Sultana Khaya waving Western Saharan flag. (Democracy Now)

Nonviolence confronts colonial legacies

Tim Pluta and Adrienne Kinne discuss their recent work in Western Sahara, while Laurence Cox offers hopeful conclusions on the end of empire.
Sultana Khaya waving Western Saharan flag. (Democracy Now)

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This week, Nonviolence Radio hosts three exceptional guests: Tim Pluta and Adrienne Kinne, two former veterans now working for peace, and writer and activist Laurence Cox. Tim and Adrienne talk to Stephanie and Michael about their recent work in Western Sahara with three women from the Khaya family who have been forcibly detained in their home for well over a year. The suffering they have endured is horrifying, and Tim and Adrienne are drawing on the strategy of nonviolent civilian accompaniment as a means to support them. But their aim extends further: They hope to raise awareness about the plight of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, which is far too often unseen by the world.

Laurence Cox continues the discussion about colonization, but through the lens of Burma. His interview ends with some hopeful conclusions about the end of empire. Despite the ongoing and profound injustice we see in Myanmar and in the world, Laurence speaks optimistically about the future. He encourages us to acknowledge that there may be no single path out of our present difficulties, perhaps though, a single, clear route is not the right way to conceive of the way forward:

…there’s something really quite liberating about stepping slightly back from that and going, “Some of the time, it may be okay not to have an exact plan. Either a vision of what the future world we want will be, or of the exact steps that will get it there.” And then even, you know, as in Asia, to find out that there wasn’t one path out of empire. There were lots of different ones. And some of them, in retrospect, we might think that was a better way out. Others, we might think that was not a great way out. But actually, there were lots of different routes out of empire.

The possibility of many roads out of current difficulties creates space for creative and surprising approaches, ones which arise in response to particular circumstances, empowering local actors to establish genuine and lasting change.

Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. Good morning, Michael.

Michael: Good morning, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Well, it is a wonderful time to practice and understand and study nonviolence. I think that there’s a lot that’s going on in the world that is making people feel stuck or hopeless, and yet with nonviolence there’s almost something that we can do and we can work at something much greater than ourselves and make positive change in the issues that we care most about. What do you say?

Michael: I would really hope that everybody understands that, that nonviolence is not just a tactic, but it’s an address to life. And it is just as liberating and as creative as you said, Stephanie. And really, there are situations where you can get really stuck if you’re relying on force, if you’re relying on violence. But somehow, nonviolence always gives you a way out. Even, I guess, if you’re overwhelmed by an external situation, you always have complete control, theoretically at least, over your own reaction. They can’t take that away from you, you know. And so, you can go to your death, or whatever you need to go to – usually, it’s not quite that bad.

But without clinging, without fear, especially – here’s the hard part – without resentment or hatred toward oppressors.

Stephanie: I think that it’s really important to understand that this is our human nature and it can have an impact and something that we can learn to do.

Now, on today’s show I have a wonderful interview with two veterans, so folks who had participated actively in war, war support even, who have then transformed our lives to the cause of nonviolence. And they are Tim Pluta and Adrienne Kinne. They’re veterans.

Adrienne Kinne used to be president of Veterans for Peace, even. And they’re participating in helping to break the siege of the Khaya family in Western Sahara. It’s in Morocco and there are activists who were basically under house arrest by Moroccan forces for a very long time. And Nonviolence International helped to send in a delegation of international volunteers to help break the siege of this household, including on this delegation, where Tim and Adrienne said they wanted to talk about the success of these actions and also some of what the Khaya family was experiencing and their commitment to nonviolence, even in the face of brutal, brutal repression.

Now, we do want to let our listeners know that there are some sensitive descriptions of some violence in this interview, so please take care of yourself as you’re listening. Okay, so let’s tune in to hear from Tim and Adrienne.

Nonviolence International in Western Sahara

Tim: I was invited to join a meeting by a random email that – somehow, I don’t even remember – caught my attention. And soon, I found myself helping to plan the United States side of this mission because there was also the Western Sahara side of this mission. And they had their own team.

After some weeks of planning, it was clear that we were having challenges with getting volunteers to help balance – have a good balanced team to send for what we thought at the time were our goals. And so, my background lent itself to sounding and making me feel like I might be a good volunteer.

