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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Getting Gandhi to the Chinese

October 17, 2008

Idaho Montain Express
October 16, 2008

In 1980 while on a climbing expedition in the Sinkiang province of
China, I was one of two from our group asked by the Chinese hosts to
teach an English class to a group of professional (engineers,
teachers, doctors), educated Han Chinese who advanced their careers
by studying English. We were in Kashgar, a 2,000-year-old city. Like
all of Sinkiang, Kashgar is ruled by China, but three-fourths of its
citizens are Uighur Muslims with little or no ethnic, political,
social, linguistic, cultural or, of course, religious affinity with
China. As in Tibet, the peace in Kashgar, such as it is, is
maintained only by an overwhelming Chinese military presence. Then
and now there is conflict, violence, enmity and stark social division
between Chinese and Uighur in Kashgar, just as exists between the
Chinese and Tibetans in the more publicized tensions of Tibet. As
both modern and ancient history shows, a powerful military may keep
an occupied populace somewhat in line, but it will never win their
hearts and minds, nor will it keep the peace. This was evident in
Kashgar even to us, the first Americans allowed into that part of the
world in more than 40 years, as it is evident today in several areas
of the world where unwelcome foreign armies are attempting to keep an
occupied populace somewhat in line.

Teaching the class was a fascinating, rewarding experience and after
it we were warmly thanked and given lovely gifts for our efforts. It
was suggested that if we had any books in English to donate to their
tiny English language library they would be gratefully accepted,
deeply appreciated and assiduously studied.

In response I committed the most subversive act my conscience would
approve and my circumstances could get away with against the
government of the People's Republic of China, which, like all
corrupt, tyrannical, brutal, militant dictatorships that exemplify
every antonym of freedom, should not be confused with the people of
China. I gave to the small library of the small group of professional
Han Chinese studying English in order to solidify the power of China
over the native Uighurs of Kashgar my copy of "Gandhi An
Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments With Truth." Gandhi's
ideas and life are dangerous to violent, repressive governments like
China's because, as he said, "There is a limit to violent action and
it can fail. Non-violence knows no limits and it never fails."

If even one member of that long-ago class in English read Gandhi's
autobiography, the world, China, Kashgar and that person are the
better for it. In my view, Gandhi's autobiography is about much more
than his experiments in truth, valuable and engrossing as they were;
it is a manual of practical politics for every day, including the
present one. I was and am pleased that I happened to have it and was
able to contribute it to the study of much more than English in Kashgar.

America's Martin Luther King, the youngest man to ever win the Nobel
Peace Prize, said, "Mahatma Gandhi has done more than any other
person of history to reveal that social problems can be solved
without resorting to primitive methods of violence. In this sense he
is more than a saint of India. He belongs—as they said of Abraham
Lincoln—to the ages. The Gandhian influence in some way still speaks
to the conscience of the world as nations grapple with international
problems. If we fail, on an international scale, to follow the
Gandhian principle of non-violence, we may end up by destroying
ourselves through the misuse of our own instruments. The choice is no
longer between violence and non-violence. It is now either
non-violence or non-existence."

In this time America's foreign affairs are operating under the
ill-defined "Bush Doctrine," which, whatever else it does or does not
mean, includes the oxymoronic and, under international law, illegal
"preventive war." In this time in the only nation to ever use the
atomic bomb as a weapon and which currently has 4,000 or 5,000 of
them ready to go in the blink of a Bush eye, thinking of Gandhi is
more than just an exercise in idealism or, as King pointed out, a
choice between violence and non-violence. Thinking of Gandhi is
practical and peaceable politics, and practical politics takes place
one person at a time.

It is worth mentioning that on Oct. 2, 2008, the 139th anniversary of
Gandhi's birth, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has a
portrait of Gandhi hanging in his office, called on Americans to,
"rededicate ourselves, every day from now until Nov. 4 (election
day), and beyond, to living Gandhi's call to be the change we wish to
see in the world."

And it is worth mentioning that Pat Buchanan, that old conservative
pol who worked for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and who abandoned
the Republican Party in 2000 to run for president under the Reform
Party banner (he finished fourth with 0.4 percent of the popular
vote) said of candidate John McCain, "He will make Cheney look like Gandhi."

Yes, thinking of Gandhi is practical and peaceable politics.

Thinking about Cheney looking like Gandhi is black comedy or blacker
tragedy, depending.
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