Monday, September 11, 2006

september 11: an anniversary

"Up to the year 1906 I simply relied on appeal to reason. I was a very industrious reformer … But I found that reason failed to produce an impression when the critical moment arrived in South Africa. My people were excited – even a worm can and does turn – and there was talk of wreaking vengeance. I had then to choose between allying myself to violence or finding out some other method of meeting the crisis and stopping the rot, and it came to me that we should refuse to obey legislation that was degrading and let them put us in jail if they liked. Thus came into being the moral equivalent of war."

M.K. Gandhi

On September 11, 1906, Mohandas Gandhi chaired a meeting of approximately 3,000 residents of Johannesburg, South Africa, seeking to find an effective way to protest a new set of discriminatory laws. One resolution that emerged was that Indians vowed to go to prison rather than comply with the new restrictions. This is recognized as the birth of modern nonviolent protest, passive resistance, or Satyagraha.

(A hat tip to a radio report on the BBC that clued me in to this event—alas, no link.)

Five years ago, I was awakened by the sound of American Airlines flight 11 as it screamed over my apartment and slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center some dozen blocks further south. The sound and the vibration sent me quickly to the street, where I stood for the next several hours in the bright, late summer sun and witnessed all of the day’s horrors.

As soon as the second plane, United flight 175, hit the south tower, everyone on the street realized that this was obviously no accident or horrible coincidence. Soon after, it occurred to me that our President was George W. Bush, our Vice President was Dick Cheney, and our Attorney General was John Ashcroft, and that those were about the worst three men I could imagine being in those positions at that moment.

Nothing in the last five years has made me reassess that conclusion.

Would that someone more familiar with Satyagraha—or even someone that could just pronounce it—were in a position of power that day. If that had been so, how different would this year’s September 11 be?


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