M. K. GANDHI: “THE FREE SPIRIT: ONE AND MANIFOLD”
By René Wadlow
“I do daily perceive that while every thing around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change, a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. That informing power or spirit is God. I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see in the midst of death, life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, God is light, God is love. God is the supreme good.”
On the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, January 30, we still try to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. Mahatma Gandhi was a man of dialogue and compromise. A British-trained lawyer, he always knew the limits of the law and when not to push too far or ask for more than what could be seen as reasonable to the authorities in South Africa or British-controlled India even if the authorities were not willing to accept the demands at the time.
Yet what does one do when opponents refuse dialogue and when events move so fast that no compromise seems possible? These questions are crucial as difficult negotiations on the armed conflict in Syria have started in Switzerland — first one day in the calm of the resort Montreux on Lake Geneva with some 40 states present, some directly involved, others to give moral support to the UN-led negotiations. The negotiations then moved to the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva and, no doubt, to restaurants for small groups.
To make matters more complex, some key actors are not officially there, though they are not very hidden in the shadows: Iran has a large mission to the UN in Geneva; the Kurds from Syria-Iraq-Turkey- and Iran have a permanently strong presence in Geneva and gather from outside when events merit; there is a large community of people from Lebanon — some bankers but also, no doubt, representative from Hezbollah as well. The foothills of the Alps above Montreux have long been the home of international arms merchants — though the arms are stocked elsewhere. If they were unable to make sales on the sideline of the Montreux meeting, they can afford to drive to Geneva to see what factions may want to buy arms which they cannot receive supplied by governments.
Among the dangerous aspects of the armed conflict in Syria is the extent to which all factions use images of the “eternal enemy” — Arabs and Iranians, Kurds and Arab, Christian, Alawit and Muslim, Sunni and Shia. These enemy images make compromise all the more difficult. It is sad to see the writing of history deformed, intellectual short cuts taken, the media used to strengthen prejudice rather than to inform.
Thus for the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, carried out by a narrow Hindu to cut short Gandhi’s efforts at Hindu-Muslim reconciliation in the middle of the Partition Riots, it is useful to recall the appeal of Romain Rolland, biographer of Tolstoy, Gandhi, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, who Gandhi visited on his journey to Europe. In 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War which had divided the intellectual community, Romain Rolland wrote to a wide range of intellectuals to raise the Arch of the Free Spirit.
“To the pestilence which is corroding in body and spirit, thinkers and artists have added an incalculable amount of poisoned hate; they have searched in the arsenal of their knowledge, their memory and their imagination for old and new reasons, historical, scientific, logical and poetic reasons, for hating; they have laboured to destroy love and understanding. And in so doing they have disfigured, dishonoured, debased and degraded Thought, whose ambassadors they were. They have made it an instrument of passions and (perhaps without knowing it) of the egotistic interests of a social or political clan, of a state, of a country or a class…
“Let us extricate the spirit from these humiliating alliances, this secret slavery!… We serve Truth alone, which is free, with no frontiers, with no limits, with no prejudices of race or caste. Of course, we shall not dissociate ourselves from the interests of Humanity! We shall work for it, but for it as a whole. We do not recognise nations. We recognise the People — one and universal — the People who suffer, who struggle, who fall and rise again and who ever march forward on the rough road, drenched with their sweat and their blood — the People comprising all men, all equally our brothers. And it is in order to make them, like ourselves, aware of this fraternity, that we raise above their blind battles the Arch of Alliance, of the Free Spirit, one and manifold, eternal.”[i]
* * *
Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.
[i] Quoted from Rolland and Tagore (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1945, pp 20-24)