So, I raised my hand electronically and after the evaluation process went, they let me know that I’d be part of the team. And because we needed Arabic-speaking people on the team – I had known Adrienne from Veterans for Peace, she is past-president of Veterans for Peace and we had crossed paths before – and I knew that she spoke some Arabic. So I recommended her to the planning team, and called her up and asked her if she’d be interested – or, wrote her an email – and asked if she’d be interested. And she was. I was tickled pink that she got to join the team.

Stephanie: And Adrienne, you joined the team. How long did you and Tim stay in Western Sahara?

Adrienne: I got involved shortly after Tim’s email inviting me to participate in a project. I didn’t know what we were going to be doing at first or where we would be. It was essentially – we were told that it was going to be a project in the Middle East, North Africa, because of the secrecy around the project because Morocco does not let people into Western Sahara.

I was originally in Western Sahara for about ten days with Tim and the other field volunteers. I returned to the states after those ten days and attempted to return to Boujdour, Western Sahara in May with another team. I was going to help escort them in. But at that point in time, we decided to go openly, and we were stopped by the Moroccan occupation forces in Laâyoune who basically separated us, detained us, would not tell us why they were detaining us, would not put anything in writing. They wouldn’t say who they were or what agency they were acting on behalf of. And then they forcibly put us on a plane later that evening to return us to Casablanca.

They said that we were not welcome in Western Sahara because by their terms, we had “political intentions”, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights allows people freedom of travel regardless of their politics, that privilege is not something that all Western Sahara actually gets to participate in, that is, the freedom of travel. And we saw that too when me and the other team member were leaving Boujdour and going to Laâyoune airport to return back after the first trip.

I think in about a two-hour drive up the road, we passed seven checkpoints from various agencies. The police, gendarme, and plain-clothed officers who checked passports, harassed drivers, and oftentimes turned Sahrawi people away when they were attempting to go visit the Khaya family home. Many weren’t able to because they would get turned around at these checkpoints.

Tim: Adrienne and one of the other team members – because we don’t have permission to use their names on the show, I think I’ll refrain. But Adrienne was there for ten days – but another team member and I were there for about ten weeks. So, what we did in the first ten days was enter the home, which by and large was when we were in the planning stages, my memory says that we heard from other people around the world with whom we consulted that there had already been about 30+ attempts to enter the home and none of them were successful.

So, our mission was given almost a 0% chance of success. But because we pushed for feedback, “Well, what if? What if we get in?” They said, “If you get in, first of all, they’ll probably come right in and take you out. The Moroccan occupying – illegally occupying – forces from Morocco, would likely come in and either put us in prison, or take us to the border and drop us off in the desert, or take us to an airport. So, there were three chances of how they would get us out, but they were all in under two days. So, we planned mostly for a two-day project. And as we were planning, we said, “Well, what if by some miracle, we get in, and maybe we have someone who can help to negotiate on the team.” We have two Arabic speakers on the team. We have someone who can help care for injured people on the team and speak Spanish, which is also spoken in Western Sahara. So, we had a really good strong team.

And we thought, “So, what if we do get in there and something happens?” And we just said, “Well, let’s stretch the maximum possible stay of ten days then.” So, we were pretty certain that it wouldn’t last more than a day or two. But if it lasted ten days, we would consider it a success. It was actually one of our celebration markers.

And it turned out that at the end of those ten days, two of the team members had previous engagements and had to leave at that point. And two of us stayed for another almost nine weeks – eight or nine weeks.

Stephanie: And what did you do during that time?

Tim: We went there to protect the Khaya family. We were to provide nonviolent unarmed protection for them. Because when we got there – for 482 days before we got there – they had been forcibly detained in their home. There were three people: Sultana Khaya, her sister, Ouarra, and their 84-year-old mother Aminatou. And during that 482 days, they had been tortured, beaten, raped, the house was broken into on a consistent basis. Electricity lines were cut. Water was shut off. Toxic chemicals were put into their well water. Sultana was injected with unknown substances. Their mother was strip-tied behind the back – those black strips that they use sometimes to tie your hands behind your back. They tied her hands behind her back so tightly that it ripped muscles in her shoulder. And then they forced her to watch her two daughters be raped in front of her.

