Gandhi and the Other 9/11

This year’s commemoration of 9/11 seems like it will be more fraught with anger and resentments than years past. Maybe because after all our warring, the world does not seem like a safer place. We’re jumpy. And shrill. We’re looking for the villains and somebody’s chops to bust.

It is the ninth anniversary of the American 9/11. But it is also the 104th anniversary of the modern non-violence movement initiated on 9/11/1906 by Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg, South Africa.

On September 11, 1906, 3,000 people, mostly Indians, packed the old Empire Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa. They came to protest a draft of the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance that would require that every Indian over the age of 8 be fingerprinted and carry a registration card. Moreover, the law stipulated that the police could enter the home of any Indian at their discretion and fine, imprison or even deport those found without proper identification.

A young lawyer, Mohandas K. Gandhi, took the stage to explain a resolution that he had helped draft that pledged that no Indian would cooperate with the proposed law if it passed. In the heat of the moment, one of the speakers following Gandhi vowed “in the name of God” that he would never comply with the degrading law and urged everyone present to do the same.

Being a deeply religious man, Gandhi was startled. Not knowing what he was going to say, but feeling compelled to explain the gravity of invoking God in such an oath, he rose again to address the audience.

“It is not at all impossible that we might have to endure every hardship that we can imagine” without resorting to violence, Gandhi warned. The crowd sat in solemn silence. While “everyone must only search his own heart” about taking the vow, Gandhi announced that there was only one course open to him: “to die but not submit to the law.” Nevertheless, Gandhi was an optimist. “I can boldly declare, and with certainty,” he assured, “that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can be one end to the struggle, and that is victory.”

Awestruck by the eloquence and power of Gandhi’s words, all present in the theater that fateful afternoon stood together with their hands raised and took an oath of nonviolent resistance. [1]

I find that so moving and so relevant to the challenges of our day.

That fateful moment in the Empire Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa, marked the birth of Satyagraha (‘the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence’), the modern non-violent movement. The ‘Other 9/11,’ Gandhi’s non-violent 9/11, triggered what he called ‘a weapon of the strong.’

It is a story that we might all do well to remember, and to share, as we honor the memorial of 9/11. For the shared date in history, the contrasting story of the positive power of faith, the role of a Muslim merchant in the global non-violent narrative, are all pregnant with news value as well as hope. After all, Gandhi’s Satyagraha inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion the U.S. civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela to fight apartheid in South Africa, and to free 3.3 billion through non-violent resistance over the last hundred years. Now that’s a global news story worth spreading. [3]

Gandhi’s grandson Arun said the following:

And I’m always reminded of a very pertinent statement that my grandfather made. He said, “Violence will prevail over violence, only when someone can prove to me that darkness can be dispelled by darkness.” And I think that’s what we have to remember and try to imbibe in our lives there, that we can never overcome violence with more violence. We can only overcome violence with respect and understanding and love for each other. [2]

Spread the word.

[1] The First 9/11 Starred Gandhi
[2] 100 years later: “Satyagraha”, Gandhi’s Non-violent Resistance Movement, September 11, 1906 — Global Issues
[3] Guest Voices: The Other 9/11 – On Faith at washingtonpost.com

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One Response to Gandhi and the Other 9/11

  1. Great article, Susan. I didn’t know about the other 9/11. It would be helpful to our world if more people were aware of the non-violent 9/11 as an example of how we should be living our lives.Thanks.

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