October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, is traditionally celebrated as International Day of Nonviolence.



In light of world events today, January 30—the sad anniversary of his assassination—also seems a good time to revisit his work on nonviolence, resistance, and courage. Norman G. Finkelstein’s observations, recorded at the time of Occupy Wall Street, ring true today:

Bringing to bear a keen mind on a rich life experience of public service, Gandhi extracted valuable practical insights into the nature of politics, which it would be imprudent to ignore.

I first began to read Gandhi a few years ago in order to think through a nonviolent strategy for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

But the field for the application of Gandhi’s ideas has now been vastly expanded by the emergence of the Arab Spring and nonviolence resistance movements around the world.

Gandhi’s name is everywhere on the lips of those challenging a political system that shuts out the overwhelming majority of people and an economic system that leaves them futureless.

In my own city of New York, the idea of nonviolent civil disobedience has seized the imagination of young people and energized them with the hope that they can bring even the ramparts of Wall Street tumbling down.

Gandhi devoted the whole of his adult life to organizing the powerless 99 percent against the greedy 1 percent. He aspired in the first place to end the British occupation of India, but he also recoiled at the prospect of a corrupt clique of native Indians replacing the foreign occupiers. Gandhi sought to lay the foundations for a political system in which not just nominal but also actual power was transferred to the Indian masses, and in which heath was equitably distributed but the chase after wealth ceased to be life’s purpose.

He was convinced not only that the old world could be extirpated and a new world be brought into being nonviolently, but also that unless it was done nonviolently, the new world would hardly differ from the old world it superseded.

A new generation is now experimenting with and envisioning novel ways of living, and pondering how to redistribute power and eliminate privilege. The life experience and reflections of Gandhi provide a rich trove to help guide these idealistic but disciplined, courageous but cautious, youth as they venture forth to create a brighter future.


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