And that’s the kind of violence that was on a regular basis used against the Sahrawis in Western Sahara. And during the time that we were there, that type of violence was used as well. Sultana and her family have been nonviolently protesting for well over a decade. And the lessons that they taught about nonviolence ran, for me, very deeply.

Adrienne, I’d like you to help on that first ten days as well, from your point-of-view.

Adrienne: Yeah. I mean the initial entry getting into the Khaya family home – and the fact that we were able to get in, and then the fact that community members were able to get in – I think it led the team to feeling we had broken the siege on the Khaya family home. However, in reality, we had just merely interrupted it, the Moroccan occupation forces, when they realized we got in, I think they withdrew and regrouped.

And during the time period that I was there, I saw them, even on those initial first ten days, start to disburse their hostilities and anger and frustrations onto the broader community in Boujdour. So, for instance, some of the children who came to visit Sultana and be there in the community in the home, were detained, beaten, and arrested. One 14-year-old boy was held overnight in an adult jail without even so much as letting his family know where he was or what had happened to him.

I didn’t go outside of the home save one time when we did a Democracy Now interview and that evening that it had aired, there was a very loud skirmish out in the streets. And we heard reports that the Moroccan occupation forces were pushing and harassing the women, stealing and seizing their phones, which is a big, big tactic that they use, trying to cut off their ability to communicate with the outside world.

And I walked out with a member of the household who was visiting and saw them shoving women to the ground. And shortly after I returned, the violence that they directed towards women in the community just escalated from there.

Stephanie: And so, in all of this witnessing and protection and accompaniment work, in the end, you were able to help Sultana Khaya leave Western Sahara. Can you speak to the outcome of this project?

Tim: Yes, Stephanie. In the beginning, and even now, I have to say that Sultana’s desire was not to leave Western Sahara. She is so completely dedicated to nonviolent resistance and protest for what is clearly legal access to an independent vote by the Sahrawi people. She is so completely dedicated to this that I am quite sure that she would give her life in this struggle.

When we got there, all three of them, after the 482 days of that kind of stress and incredibly brutal human rights abuses, they all needed medical attention. Her mom, we sent to the hospital right away because she was diabetic and was way out of control. So, we hired a taxi and sent her to – we had to send her two-and-a-half hours away because the illegal Moroccan occupying forces don’t allow Sahrawis access to the public health care system. So, they can only go to private health care. And the closest one where they had any faith in the system at all was in Laâyoune which was a couple of hours away.

On the way back, the Moroccan forces actually stopped the taxi driver, took away his license and said, “We’re going to take this away for ten days for helping the Khaya family. And he’s reported to have said, “I didn’t even know who the woman was. How can you do that?” And they said, “Well, we’re going to do it, and you have to go back and tell all of your taxi driver comrades that if anybody helps anybody from the Khaya household, we’ll take their taxi driver’s license away forever.” And that was a frequent way to threaten and manipulate people while we were there.

Back to your question about Sultana, in the beginning she said, “No, I won’t go.” But she’d been beaten so many times. She’d been hit in the head with rocks, with batons. They had actually blinded her in 2007. A police officer struck her so hard in the eye that it popped her eye out. She was then put into prison for eight months after that, and nothing was done at all to the police officer who did that to her.

So, she was ready to stay, but again there were – her medical condition required some evaluation, especially since she was injected twice with unknown substances. It was critical that we get her home and have a complete medical evaluation. We’re in the process of trying to get her sister and her mom here as well. She’s getting help in Spain right now, medical evaluations.

Stephanie: And so, where to next for this project? Adrienne, Tim was saying that you helped create something called, “Just Visit Western Sahara.” What do you want our listeners at Nonviolence Radio to understand about the struggle, what they can do, how they can get involved?

Adrienne: Yeah, I appreciate that question. So, as we’ve been discussing next steps for the project, one of the situations I faced is that I went into this project not knowing about the question of Western Sahara and their fight – the Sahrawi’s fight for the right to self-determination. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about foreign affairs, and particularly in the Middle East. And yet, I was oblivious. So, the biggest ask, just the first step, would be to learn more about what’s going on in Western Sahara. And so that is what helped prompt our decision to make the website,

We have photos and videos, music, reports from our field volunteers about the human rights abuses in Western Sahara at the Khaya family home and ways people can get involved there. You know, I would love to see people go in to visit Western Sahara and see for themselves firsthand, but I know that’s not always possible.

