the Mahatama, and Mendacity
*Gambling on Gandhi
*Gandhi's 'Relevance': One More Round of Humbug
*Obama's Dinner with Gandhi
*Obama, Gandhi, and a Few Morsels of Food
*Framing Gandhi, Framing His Photograph
*Gandhi's Sexuality Society
Citizenship, and the Idea of a Good Civil Society
Gandhi Everyone Loves to Hate
Gandhi of Tavistock Square
* Dandi March
* Quit India
* Father of the
* Hind Swaraj
* "Hey Ram"
* "Man of Action"?
*Gambling on Gandhi
* Gandhian Ecology
*Gandhi, the Law Student
*Gandhi and the Nobel
*Gandhi: A Select Bibliography
*Gandhi's Not History
Longer research articles
and the Future of Dissent
of Richard Fox, Gandhian Utopia
AND MEDIEVAL INDIA
AND POLITICAL MOVEMENTS
The Gandhi of Tavistock Square
[Originally published as “The Tavistock Square Gandhi
and the War on Terror, War on Non-violence”, Economic and Political
Weekly 40, no. 30 (23 July 2005), pp. 3242-44; also published in OpenDemocracy.net
as “The Tavistock Square Gandhi: ‘war on terror’ and
non-violence”, and by the same title in InterCulture, no. 149 (October
2005), pp. 55-58; and as “The Tavistock Square Gandhi” in
the Toronto Star (28 July 2005).]
Central London has many beautiful squares, oases of rest,
reflection, and rumination. Nearly every square has historical associations,
but Tavistock Square is uniquely significant. At its centre is one of
the most moving of all statues of Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948). The statue,
by British sculptor Fredda Brilliant, was gifted to London by the Indian
High Commissioner in Britain in 1967, and unveiled by the Labour prime
minister of the day, Harold Wilson.
On my first visit to London in 1989, once I had checked
into my lodgings on Upper Woburn Place, I hastened to Tavistock Square
to see for myself this memorial of the chief architect of India’s
independence movement. The harmony it seems to express between form and
function, place and purpose, history and present, is a richly associative
tribute to Gandhi’s own philosophy of peace and non-violence.
In the midst of the horrific carnage and mayhem created
by coordinated bomb attacks in London on 7 July 2005, it is doubtful that
very many people are thinking of the fate of a statue. Yet it was indeed
in Tavistock Square that one of the four bombs blew apart a bus, taking
13 of the 52 innocent lives that day.
The Gandhi statue lent Tavistock Square a certain serenity,
and it was soon followed by a number of peace memorials. A cherry tree
was planted to remember the victims of the Hiroshima bombing; in 1986
the League of Jewish Women planted a field maple to mark the United Nations'
International Year of Peace; in 1995, a granite memorial was installed
at the square to honour conscientious objectors, and unveiled by one of
their number, the composer Michael Tippett. One can understand why, among
Londoners, Tavistock Square became known as "the peace park".
The Gandhi represented here is a seated figure, ponderous
and meditative, not the more familiar Gandhi with the walking-stick, a
searing image made popular by his famous march to the sea. It is this
seated image with which, for a long period through the 1970s and 1980s,
the state-owned television channel, Doordarshan, announced its news bulletin.
Non-violence as conversation
A short walk from Tavistock Square is University College
London, whose website claims Gandhi as one of its graduates. Gandhi had
arrived in London in 1888 shortly after his 19th birthday to study law.
London would begin and end his foreign sojourns; though where he first
arrived to "play the English gentleman" and render the homage
that the subjugated customarily accord to their oppressors, his last (1931)
trip was to parley with the viceroy on equal terms and negotiate India's
independence. On the way, Gandhi shed a great deal: a top hat, coat-tails,
the native's awe for the white man, and western civilisation's addiction
Gandhi had learned to become an unflinching advocate of
non-violence through close encounters with its opposite. He came face-to-face
with the sheer ugliness of racial violence in South Africa on numerous
occasions. He raised an ambulance corps to assist the British when the
Boer war broke out in 1899, and again at the start of the Zulu “rebellion”
Most commentators have, rightly, seen these incidents as
expressions of Gandhi's ardent belief that Indians could only claim their
rights within the British empire if they were prepared to defend the empire
against its opponents. In an era when the language of rights was already
becoming part of the vocabulary of political conduct and discussion, Gandhi
still insisted on the importance of retaining a conception of one's duties.
