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The courage of nonviolence

The start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine just four months ago marked the return of war to Europe. A few voices, a minority, have since been raised for the Ukrainians to be given, rather than weapons, the means to fight in a non-violent way. Within the nonviolent movement, this question is debated while, in society, nonviolents are often likened to gentle dreamers or to the hippies of the 1970s. However, far from being naive, nonviolence as Gandhi theorized and implemented it in the early 1920s conceals a spiritual force and a power of action.

In the spirit of the Mahatma, non-violence is based on the principle ofahimsah, “the active desire to do no harm, a positive impulse to respect life”, “an inner strength pushing to fight all manifestations of violence, not just beatings and weapons” (1). But it also appeals to the notion of satyagraha which means “power of truth”. This expression, which appeared in Johannesburg in 1906-1907 during the struggle of the Indians against a law discriminating against them, designates Gandhi’s positive way of acting.

“Violence means anything that attacks the physical life and dignity of a human being. Someone who is humiliated, harassed, slandered, is the victim of violence even if he is not physically injured”, notes the Jesuit Christian Mellon, who entered non-violence in 1971, co-founder in 1974 of the Movement for a Non-Violent Alternative (MAN). In his eyes, there is thus “direct violence that can be attributed to such and such a person who will have to answer for it in court”and “indirect or structural violence”. These are, for example, the laws that mean that migrants risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean or the English Channel. “In these cases, the responsibilities are systemic, that is to say that it is economic, financial, political systems… which do violence and which kill”he adds.

How to combat all these forms of violence? “The great intuition of the non-violent fighters of the XXe century like Gandhi and Martin Luther King is to avoid mimicry, to find ways to resolve the conflict other than by imitating the aggressor, the enemy or the adversary”, explains Father Christian Mellon. In this line, nonviolent Christians rely on the words of Jesus: ” Well ! I tell you not to retaliate against the wicked; but if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the other again” (Mt 5, 39). Added to this is “the search for other means of struggle – non-violence is a struggle, not a pacifism – to bring about justice” and peace.

Having come to Paris on June 11 to present the campaign of the Protestant Church of Baden (Germany) at a symposium on the theme “rethinking security in Europe”, Ralf Becker confirms: “In non-violence, I react with a double gesture: a hand that says ‘stop’ to violence and an outstretched, open hand that offers an alternative. » According to this member of the European ecumenical peace network Church and Peace and Father Christian Mellon, this attitude is that of Jesus in the face of the accusers of the adulteress. Jesus stops the violence, defeats his adversaries who seek to corner him, with a word: “Whoever of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at him” (Jn 8, 7). “But after that, he doesn’t stay with his eyes raised to taunt them and watch who goes first. No, Jesus stoops to the ground; he gets up when they are all gone. If he had sought to humiliate them, in addition to having conquered them by his word, it would have been lost; perhaps the woman would have been stonedagain notes the Jesuit. This is a great lesson for the exits from conflict: that the loser is not humiliated, come out of the conflict with your head held high. » The world wars of the early 20th centurye century have in fact shown how much the humiliation of the vanquished is the bed of a new conflict. We can thus hear Emmanuel Macron’s repeated calls to “Do not humiliate Russia” as a means of preparing for post-war Ukraine.

In any conflict, “not only is it a question of converting one’s anger, of fighting against hatred in oneself and around oneself, but also of seeking to maintain the conditions for a resumption of contact the day when the evil committed by the adversary will be vanquished”recalls Father Christian Mellon while acknowledging that “the question of non-violent resistance to aggression” requires preparation and is a political choice defined by the State itself. “Once the conflict has broken out, non-violent people can only limit the damage and prepare for post-conflict, and even reconciliation”he expresses.

“It is very easy to destroy or clash violently, but the work of reconstruction takes decades. The violent act that I take in the moment can impact several generations.comments Rachel Lamy, editor-in-chief of the journal Non-violent alternatives and trainer in the International Peace Brigades. During a world tour of non-violence, Rachel realized that “the work for peace begins first within oneself”, by daring to look at one’s own violence, one’s prejudices, everything that in oneself stands in the way of encountering the other. “We cannot ask the Israelis and the Palestinians to destroy the wall which separates them if we do not ourselves destroy the wall which separates us from the beggar in the street, if we retain prejudices about Travelers and a binary vision of the good guys and the bad guys, systematically siding with the good guys», she testifies. This is why prevention and training in non-violence are, in his eyes, so important, as is the need to work in networks.

“Non-violence is a choice and a philosophy, the only viable way to build a peaceful society”, says Rachel Lamy. She is “an ethic, a strategy and a political projectadds Father Christian Mellon. At the heart of nonviolent thinking is a fundamental principle: “The end does not justify the means.” We often quote this sentence of Gandhi: “The end is in the means as the tree is in the seed.” »