We do offer some guidance if people would like to travel there. And the biggest thing I could say is that you cannot – if you were to go to Western Sahara, you could not say you were going for any reason whatsoever other than tourism because the Moroccan occupational forces will not let people in if they have any inkling that they have any ideas or intentions beyond visiting, and essentially, paying Moroccan business people money and make money. Morocco is so heavily reliant on their tourist industry.

So, Just Visit Western Sahara, learn more about it, tell people about it. There’s been a virtual media blackout. I went yesterday – or sorry – what day is today? I guess it’s Wednesday. On Monday, I went to the C24 Special Committee Hearing in the United Nations. I petitioned to speak to the question of Western Sahara. And I and dozens of other people, each had three minutes to share their experiences and call for the decolonization of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa. Their referendum fell to pieces due to a lot of foreign interests that stalled and delayed and then stopped the referendum from ever happening. And the Sahrawi people are so committed to nonviolence and protecting their homeland and their way of life.

And this has been going on since 1975, when Spain left. Western Sahara was colonized by Spain in the efforts to divide up Africa among European powers. In the 17 – early 1800s, Spain finally decided to leave in 1974. Started pulling out in 1975. And basically, left Western Sahara in limbo. Not in limbo from the perspective of the Sahrawi who are committed to their home and their homeland, but international limbo as a non-self-governing territory as defined by the United Nations.

And they have their own language that is unique from the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. They have their own culture. They have their own way of life. They would have their own economy, they have rich fishing waters and phosphates, but both of those things are being extracted by Moroccan occupation forces, which is yet again part of the plundering the world, with no regard for the people or sustainability.

So, I would ask people to get involved and visit Western Sahara, even if they do so by reading about it and becoming informed.

Stephanie: Adrienne and Tim, thank you very, very much for joining us and sharing your perspective and your courage. Thank you.

Tim: Thank you for having us, Stephanie and Michael. And kudos to Nonviolence Radio and your work in keeping it alive.

Adrienne: Yeah. Definitely.

Stephanie: So, that was Tim Pluta and Adrienne Kinne. They are veterans turned to the practice of nonviolence. Adrienne was the former president of Veterans for Peace. And they worked on nonviolent accompaniment and witness in Western Sahara, which is the last colony in Africa. And they helped the Khaya family have protection, and then eventually helped the Khaya family leave Western Sahara to get medical attention. And to raise awareness of what’s taken place in Western Sahara and the relationship with Morocco.

So, this was a project of Nonviolence International. Again, you can visit And you can also go to

And before this next segment, I’m going to play a little bit of music from Blind Willy Johnson because this is one of Michael’s favorite guys.


Well, that should give you a little bit of energy and support for your Nonviolence Report, Michael. I know that you’re a big fan of Blind Willy Johnson, so there you have it.

Michael: I can hardly sit here on the seat. He was just was the best. No one can quite imitate that guitar. People have tried. Not me.

Well, it’s interesting, too, that they had to use the language of prison-going to describe their religion. But let me pass on now to the contemporary world.

Nonviolence Report

A couple of major items that are going on in our world today, one of course is the supreme court leaked decision, that has been confirmed as accurate, but only a draft, unquote. The final decision may be a month out and it can be revised. It’s conceivable that justices may change their vote, but it does not seem very likely. And the issue in question is Roe vs Wade, which basically enables women to have abortions when they need it.

And protesters were on the streets outside of the supreme court of the U.S. Monday night, the 13th following a report from Politico, that the court intends to overturn Roe vs Wade. And that would eradicate the federal right to abortion. People across the country are calling for mobilizations to continue, citing the devastation and death that would certainly follow such a ruling. So, it has been known in the past that a fierce public response can get the court to change course. So, I’ll just leave it there.

The other really big issue now, especially given what’s been happening, is gun control. Now, in 2008, quoting the words of a writer, Bill Blum, an Alternet, quote, “The Supreme Court sold its soul to the gun lobby. It was a 5-4 majority opinion, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And the court held at that time, for the first time, 2008, that the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution protects an individual right to own firearms.