But it is characteristic of Gandhi that, rather than running
away from violence, or becoming paralysed by its brutalities, or claiming
a pacifist sensibility, he entered into the battlefield of violence in
the capacity of a healer, bearing truth (as he then saw it) on the stretcher
of non-violence. He would henceforth have a dialectical, dialogic, and
hermeneutic awareness of non-violence.
The advocates of violence seldom if ever speak to the votaries
of non-violence, and one of the many reasons why Gandhi held non-violence
to be superior to violence is that its proponents extend an invitation
to those who swear by violence to enter into a dialogue. The advocates
of non-violence are always in a conversation with the adherents of violence.
This relationship brought Gandhi to an awareness of the fact that some
forms of non-violence are tantamount to violence, that avoidance of violence
is not necessarily a form of non-violent action, and that there may be
occasions when the practice of violence is the only way of honouring the
spirit of non-violence.
In Gandhi's own time and later, he was nearly alone among
the principal theorists and practitioners of revolutionary change in arguing
for the primacy of non-violence, and he stands ranged against a whole
galaxy of figures – Lenin, Trotsky, Fanon, Mao, Castro, Che Guevara
– who not only glorified violence but dismissed non-violence as
a chimera. Gandhi had held up the later Tolstoy as a figure worthy of
emulation, though Lenin spoke with open contempt of his compatriot’s
"imbecile preaching about not resisting evil with force."
One hears even less of non-violence these days. It may be
argued, of course, that Trotsky, Fanon, and Che are just as much foreign
figures to jihadis or suicide bombers as Gandhi, and that the schooling
terrorists receive is of a different order. There has already, in the
aftermath of the 7 and 21 July London attacks, been much talk of the "sleeper
cells" that al-Qaida is said to have formed in Britain, of the madrasa
at which Muslim men are believed to be indoctrinated to hate the west,
and of the experts in terrorist warfare who are one species, altogether
unintended, of the iconic transnational figure of the 21st century.
Whatever the precise training required to strap explosives
together into a bomb, plan and orchestrate an attack in heavily monitored
areas, and eventually to steel oneself to explode devices along with oneself
in a busy public space, the schooling received by the perpetrators of
the Tavistock Square and tube bombings was not confined to madrasas or
They also attended secular schools and colleges in Britain,
and imbibed the learning of its “streets” – not in the
sense of street urchins or deprived children, but as observers (via television,
video, and popular culture’s dissemination of war-heroics) of the
United States’s and Britain’s prosecution of war in Afghanistan
and Iraq. They also took their cues from a culture of violence of which
the architects of the war on terror are deeply immersed. The perpetrators
of terrorism have also understood that there are numerous ways in which
one can enlist oneself as a member of the “profession”.
A pact of violence
It may be that, despite the horrors of 7 July, Tavistock
Square will continue to be known as London's "Peace Park" –
if only because the instant legend of the grit, resilience, and resolve
of Londoners needs to be embodied as well as remembered.
But such soothing consolations disguise more than they reveal
about the culture of violence which stitches together modern society.
Gandhi was felled by an assassin, as was Martin Luther King Jr, two decades
later. It is supremely if ominously fitting that a proponent of violence
should answer the prophet of non-violence. One of the most disturbing
aspects of violence is that it is irreversible, just as its perpetrators,
through their very act, claim to be in possession of a superior version
or account of truth.
Gandhi divined a key truth about colonialism, namely that
it is a pact – and pacts are not without their element of deception,
coercion, and attraction – between colonised and coloniser. This
is something that can be brought to our awareness of the pact that drives
the modern culture of violence. The colonised were, to be sure, exploited
and beaten; but they were also lured by the glitter of the modern west.
Today’s western leaders and “good Samaritans” are, indeed,
repulsed by savage and brute acts of violence; but they also breathlessly
await such acts, as if they are uttered in a language that they themselves
intimately understand. How else can one explain that stupefyingly idiotic,
obscene, and terror-laden phrase, indeed ambition – "the war
on terror"? Terrorism, after all, is manna to the prosecutors of
the "war on terror".
It would be wishful thinking to suppose that the London
bomber who chose to explode a bomb in London's peace park, a short distance
from the statue of Gandhi, was seeking in his own macabre way to enter
into a dialogue with Gandhi and the advocates of non-violence. We have
entered into a phase of brutal and unending violence. Terrorists and advocates
of the “war on terror” are bound together in a horrifying
pact. Violence has a ravenous maw. It countenances no opposition. The
assassin of Gandhi and his numerous patrons, having done away with the
old man, have been determined ever since to install violence as the supreme
monarch. One wonders whether, once the assassins of non-violence are finished
with their work, any statues of Gandhi will remain.