There is a broad spectrum of ideas pulling toward nonviolent approaches in violent situations.
No doubt many of them originated in Gandhi, the genius of nonviolence who put that word and vision into practice. His satyagraha brigade, or shanti sena, were concrete manifestations, organizing people to hold on to, grasp (grahein) satya, standing for God, Truth, and Love. What did Gandhi mean by that?
God is that guiding light “out there” giving life meaning “in us”. “The atheism of the atheist” was Gandhi’s famous example. Truth is what leads to its realization, not just correspondence with any empirical reality, or something correctly deducted from axioms. And Love unites all humans beyond gender and generation, race and nations, class and caste, geography and history.
The satyagraha brigades were efforts to practice, through:
 non-violent defense against a violent aggressor by non-cooperation, civil disobedience etc.;
 in-between roles between two aggressors, physically impeding the violence, helping victims, being witnesses to what happened, mediating, bringing them together, reconciling;
 positive action, reconstruction, rehabilitation, construction; today often known as disaster and-or development assistance.
Much of this was adopted by the International Peace Brigades launched by War Resisters’ International in the early 1960s, among other tasks as a buffer in connection with the coming independence of Tanganyika, later as Tanzania.
The Norwegian peace corps idea launched August 1960 picked up all three gandhian ideas and added one: reciprocity, not only Norwegians in developing countries, but also vice versa. What finally was realized by the government some years later was only a one-way development corps, like the Kennedy US Peace Corps.
In the UN the triple peace-making, -keeping, -building is another articulation of the same general idea: (almost) nonviolent intervention-assistance in violent conflict. Peace-making is close to the second Gandhi point above, and peace-building is close to the third. But peace-keeping is far from the first point: it is armed.
However, Chapter 6 in the UN charter minimizes violence to defensive use, hand-weapons, whereas Chapter 7 opens for the oxymoron peace-enforcement, “by all necessary means” (the Swiss reason for withdrawing from Afghanistan: we were invited to peace-keeping but the reality was peace-enforcement).
Thus, the Nonviolent Peaceforce, and the Civilian Peace Service, are riding on these waves into the future. What could they pick up from past and present? There is a basic problem: now coming from the West, there is always the danger that they could become the continuation of aggressive Western governmental politics by nongovernmental means. How can this be avoided?
First of all, by demilitarizing the terminology. Rather than “force”, use “service”, or simply “work”. Gandhi himself was criticized for the term “brigade”, but he was very attached to the idea of the “heroic nonviolent warrior” (kshatria). Also avoid terms like “deployment” and “intervention”; rather, use “working” and “assistance”. Listen with the ears of those who have been killed by, and suffered from, deployment and intervention.
Such Western propaganda terms as “peace process” and “road map”, also when there is none, should also be avoided. As should “winning hearts and minds”, so often coming from people who have neither hearts nor minds. How do such terms sound to those who have been exposed to processing, mapping and this type of winning?
Second, through reciprocity. Two-way service. Much of the violence in the world has its origin in the West spreading in various ways all over the world, also trying to clone itself with the genes of the Western liberal development model based on economic growth, human rights and democracy. Good ideas up to a certain point, but there are very many other good ideas in the world. Thus, invite Muslims to Western countries to explain Islam as togetherness and sharing; there is enormous Western ignorance. Invite Chinese to explore how the Chinese community-centered model could be applied. Propaganda? But, what does insisting on only one model, the Western-liberal one, look like? Let models play!
Third, where there is violence there is a conflict somewhere. At the root of a conflict is some kind of goal incompatibility. What could be better than organizing one hundred local dialogues on what the conflict is about, letting proposals for unraveling that incompatibility drift up to the higher levels of domestic and global society? If people have no ideas, you may be sure somebody else will impose their goals. Let one hundred proposals play!
16 August 2010