Friday, September 15, 2006

That Other, Older, 9/11

I almost forgot about this. I'm glad The Independent reminded me.
Indians this week have been remembering the day which changed the fate of their nation for decades to come. A hundred years ago, on 11 September, 1906, a young British-trained barrister named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi addressed a meeting of 3,000 Indians in the Empire Theatre building in Johannesburg and asked them to take an oath to resist white colonial rule without violence. It was the birth of the modern non-violent resistance movement- and it has not been forgotten.

...Under the headline "Gandhi is not history", Vinoy Lal wrote in The Hindu: "Many in Gandhi's own lifetime doubted its efficacy. Many more have since claimed that the unspeakable cruelties of the 20th century render non-violent resistance an effete, if noble, idea. [But] the advocates of non-violent resistance who are dismissed as woolly-headed idealists should, on the contrary, ask the proponents of violence to demonstrate that violence can produce enduring good." In its leader, DNA asked: "Will those non-violent tactics work today, say with terrorists? We can't say for sure. But knowing Gandhi, he certainly would have given it a shot."

...When Gandhi summoned those 3,000 Indians to the Empire Theatre, he started a movement that changed the world without a shot being fired. Yet what sparked that meeting is often forgotten: it was a move by South Africa's colonial rulers to have all the Indians fingerprinted, which was seen at the time as tantamount to criminalising them. There is an irony that, amid today's anti-terror legislation, it would barely raise an eyebrow.
That's worth meditating on.

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