“The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular.”
–Gandhi (Young India, February 23, 1921)
Stride Toward Freedom recounts an amazing event toward the end of the African American Freedom Struggle of the 1960s. The Ku Klux Klan tried to regain its power over a community of color by riding through it one night. Instead of cowering indoors (up to then the usual response to a “Klan Ride”), people stood on their porches and waved, asked their hooded guests if they needed directions. People were not afraid this time, and, the unexpected happened: the Klansmen turned their cars around and left.
The objective of terrorism is to make people so fearful that they comply with whatever is demanded of them, to give up their power and their choices. Violence, Gandhi would say, is no way to respond to this situation, because it, too, tries to cow others into submission. This is why many liberation struggles end, tragically, in souring all that’s been gained by only restructuring the initial violence. Surrounded as he was by terrorism by both governing bodies and various forms of terrorist resistance among the popular movement, he would give in to neither. This, he maintained, was the way to uphold the spirit of democracy: by refusing to submit to the mechanisms of terror, whatever its source. Toward this end he helped Indians look on jail time as a badge of honor. Ultimately, he maintained that dying–not killing– in the cause of nonviolence was the highest bravery. Nonviolence is not only the way to dislodge a domineering regime, he pointed out: it’s a way to dislodge the terror on which it’s based.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Reflect on the courage necessary to confront terrorism with nonviolence and the potential outcomes of doing so.