Okay, well, I am not a lawyer, but I am trained to read texts and it was astonishingly obvious to me that it has now been brought home to many people, if you actually read the 2nd Amendment, it refers to militias. And there aren’t any militias anymore. So, the whole thing is really void. But the incredible power of the gun lobby keeps that thing in place.

Now, the costs here are grievous. The gun homicide rate in our country is nearly eight times higher than it is in Canada. And get this, about 100 times higher than it is in Britain or Japan. And this is shaping up to be a really, really bad year. As of May 30th, there were over almost 18,000 deaths from firearms, counting suicides and unlawful killings.

And they also recorded – this is a gun violence archive, based in Washington, D.C., they recorded 228 mass shootings. Mass shootings are defined as an event that involves four or more victims. Now, there is no other remotely industrialized country in the world that comes anywhere near these statistics. We do not need this.

Moving on now to a more local but very important issue, the case of Jessica Reznicek. She, with a friend of hers – they’re both from Iowa, named Ruby Montoya, they vandalized construction sites that were connected to over 1000 mile pipeline in 2016 and 2017. They set a bulldozer on fire, damaged valves. Total cost is more than 2.5 million. But the point is that she has now been sentenced to eight years in prison with an enhancement for terrorism.

So, the whole question that’s raised here – I’m just going to touch on it without discussing it very much, is how shall we classify property damage in the world of nonviolence?

Stephanie: Well, I also think that it has to do with who the law protects. And it seems that the legal system is very much set up to protect the interests of big oil –

Michael: Glad you mentioned that.

Stephanie: So, these actions, even though there are consequences, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Stephanie: – are still powerful because that’s really where the power of nonviolence comes in, when there’s an action. And then you take on the consequence and say, “You know, some things that are legal just aren’t right.”

Michael: Yeah. You don’t try to dodge the penalty. That really would take the teeth out of the nonviolent action. So, hats off to the courage of the Khaya sisters and Jessica and Judy and everyone who stands up for justice in these critical issues.

Stephanie: Yeah. And I was actually just thinking of that overzealous introduction to nonviolence that you gave us at the beginning of the show today. And I thought, “Whoa, he’s really just going too far.” And then I thought, “No, listen to what happened with the Khaya family. Listen to what happened to this woman working on this pipeline.

So, if they’re willing to risk their life and limb and yet remain nonviolent and firm. And that’s really, really incredible. So, yeah – go ahead.

Michael: I’m happy to point out that what Tim and Adrienne were telling us, is that they describe their work as unarmed nonviolent accompaniment because sometimes you get this euphemism, unarmed civilian protection, which I think misses the point. So, I was really glad to hear that.

Laurence Cox

Stephanie: Well, I want to shift gears now, Michael. We have one more interview today, that’s with Laurence Cox. This one was a lot of fun. So, I came across Laurence Cox’s work on Waging Nonviolence. He wrote a piece about the importance of social movements, learning from one another. He’s been involved in movements for over 35 years, including ecology and anti-war movements, anti-capitalist, and international solidarity struggles, alternative education, community activism.

And he says in his day job he researches social movements and co-edits the activist academic movement journal, Interface. I think that means that he’s a professor. His recent books include, Haciendo otros mundos posibles: por qué los zapatistas nos importante. It’s free in English and Spanish, and Why Social Movements Matter. But then I saw that he had this book called, The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire. And I thought, “Well that’s…” that one really intrigued me, given all of the different kinds of books I’m reading about nonviolence today.

Because he co-published it with Alicia Turner and Brian Bocking, telling a story of a Dublin born sailor, hobo, and Buddhist monk who became an anti-colonial celebrity across Asia with five pseudonyms, a 25-year gap in his bio, police surveillance, a trial for sedition, a faked death, and a final disappearance. I thought this was too good of a story not to bring to our listeners on Nonviolence Radio, so here is that interview with Laurence Cox.

The British Empire in Burma

Laurence: Okay. well, let me start maybe with an act of civil disobedience, perhaps. We might call it that. We might call it direct action. Yeah, can think about it and let you know. So, in 1901, Burma is a colony. It’s part of the British Empire. And it’s largely, not entirely, a Buddhist country.

