On June 15, 2007, at the initiative of India, 140 countries, (including Romania), representing all continents, all major religions and forms of civilization of contemporary world submitted to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly a draft resolution entitled “International Day of Non-Violence,” a highly significant diplomatic document adopted by consensus the same day.
In accordance with this document the UN decided to observe worldwide the International Day of Non-Violence on 2 October each year. All member states have agreed to commemorate this day, which is Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, in an appropriate manner and to disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness.
The origin of the Indian initiative endorsed by the world community of nations can be found in a programmatic declaration adopted by a conference entitled “Peace, Non-Violence and Empowerment: Gandhian Philosophy in the Twenty-first Century,” which took place in New Delhi in January 2007 to commemorate the centenary of the Satyagraha movement, launched by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa. On this occasion, the following Mahatma Gandhi’s words were recalled:“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
Inspired by the above-mentioned conference , the proclamation of the International Day of Non-Violence to be celebrated every year is a stimulating diplomatic act by which the UN General Assembly clearly recognized the holistic nature and the high topicality of Mahatma Gandhi’s humanistic message for international relations in our times.
Mahatma Gandhi entered universal history not only as the great leader of the Indian independence movement, but also as a dynamic pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 70th birthday, Albert Einstein wrote: “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarcely believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
With such credentials, during the current turbulent times, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday celebration by the 193 UN Member States under the motto of non-violence should further inspire and consolidate the fight for universal peace and pacific settlement of disputes.
A vital requirement
The noble ideals promoted by Mahatma Gandhi are reflected in the UNESCO Constitution, which was signed in 1945. Indeed, in accordance with this fundamental legal instrument, since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
It is in the light of this vital educational requirement that full recognition must be given to the lessons generated by world history. A peace based exclusively on the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world. Peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.
It is in this Gandhian spirit that readers are expected to welcome the most recent book dedicated to non-violence entitled Pathway to Peace A Nonviolent Lifestyle by Indian professor and researcher Joseph F. Isidore. In 341 pages the author endeavors to demonstrate that humans are not violent by nature but rather by choice.
One of the best chapters of the book is entitled “Peace education”. The author believes that peace education is one of the most urgent things to do in the world today. He reminds the reasons for this urgency.
Indeed, the whole world is in turmoil, no place is secure and nobody is safe any longer. For the first time in history humans face the threat of obliteration. We live in a world where violence has almost become a way of life. The danger of a nuclear Holocaust is not ruled out. Our fate is such that even an error in the computer can trigger a nuclear conflagration. Under such circumstances the crucial question is :Can we save the planet and ourselves?
Joseph F.Isidore ‘s answer is positive, but conditional. We can save ourselves if we are willing to re-discover ourselves. In his enlightened opinion, re-discovering ourselves can be achieved through re-educating ourselves. Why? Because re-educating ourselves means rediscovering peace. The conclusion is firm and unconditional : “.. we need peace education”. (p.271)
This book will enrich the academic and diplomatic dialogue about ways and means for promoting peace as a supreme value of humankind.
Education for peace demands appropriate leadership for fostering respect for the fundamental values inherent in the ideals of peace and universal peaceful cooperation among peoples, including respect for the life, dignity and integrity of all, without discrimination, as well as promoting friendship, tolerance and solidarity.
A humanistic legacy
The International Day of Non-Violence offers again in 2017 an appropriate occasion to seriously meditate on the permanent value of the humanistic legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. His famous credo that “there are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that I am prepared to kill for,” has particular relevance and resonance at present, in times of global perplexities, discontinuities and vulnerabilities.
It has been re-demonstrated that the only path to mutual understanding is through peaceful negotiations which demand courage and responsibility. Mahatma Gandhi said that “non-violence requires more courage than soldier of war.” In the same spirit, he asserted that “non-violence should never be used as a shield for cowardice. It is the weapon of the brave.”
Promoting non-violence demands solidarity and tolerance which have been proclaimed as universal values by the UN. Responsible dialogue and serious negotiations can triumph over temporary discord and contradictions, as peoples of the world are in fact far more united by their common destiny than they are divided by their diverse identities.
A universal recognition of the unity of the entire human family during the irreversible process of globalization and under the impact of the deep interdependence of all peoples should gradually help crystallize a strong conviction that only authentic solidarity can effectively safeguard the inherent human dignity and the fundamental rights of individuals which are vital preconditions for building lasting peace. Such strong conviction may emerge from appropriate peace education.
During the current 72nd session of the UN General Assembly member states will consider a report about steps to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief. This report asserts inter alia that many states have taken measures to combat and prevent violent extremism. Detailed guidance on preventing violent extremism is provided by the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism . It contains guidance according to which key concepts related to violent extremism should be clearly defined, in particular when they are likely to trigger measures that may interfere with human rights, for example when the terms “extremism” or “radicalization” are used in reference to non-violent activities. State authorities must remain vigilant and respond immediately and appropriately to all hate crimes.
In the address by the Minister of External Affairs of India ,Smt. Sushma Swaraj, delivered on 23 September 2017 in the UN General Assembly, a relevant and critical assessment about fighting violence was made from the perspective of anti-terrorism movement. She reminded that although India proposed a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism as early as in 1996, yet two decades later the UN has not been able to agree upon a definition of terrorism. “If we cannot agree to define our enemy, how can we fight together? If we continue to differentiate between good terrorists and bad terrorists, how can we fight together?”, she asked.
In her opinion “terrorism is an existentialist danger to humankind. There is absolutely no justification for this barbaric violence. Let us display our new commitment by reaching agreement on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism this year itself.”
This call is in full harmony with Mahatma Gandhi’s conception expressed in his capacity of the most prominent architect of non-violence and solidarity in human history. His spirit must be present at the UN today as everywhere. “Truth,” he said, “cannot be propagated by doing violence.”
Moreover, in his opinion, “without truth and non-violence there could be nothing but destruction of humanity.”
Therefore, from the perspective of 2017, the great humanistic Gandhian legacy must be treated as an omnipresent and inspiring force in multilateral diplomacy, as by its supreme truth it is able to galvanize the whole world in favor of peace and non-violence and contains a timeless and vibrant appeal for the development of friendly relations and cooperation at the local, national, regional and universal levels.
*Dr Ioan Voicu is a visiting professor at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand