More Thoughts on Non-Violence (2)


Let’s face it, some of us who hope to be inheritors of the peace activist tradition are regrettably notable for often lacking public credibility. While we all know people working at a grass roots level who can be held up as examples of the most heroic kind, often the public face of peace activism appears either ‘wooly’ or ‘strange’. In the UK, for instance, the de facto leader of the anti-Iraq War movement was an arrogant politician with a questionable ethical record, and without a meaningful strategy for addressing conflict.

In the US, Michael Moore’s tactics, while rooted, I believe, in a sincere sense of injustice, have alienated many people, and while striking, amusing, and sometimes moving, his more recent work has sometimes lacked the offering of a practical option for his audience to actually do anything to change the world around them.  This can change, of course, and I want to believe that Moore’s best work is ahead of him.  Having said that, the stereotype of the grey-bearded, sandal-wearing hippy activist is both well-known, and not taken very seriously. (Note to grey-bearded, sandal-wearing hippy activists: I think you’re cool all the same. I hope one day to have a grey beard myself.)

Another challenge to non-violence being taken seriously is the sheer scope of violent threat, real or perceived, in the 21st century. The post-nuclear/‘war on terror’ age has the potential to leave us feeling overwhelmed by both the viciousness of the present human enmities, and what ‘our’ governments can do in return.

When planes fly into buildings, or when monks are tortured, or when whole governments are hi-jacked by a military coup or a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, or when 2 million people marching against Tony Blair’s support for the war in Iraq fail to stop it, it is reasonable to feel – initially at least – somewhat powerless. Reasonable, and initially, but not forever.

If you ask me
‘How did Jesus raise the dead?’
I will kiss you on the lips,
and say ‘like this’.
– Rumi, still saying it, because I suspect he’s still right

More thoughts to follow…


4 responses to “More Thoughts on Non-Violence (2)

  1. Hi..
    I am really enjoying your blog.

    One question: why do you opt for the phrase “non-violence” instead of peacemaking? It seems to me that the word “non-violence” suggests what one will NOT do but says little about what one WILL do whereas the word “peacemaking” opens up the imagination to a lot of possibilities.

    Maybe I’m hairsplitting…but was curious.

    Keep up the good work.

    • garethihiggins

      This is a hugely important question – I agree that the word ‘non-violence’ is inadequate. Pacifism has rhetorical similarity to ‘passivity’, and so that word is inadequate too. The theologian of power and violence Walter Wink prefers to use the term ‘violence reduction’ – I’ll cast my lot with him. I’m going to talk more about the language of peacemaking in future posts. Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Hey friend,
    I’m not sure how I came to find your blog (I think someone tweeted a link), but I appreciated the post, especially that beautiful quote from Rumi (who is he?).
    Also appreciated Jim’s question. I just saw Walter Wink at epiphaneia’s Amidst the Powers Conference in Toronto. For whatever reason, I had not known much about him til then but I was truly inspired after his lecture.

    Though I wish there could be an end to violence and wish we could channel our energies into peace making/keeping, I sometimes see war as inevitable as cancer (or disease in general). For this and other reasons, I do not call myself a pacifist. I was just blogging about this so I won’t fill up your space here (even here in the US).

    I look forward to reading more.

    • garethihiggins

      Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet – the best single volume collection of his work is that edited by Coleman Barks. The marvellous Chilean author Ariel Dorfman told me once that he reads a Rumi poem every day. You could do a lot worse than that.