The Active Nonviolence toolkit, proposals for the European Humanist Forum

06.05.2018 - London, UK - Silvia Swinden

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The Active Nonviolence toolkit, proposals for the European Humanist Forum

In May 1969 Silo gave a speech, The Healing of Suffering in a remote outpost of the Argentinian Andes which today could be seen as the launch of an Active Nonviolence Manifesto. He referred then to violence being not just physical but also economic, racial, religious, psychological and moral. He ended his address by inviting everyone to carry Peace in themselves and carry it to others.

This spurred a number of nonviolence projects, that reached even the most remote corners of the earth, in the fields of culture – The Community for Human Development, politics – The Humanist Party, antiwar/antinuclear/anti-violence movement – World without Wars and Violence, diversity/anti-discrimination – The Convergence of Cultures, academic studies – The World Centre of Humanist Studies, Education – COPEHU, media – Pressenza and many other action fronts on local and worldwide issues, as well as a carrier of nonviolence in a new spirituality – Silo’s Message. The World March for Peace and Nonviolence in 2009-10 took to the world this message and its second chapter is in preparation for 2019-20.

The European Humanist Forum to take place on 11-13 May in Madrid with the participation of an ample diversity of organisations and speakers will continue the task of translating the ideas of nonviolence with its long history and many actors (with special thanks to M Gandhi and ML King  for their example and contributions) into new proposals for Active Nonviolence to be spread around the world.

A few simple things to challenge the balance of power

No doubt we are experiencing in today’s world a level of cruelty difficult to live with. It is not clear whether there is more cruelty than in the past, (various genocides spring to mind) but perhaps today like never before some people exhibit cruelty like a badge of honour, like a right acquired through success, in a dehumanised system. And even if cruelty today is comparable to that of the past, we should have learnt from it, we should know better, we should behave better. We look in horror at the surrealist presence of some truly cruel leaders now in government. It’s like a nightmare. How did we get here? How is this possible? and more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?

The Arms Trade is promoted by Wars. TV images of weapons in action work as true marketing exercises. What is less well known is that politicians are often shareholders or investment bankers (like in the case of UK’s Prime minister Theresa May’s husband) that benefit from Wars. Would that influence their decision making? Likely. 

In the same vein we can see that many elected representatives have financial interests in the private healthcare providers vying for contracts and therefore more likely to pass legislation that promotes private, elitist, restrictive healthcare, not to mention the destruction of social healthcare like the efficient and highly cost effective British NHS. 

Likewise with local councillors who adjudicate contracts to building companies they are themselves shareholders of directors of, or allowed themselves to be wined, dined, payed for expensive holidays and other”perks” of the job. When contract are awarded to the “perks” providers councillors deny they have done anything illegal, and it is true, the system is designed to reward kleptocracy and corruption.

Such conflicts of interests (which easily qualify as a form of violence, people often die or face unspeakable hardship as a consequence of these actions) could be easily brought to the attention of the electorate if candidates for political posts were made to declare their financial interests and those of their close relatives at the point of selection, before the election, by their respective parties. 

And in case they manage to hoodwink the electorate and get elected anyway, there should be clear pathways for a recall referendum if they are found out to have such conflict of interests after being elected. This should also apply to any government that fail to fulfil their campaign commitments. This has been in the Humanist Party manifesto since its beginnings.

Reporting news in ways that stoke the flames of violence

Depending on which side a news outlet is in the Syrian conflict we will feel inflamed by Assad-Russia-Iran-Hezbollah or US-Saudi Arabia-Israel-some European countries actions. Turkey ping-pongs between loyalty to NATO and hatred for jihad-fighting Kurds. Various journalists incite to more and more bombings, no flight zones and regime change (notwithstanding the mess those strategies created in Iraq and Libya) whilst others denounce US support to the Islamist extremists trying to topple Assad. 

Reports of the many injustices and violence suffered by the Palestinian people become viral and promote/justify/give a seemingly respectable face to two and a half millennia of already existing antisemitism, strengthening Jewish support for Israel (its existence as a refuge from past and possible future Holocausts) but not necessarily for its government policies against the Palestinians. A contradiction which, apart from killing nothing-to-lose Palestinian activists engaged in murderous violence as a response to the oppression, poisons the lives of mainly Israeli youth and young-at-heart people, some of whom refuse to serve in the military in the occupied territories and form pro Palestinian movements abroad, risking being ostracised by their communities. The two main architects of the violence, Netanyahu and his ilk, elected by the politics of fear, and Hamas gaining international support through the often provoked body count, playing one another’s game to support themselves in power. Who, other than local people, know about the efforts of countless Peace organisations in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians work hand in hand to stop the violence, to learn about peaceful coexistence, to mourn together the death of beloved friends and relatives victims of the mindless violence? Very few indeed, and so all the resources: economic, psychological, media based, go to the main, violent players.  

The pattern of giving all the attention to the most violent factions repeats in all the conflicts: Yemen, Syria, Israel/Palestine, Venezuela, Congo, etc. 

It is important of course to inform and denounce human rights violations and social injustice but what is the role of the Active Nonviolence media outlets, organisations and individuals? Perhaps it is the time to stress and highlight the work of the peace activists in order to divert the resources that support violence towards those groups. There are many examples of Big Media bias to support the neoliberal structure, Wars included. It is time to reinforce the information outlets of alternative media and social networks to create awareness of the people truly trying to create a nonviolent world.

Compassion, a present from the gods

We more or less know that a nonviolent revolution requires a great deal of personal work, as being brought up in the present system we cannot avoid being conditioned, whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, by some of its violence: physical, economic, religious, racial. psychological, moral, sexual, gender-related, image-related, age-related, ecological and towards oneself. It may be hard work, it may lead to not liking oneself very much on discovering racism, sexism, classism, individualism, etc in some obscure corner of one’s psyche. Active Nonviolence requires that we change not just for ourselves but also becaumse our daily life transforms our immediate environment and from there the wider world. 

Where do we begin then, without guilt and sorrow about the stuff we discover in ourselves? There is a guided experience, The Rescue written by Silo in which we meditate about truly selfless actions already carried out in our lives. And then we discover that even without thinking about it we have done a lot of good to others, because something inside made us feel compassion, “I” recedes into the background and “the other” becomes the focus of my attention, their needs important, their feelings central.

If we manage to focus on the transcendental feeling that accompanies the experience of compassion we can begin to apply it intentionally, it is the road to reconciliation with oneself and others, it is the way out of contradiction and the path to coherence and solidarity, it brings us to faith with foundation. Promoting the Golden Rule of treating others the way we would like to be treated is central to Active Nonviolence, it is a revolution that should not be neglected. And it all starts with realising that all human beings come into this world equipped with this amazing capacity for compassion, and whether it develops or shrivels into cruel individualistic non existence depends on how we orient society, depends on everybody’s intentionality.

A world built on virtues

A related issue is our cultural conditioning towards criticism of our peers, friends, students, workmates, families and ourselves. This is a subtle form of violence, disguised as a drive for improvement. Everybody performs better and improves with awareness of their strong points and that is what the culture should do, focus on virtues, make them the centre of human relationships and help people overcome their shortcomings by building on their positive qualities. This is what can humanise education, work, neighbourhoods and nations. 

Active Nonviolence is something that can be exercised anytime, everywhere, in any conditions. It only requires a resolution to pay attention to being intentional rather than mechanical, to be conscious of oneself and see the sacred flame in oneself and others.

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