The Challenge of Nonviolence

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary -- the evil it does is permanent.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

The problem with nonviolence may be with those of us who say we believe in it.

Nonviolence rooted in the teaching of Jesus derives from his unequivocal exhortation to love even our enemies and his radical demonstration of the redemptive power of suffering love. Mahatma Gandhi took the principle of nonviolence and turned it into the formidable political power of satyagraha, or "truth force," and used it to defeat the British empire peacefully. In our own country, Martin Luther King Jr. further developed it into "soul force," and led a nonviolent movement that overthrew the entrenched racist system of legal segregation.

But in the years following those great movements, nonviolent actions have become increasingly symbolic rather than transformative, conceived in reactive protest more than in proactive alternatives to violence and injustice. There has indeed been much to protest. U.S.-sponsored wars in Southeast Asia and Central America, the danger of an escalating nuclear arms race, and countless military and paramilitary interventions by both superpowers all over the world have provided an urgency to nonviolent protest. Such protest has often been both faithful and courageous and has, arguably, made a real difference in many circumstances. Yet it has not revealed, beyond the power of protest, the nature and shape of alternatives to the proposed solutions of military violence.

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