"A Gandhian Approach to Syria"

The following reflection was written by alumnus George Payne, who is Peace and Justice Educator at the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence.

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not support military involvement in Syria. Some denounce military action because Syria does not immediately endanger America’s national security. Others contend that two dreadful attempts at nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan have left Americans war weary. And still others decry the use of force based on its limited effectiveness in deterring the Bashar al-Assad regime.There are also detractors who base their opposition on economic and political philosophy. Following a foreign policy agenda that dates back to President Washington, this group asserts that a war in Syria will not promote the mandates of the Constitution, nor will it prevent a foreign dictator from encroaching on the livelihood of American citizens. If this opposition was not staunch enough, President Obama must answer critics within his own party who prefer hard diplomacy to military action. This group believes that diplomatic overtures to China, Iran and Russia may be the only way to bring peaceful order to this crisis.

But the one reason for not going to war that gets routinely omitted from the national conversation is the only reason that deserves attention. War is an abomination that God forbids to justify. The aforementioned arguments may ultimately succeed in keeping the President from authorizing military force in Syria, but they do not clarify why warring against fellow brothers and sisters is wrong. Gandhi said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Whenever war is authorized against people–and it is always against people–whatever good is hoped to be achieved is corrupted by the barbaric act of killing. If peace is the real goal, then war would become humankind’s last and most unpardonable option. Sadly, the goals of national security, economic prosperity, political power and personal ambition have become the objectives by which war can manufacture its appropriate means.

The question then is how can a nation fight forces of evil without going after people doing evil? In other words, how can America prevent chemical weapons from being used to kill innocent people without dismantling a dictator’s capacity to use them? The options appear to be neutrality or assault. There is, however, a third option that challenges all of us to become more courageous than we ever imagined. In the words of Dr. King, “Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.'”

Echoing the words of his protégé, Gandhi claimed, “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of humans. Humans live freely by their readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity.”

So long as humans are willing to kill rather than die for the sake of a cause, war will continue to paralyze our species in a miserable vice grip of remorse and suffering. The only way to abolish war is to reject it categorically. Every human being has the freedom to obey their conscience, and by doing so, they have the power to alter the conscience of the whole world. No person or system can strip a human being of their right to refuse participation in war because every war is voluntary, every battle is chosen and every missile launched is preventable. No bloodshed is preordained.

The decision to use war as a means of securing the world peacefully only perpetuates human misery in ways that are both invisible and indeterminable. Gandhi also observed that it makes no difference to women and children if a missile is launched from a jet representing the ideals of democracy and freedom or a jet representing totalitarianism and oppression. The end result is the same.

Who has the right to make someone else’s mother or child collateral damage?

Warfare is not just. Justice is a word used to mask the mistake of war. When someone advocates just warfare, they are actually warring against true justice. For if justice has any spiritual value whatsoever, it is to exorcise this planet from the demonic scourge of war.