On Thursday, Feb. 21, Professor Doug Allen of the University of Maine Philosophy Department gave a presentation as a part of the spring Socialist and Marxist Studies series. The title of the event was: “Gandhi after 9/11: Creative Violence and Sustainability,” which is also the title of Allen’s book that was published last month.
Allen began the lecture by introducing what the book was about and how he developed his interest in Mahatma Gandhi’s approaches to philosophy. As Allen’s book describes, “Ever since the tragedy of 11 September 2001, terrorism and security have been at the centre of US political and military policies, media coverage, and public concerns.”
Allen credits the inspiration for this book to his formative experience in India at a young age as a Fulbright student in Benares, during a time when India was not very exposed to the Western world.
“The city of Benares could go weeks without without seeing a Westerner or even cars,” Allen said. He described it as a “pre-Beatle” India.
In India, Allen fully immersed himself in Hinduism and other Indian philosophy, as Benares was the center of religion, philosophy and culture. He found Gandhi’s philosophy very helpful in understanding the nonviolent approach to activism that was taking place in America at this time.
However, as Allen discusses in his book, the world changed in such a way after 9/11 that nonviolent protest could no longer take place.
The post 9/11 world approaches life with more violence, according to Allen. In his book, he discusses how we are very prone to linguistic and economic violence.
“For Gandhi, acts of overt physical violence are only a small part of overall violence,” Allen said. “In his attempt to broaden and deepen our sensitivity and awareness of violence, Gandhi claims that most of us who profess to stand for peace and nonviolence are actually very violent.”
The crowd, comprised of members of the community, added to the conversation of Gandhi’s philosophy in today’s world. Most brought up situations of linguistic violence that take place in today’s media and how we resort immediately to violence in the face of adversity or difference.
The talk explored how using titles or excuses for not being racist hinders growth and discussion for it, and as people deny any speck of racism they are immediately approaching the language with violence.
Allen further discussed how this is the fundamental approach to many conversations that take place today. As Gandhi believed, 99 percent of violence is not necessary, but in our post-9/11 world it has become our immediate response to things.
Just as Allen found that understanding Gandhi was essential to understanding nonviolent activism in the 20th century, he also feels the same type of knowledge is useful today. Gandhi’s teachings, Allen said, are essential for formulating new positions and ideas that are more nonviolent and more sustainable when reformulated to fit today’s world.