Resisting Violence

Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law — to the strength of the spirit.
–Mohandas Gandhi, who was assassinated on this day in 1948

Much of Gandhi’s legacy seems forgotten — his village-based economics and his call for personal austerity overwhelmed by globalization and consumerism — but his belief in nonviolence is on the side of history, says Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker’s argument, supported by dozens of graphs and maps, is that mankind is slowly but surely choosing the less violent options, and that in the long run “all terrorist organizations follow an arc toward failure”:

In Israel, sustained attacks on civilians have accomplished what they accomplish everywhere else in the world: erase all sympathy for the group, together with any willingness to compromise with it.… The Palestinian leadership on the West Bank has, more recently, disavowed violence and turned its energies toward competent governance, while Palestinian activist groups have turned to boycotts, civil disobedience, peaceful protests, and other forms of nonviolent resistance. They have even enlisted Rajmohan Gandhi (grandson of Mohandas) and Martin Luther King III for symbolic support. It’s too soon to know whether this is a turning point in Palestinian tactics, but a retreat from terrorism would not be historically unprecedented. The bigger story, though, is the fate of Al Qaeda.… Not only has Al Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan been routed and its leadership decimated (including bin Laden himself in 2011), but in the world of Muslim opinion its favorables have long been sinking, and its negatives have been rising.

Pinker goes on to claim that “Muslims have become repulsed by what they increasingly see as nihilistic savagery,” and that “a jihad against the jihadis is being fought at many levels.”


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.