The most important Buddhist shrine, then as now, is the Shwedagon, this huge gilded place, it’s stupa, in central Rangoon. And in Asia, like much of the world, shoes are dirty things. You don’t walk into people’s houses, into people’s temples, onto people’s pagodas wearing your shoes, you know? That broad generalization, definitely in Burma it’s an offensive thing to do. You’re walking your dirt.

But the British colonists absolutely insist on wearing shoes. It’s part of the color line. It’s part of what sets them off from, “the natives.” So, there’s a tension there because pagodas are not just Buddhist religious places, they’re also places that all sorts of people go for tourist purposes.

So, this is one of the holiest days of the Buddhist years, the full moon festival in March. And there’s an off duty police officer walking around in his shoes on the pagoda. And out steps this barefoot Buddhist monk, because Buddhist monks, of course, are barefoot, and says, “You can’t come here with your shoes on.”

So, that’s quite an extraordinary, startling thing. It’s a direct challenge to this unwritten rule that, yeah, you don’t wear shoes in other people’s temples, but the colonial forces can. And the person who is saying it is a white man, an Irish man, who has himself crossed the color line, “Gone native,” is what they say in the period. He’s become a Buddhist monk. He’s wearing these native clothes that Europeans are trying to set themselves off from. He’s wearing rags. He’s got a shaved head. He begs. He’s barefoot.

So, it’s quite a shock moment. It becomes an issue all around Burma immediately. Is it okay to wear shoes on pagodas? Are Europeans – colonial forces and so on – are they a different class of human being? And in fact, it becomes an organizing issue for anti-colonial Burmese until 1919, when they win. So, an 18-year period, where shoes on pagodas have suddenly been made this really, really crucial issue.

It looks as though the colonial officials got onto the pagoda people and said, “Can you deal with this guy?” And, you know, being a group of respectable trustees, they were inclined to go, “Well, you know, maybe we should have a quiet word with him.” Except that news was leaked of this particular attempt. So, they were – they had to, you know, back down in effect, and refuse to discipline him, refuse to go against him.

And on the other hand, it looks as though there may have been an attempt to get up a trial for sedition. We don’t know the details, but we see him having to sort of solicit some testimonials for people, for his character. So, it looks as though there might have been a trial in the offing. And then it kind of fritters away.

I’m realizing as I say this that there’s something that I should put in there which mightn’t be obvious everywhere in the world. So, respect for your own religion is often obviously really important. And imperial powers have to say, at least verbally, “We respect everybody’s religion. We rule half of Asia. We don’t mind if you’re Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or Jaina or whatever it is. That’s okay. That’s your business.”

Except that the empire, in practice, is also thoroughly Christian. It can’t get away from that. So, every time you challenge the empire in the name of religion, you’re touching something that resonates really quite a long way out. And people go, “Oh, are they disrespecting our religion?” And the empire has to go, “Well, there’s a limit to how far we can tell them what they can do in religious terms, these Buddhists. We’ve got to kind of seem to respect Buddhism. It’s a problem to put a Buddhist monk on trial. It’s better if, you know, these pagoda trustees deal with their own guy.”

So, they’re in quite an awkward position. And of course, this guy’s really put his finger on that, quite strategically, he’s chosen his moment. A bit like Rosa Parks and so on. It’s not a random event that he’s just fed up with seeing people wearing shoes on pagodas. He’s gone, “Okay. This is the time and place that we can make an issue of it.”

Backstory of Dhammaloka

So, the backstory to this guy is he’s somebody who’s learned from an awful lot of other people’s activism. He’s an Irish immigrant. He’d worked his way across the Atlantic. He’d been a hobo, so a migrant worker all around the States, a docker in San Francisco. He’d worked the Pacific ships. And then he winds up in Asia and converts to Buddhism, becomes a Buddhist monk.

But clearly, all his life, he sailed pretty close to the wind, so he’s got – this is somebody who’s got five different aliases – at least – that we know of. There’s 25 years or so missing in his biography. We see not just this kind of thing happening, but him being put under police surveillance. There’s another trial for sedition. And yeah, at a certain point, and we don’t, again, quite understand the details, he’s gone to Australia. There’s a sort of an INTERPOL request, almost an extradition request goes out from Burma to Australia.

