Can Violence Ever Promote Peace?


It has often been asserted that violence — though it is an evil — can sometimes be a necessary prelude to bringing about peace.

  • It may be argued that tyrants and oppressors can be prevented from continuing to harm the populace only by being forcibly removed.
  • Or the liberation struggles of oppressed people can be justified even though they may use some violence.

But resort to violence, however well meaning, could turn out to be self-defeating. Once deployed, it tends to spin out of control, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.

It is for this reason that pacifists, who consider peace to be a supreme value, take a moral stand against the use of violence even for attaining just ends. They too recognise the need to fight oppression. However, they advocate the mobilisation of love and truth to win the hearts and minds of the oppressors.

This is not to underestimate the potential of militant but non-violent form of resistance. Civil disobedience is a major mode of such struggle and it has been successfully used to make a dent in structures of oppression; a prominent instance being Gandhi’s deployment of satyagraha during the Indian Freedom Movement.

Gandhi took his stand on justice and appealed to the conscience of the British rulers. If that did not work, he put moral and political pressure on them by launching a mass movement involving open but non-violent breaking of the unjust laws.

Drawing inspiration from him, Martin Luther King waged a similar battle in the 1960s  against anti-Black racial discrimination in the USA.

Mahatma Gandhi On Non-Violence

‘Majboori Ka Naam Mahatma Gandhi’ – The tendency to equate helplessness with non-violence and non-violence with Gandhi has led some people to say this.

Underlying this light remark is the widespread view that non-violence is the way of the weak. Gandhi rejected this understanding of non-violence and articulated an altogether different philosophy of non-violence.

We usually understand non-violence to mean non-injury. A non-violent act is thought to be one that does not cause physical injury. Gandhi changed this meaning in two fundamental ways –

  • For him non-violence meant not just refraining from causing physical harm, mental harm or loss of livelihood. It also meant giving up even the thought of harming someone. For him ‘causing’ did not mean doing the harm oneself. For Gandhi, “I would be guilty of violence, if I helped someone in harming someone else or if I benefited from a harmful act.” In this sense Gandhi’s notion of violence was close to ‘structural violence’.
  • The second major change that Gandhi introduced was to give the idea of non-violence a positive meaning. Not causing harm was not enough. Ahimsa required an element of conscious compassion. Gandhi was opposed to passive spiritualism. For him non-violence meant a positive and active pursuit of well-being and goodness.

Therefore those who practise non-violence must exercise physical and mental restraint under the gravest provocation. Non-violence is an extremely active force that has no room for cowardice or weakness. Gandhi in fact went to the extent of stating that if non-violence were inadequate to defend oneself, then it would be better to resort to violence than take refuge in passivity in the name of non-violence. Some Gandhian’s say that the popular saying cited at the outset should be changed to “Mazbooti ka naam Mahatma Gandhi”.

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The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia was a particularly horrific example of the counter-productive nature of revolutionary violence. An outcome of the insurrection led by Pol Pot, the regime sought to institute a communist order geared to the liberation of the oppressed peasantry. During 1975–1979, it let loose a reign of terror that caused the death of approximately 1.7 million people (21 per cent of the country’s population). This was one of the bleakest human tragedies of the previous century.

The systematic deployment of violence by radical movements to attain apparently desirable objectives may not always have such dramatically appalling consequences. But in the process, it frequently assumes an institutional form, thereby becoming an integral part of the resulting political order. A case in point is the FLN (National Liberation Front), which led the Algerian independence movement by using violent means. While it liberated the country from the yoke of French imperialism in 1962, the FLN regime soon degenerated into authoritarianism and triggered a backlash in the form of Islamic fundamentalism.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Political Theory

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