How strange that those who guard the gates must be reminded or instructed how to treat others respectfully. How sad that tolerance and understanding — along with common sense and courtesy — oft seem wanting. Perhaps, like so much else, these qualities were lost amid the rubble on 9/11. Perhaps, in the dusty, acrid shadows, intolerance took root.
Decades ago, Mohandas Gandhi opined that “intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” What would he think of these times, this world? Were he permitted to travel to America (unlike the Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan) and offer his reflections, what would Gandhi say? And with what suspicion or hostility would this nation receive â€œthe little half-naked brown manâ€? who forever transformed the landscape of human resistance and dignity?
One can only speculate. Perhaps, if given the opportunity, Gandhi would hearken back to a different September 11th, one that was not occasioned by horrific violence but by the birth of non-violence:
It all began on September 11, 1906, when Mohandas K. Gandhi, a 37-year old lawyer, rose to address the packed Empire Theatre in Johannesburg.
Gandhi and his colleagues had convened this meeting to mobilise the Indian community against a proposed South African legislative ordinance that would limit their travels through â€œpass laws.â€? Gandhi later wrote about that day:
â€œThe Indians solemnly determined not to submit to the Ordinance in the event of its becoming law in the teeth of their opposition, and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submissionâ€¦ All present standing with upraised hands, took an oath with God as witness not to submit to the Ordinanceâ€¦ I can never forget the scene.â€?
So continued Gandhiâ€™s journey from privileged attorney to great soulâ€”the Mahatma. And so was born Satyagrahaâ€”the philosophy of non-violent action. [full text]
Gandhi understood that those living in the shadow of oppression and intolerance ought respond not with darkness but with light. Violence, hatred, and retribution might stir the heart, but they stain the soul. Howsoever difficult, â€œyou must be the change you wish to see in the world.â€? Americans would do well to heed these words and the lessons of a century past. The time has come to take leave of the mournful shadows and embrace the light.