero of mine. Since I began my diplomatic career in India early in the 1970s, I have carried with me his definition of the seven sins: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality, and worship without sacrifice. The Mahatma’s inspiration is needed now more than ever. All around us, we see communities increasingly mired in rising intolerance and cross-cultural tensions. We see extremist dogmas and violent ideologies gaining ground, as moderate forces retreat. May this International Day of non-violence give us the strength to advance true tolerance and non-violence at every level, from the individual all the way up to the State”, the Secretary-General added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the United Nations General Assembly in a virtual session echoed Gandhian values as well “ The ideals on which the United Nations was founded are quite similar to that of India and not different from its own fundamental philosophy. The words Vasudeva Kodambakkam’, the whole world is family, have often reverberated in this hall of the United Nations. We treat the whole world as one family. It is part of our culture, character, and thinking”. One truly hopes so.
John Dear, an internationally known voice for peace and non-violence, has summarized Gandhi’s teachings the following way: Gandhi taught us to practice non-violence and that the faith pushes us to promote peace and justice; he taught us to accept suffering and even court suffering if we want personal transformation; he also taught us to pray, and through daily meditation, he came to believe the nearness of God; he practiced living solidarity with the poor and oppressed; Gandhi advocated powerlessness as the path to God; he taught us that each of world’s religion has a piece of truth and deserve our respect and by advocating tolerance and equality of religions, Gandhi suggested that we all share a common ground of non-violence and can live in peace with one another.
In the end, Gandhi challenges each of us to seek God through our own active pursuit of truth and non-violence. He calls for nothing less than the total transformation of the world. On this day, as we celebrate Gandhi Jayanthi, his philosophy is more relevant than ever.
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and the Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)