The European Humanist Forum – The Strength of Nonviolence
Giorgio Schultze, Spokesperson for New Humanism in Europe
I’d like to share with you some reflections as someone who has had the luck to travel the world and live through these extraordinary times for humanity.
The progress achieved in this region in just over a century and a half of history is undeniable, just as are undeniable the lacerations, the suffering, the violence endured and inflicted.
There is no doubt that a system, however formally democratic, which is sustained thanks to inequity and disproportion in the distribution of wealth, that is undermining the foundations of social cohesion, that is denying fundamental rights of people such as health, education, a peaceful old age, that is engendering all sorts of discrimination and racism, that is exhausting its resources, that is poisoning the environment, is sooner or later doomed to failure.
The collapse of stock markets and the failure of financial markets are the clearest and most complete indicators of a structural crisis on a historical scale that could be glimpsed on the horizon for years.
If we were a bit cynical we could look through the window and observe “the disaster” produced by those who felt themselves triumphant and the bearers of a “globalising” imperial model and we would serenely await the conclusion of its crazy course.
But as citizens of this world we are profoundly worried, because it is not clear that the answer and the way out of the crisis will go in an auspicious direction.
We are worried that the response to this economic-financial crisis and the social disorder that it will inevitably provoke (and which is already being provoked) instead of transforming into equity and social justice, environmental rebalance and redistribution of resources, will transform into armed blackmail of the population.
We are worried that the energy sources and water resources, instead of being safeguarded and protected as “the common wealth of humanity” will be controlled and threatened with a nuclear arsenal capable of “exploding” the planet 25 times over. Isn’t once enough?
And who could stop the finger of someone who “as a prevention” would have to decide to provoke a mini-nuclear catastrophe, also only “demonstrative”? In this war, as in all wars there would be neither winners nor losers, only deaths. And as Gandhi said: “What difference does it make to the dead, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
How can we disarm the nuclear warheads now? How can we deactivate the violence? In what images can we find inspiration in such a difficult moment, where everything is accelerating so quickly that it seems that there would be no time to think, feel and act in a coherent way, in a “nonviolent” way?
How will we start to give different responses, in this “western civilization”, that –thanks to the Code of Hammurabi of the (18th century BC)– considers revenge and punishment as the only forms of justice, and feeds us the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” or “your death, my life”?
With this way of seeing the world, with the background tension in the structuring of relationships with others, how will we be able to reorganise society, the economy, the politics of this region, basing ourselves on principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, cooperation and reciprocity?
For centuries, the Bantu, Zulu and Xhosa tribes have transmitted from father to son the concept of “Ubuntu”: “the universal union that unites the whole of humanity”, a sort of invisible web that sustains life, where we are all included and from where is derived the behavioural principle: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, “you are through others”.
If someone mistreats, injures or kills another, they will disturb or tear the Ubuntu. You cannot, through revenge, anger or desperation, mistreat, injure or kill in turn, because acting this way you would further tear at the wound, rather, you will have to do something to help yourself and the other person to repair it.
A principle similar to that indicated in the Talmud, the Sacred Text of Judaism as well as in the Koran, the sacred text of Islam: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
A principle at the base of all religions and universal cultures, in the Hinduism of the Mahabharata, in Christianity of the Old Testament, of Buddha in Confucianism, in Voltaire’s Seneca: a rule, the Golden Rule, “treat others the way you would like to be treated” that if it were really to be applied to its ultimate consequences would represent this historical revolution, the “New Humanism” that we aspire to.
A conception that is not punitive but rather reparational, an action not of vengeance but rather of reconciliation, actions that are not contradictory, but rather unitive and valid, aimed at others and that in the end “rewards” us.
Another principle of behaviour and action that we must bring to bear, another attribute in order for nonviolence to be able to triumph is: Truth.
Much of what has occurred in the last century of human history has developed under the deforming banner of lies, of manipulation of information, of the creation of collective fear to fuel a blind reaction, or even worse, to take hope away.
Gandhi, retaking what Zarathrustra said more than 3000 years ago (“good thoughts, good deeds, good words”), taught Satyagraha, a compound word that derives from the Sanskrit (satya = truth) and graha (Firmness). Hold onto “truth” to be able to sustain Ahimsa, nonviolence.
This is the highest and most difficult mission of nonviolent action: to carry the light of truth and to tear off the dark cloak of lies, to raise awareness.
Many people, also present here among us, have taught us, in the moment of grief and drama of the violent loss of a loved one, that what brings justice is not revenge but rather the search for the truth. And they have demonstrated that justice does not only have full meaning in the formal respect of Codes, but rather above all in raising awareness of the sign that can lead towards a path of reconciliation.
Like the Palestinian father whose 10 year old son was murdered, when he decided after 3 nights of torment and agony in complete contrast with the “codes” of his community and the “enemy” community, to donate his son’s organs to five Israeli children, whose lives he saved.
Like the mother of an Israeli solder killed in the Lebanon, who regained meaning in life by opening, in inhospitable surroundings, a hospital for Palestinian children with Israeli doctors, bringing down physical walls and the walls of consciousness.
Like we have done with some young Czechs and Italians, with demonstrations and hunger strikes to bring to the attention of the world the secret project of death that is the US missile defence system.
Like a group of children from Palermo are doing, who have built first one and now four nurseries and multi-ethnic schools, to teach that a dialogue between cultures is possible and necessary or that it is possible to say “Goodbye protection money!”
We know that nonviolent action will need a lot of courage and persistent patience.
This path towards nonviolence does not arise spontaneously, just as the path towards reconciliation does not arise spontaneously. Both demand a great understanding and that within each one of us a physical and mental repugnance to violence is introduced.
Humanity, the human being, every person needs to overcome pain and suffering, needs to find new paths for reconciliation, needs to experience compassion in front of those in difficulty, needs to discover a smile when thinking about the future.
What will the Children of Ubuntu speak of when they reach our age? Still discrimination and racism? Or rather will they speak as the Constructors and Ambassadors of the Universal Human Nation?
The ideals of a world are not begun by decree, but rather through practice, through daily commitment, in the environments we live and work in and in those where people have to struggle to achieve positive changes.
A leap in consciousness is necessary, a historical change in our conception of ourselves and the world around us as a single structure, an invisible web that unites us.
An invisible web that unites us to those living, those who came before us and who had the courage to open the way and the patience to wait for us in this crossroads of history.
We are about to start the long March for Peace and Nonviolence!
You and I, we will travel the world with a message of New Humanity.
You and I, we will cross this stormy sea with the boats built of tenacity and intentionality.
You and I will travel barefoot on the cold mountain chains to find ourselves in the welcoming City of the Constructors of Peace.
You and I will illuminate this infinite night of Human Prehistory, with the torches of patience and the bonfires of courage, awaiting the dawn of a truly new Human History.
There are already many waiting for us: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau, Leon Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Riboberta Menchu…
And many others are reaching us with their banner of Hope, moved by the gentle breath of Freedom.
And as Silo told me a little while ago: “Don’t be afraid. Love the reality you build and not even death will halt your flight.”