And a letter comes back from Australia to Burma saying, “Well, I run a hotel here in Australia and there’s this strange Buddhist monk who’s died here. And if anybody gives me an address, I’ll send his effects on.” And, you know, it wasn’t written by the person who ran that hotel. It’s almost certainly written by him, trying to avoid – we don’t really know what. Some kind of pursuit, some kind of vengeance, which might have been political. It might have been a bit more personal because he’s a huge campaigner against corrupt officials. This is the kind of thing that wins you enormous popular support.

So, for example, one of the big things that happened in imperial contexts is – a colonial officer and civil servants and so on “take native wives,” quote\unquote. This is what they’re called. But when their term of office is up, they go back home to Britain. They marry an English woman and they dump their Burmese or Indian or Sri Lankan or whatever it is – wife and kids, abandon them. Cut off contact. Disown them.

So, Dhammaloka, apparently, manages to get a ruling from the viceroy, the guy who runs India, that a colonial official who’s married a local woman, has to actually do so, properly and legally according to, not just religious but also legal rights. Which then, of course – you know, think of these people. They’re like, I don’t know, American military officers abroad. They expect to go back, right? Their families expect them to marry properly, there’s maybe inheritance. And certainly, they don’t want them to come back to England trailing a Burmese woman and half Burmese kids. This is an intensely racist world.

So, by forcing these people to marry, he’s made an awful lot of enemies. In the same way as, you know, exposing individual corrupt officials or whatever, is the kind of thing that might make you want to give people the impression that you’d actually died so that they stop trying to bring that about in real life.

Michael: You know, somewhat similar things happened in Vietnam, of course, as Americans would form some kind of alliance, shall we say, with Vietnamese women and then it would be the same problem. Can you bring them home? Would they bring them home? It’s an interesting tension repeating itself.

Laurence: Yeah. And you can imagine the local people would be absolutely furious about this. And campaigning on it would bring you a kind of popular support which is quite different to – oh, I like the policies this guy is proposing. Because that’s very visceral stuff, if that’s somebody in your family that this has happened to.

Stephanie: Now, why does Dhammaloka’s life matter to us? Why should we pay attention to it? Why did you get interested in helping to co-author this book?

Laurence: Big question. Okay, here’s an easy answer. I was talking earlier about the challenge of thinking about how do we, in some way, effectively confront, prevent, transform, the forces that are bringing about absolute climate devastation? Which is a big, big question. And, you know, I said, “Look, we don’t have very obvious models of bringing about change at that scale, which is, you know, quite daunting to go, We don’t know how we’d do it.”

So, here’s the positive side – 60% of our species live in Asia. That was true in 1900. It’s true now. Most of us are Asian. So, what that means is that decolonization in Asia, the end of empire in Asia alone – leaving aside Africa, just Asia – is the single biggest thing that social movements have actually done in the last 100 years. Possibly the single biggest thing that they have ever done in terms of sheer numbers of people involved in bringing about, and being affected by, that sort of scale of systemic transformation.

The world in 1900, outside the Americas, is basically painted – literally in globes or in atlases, in a handful of colors representing, you know, the British Empire, the French Empire, the Portuguese, and so on. By 1980, that’s basically ceased to be the case. And most of it happens within a generation. Very, very rapid transformation at the end of WWII in Asia, from being imperial possessions to being independent nation states. And the war in Vietnam is one of the last kind of rear-guard actions which the Americans take over from, literally, the French Empire.

So, it’s absolutely huge, this change. But if you go back to 1901 or 1913, Dhammaloka disappears, he disappears, right? We don’t know what happened. Maybe they caught up with him. Maybe he vanished, changed his name. We don’t know. But in 1913 you couldn’t know that what was coming was going to be an independent India, an independent Sri Lanka, an independent Pakistan, an independent Burma, this world of nation states that we wound up with. Because honestly, there weren’t that many nation states in 1913. There were mostly empires, outside of the Americas.

So, what people imagined they were going to get was quite, quite different from what they got. We still have – you know, we still live with all sorts of versions of pan-Islamism where the idea is that you could somehow have a political community based on that religion. But Buddhism, of course, connects so much of Asia: Japan, China, Southeast Asia, much of Indochina, Sri Lanka, Nepal. And it’s got its historical home in India. And India and Japan in this period are the two kind of really big Asian powers. China is a bit down in the dumps.

So, the idea that maybe the multinational British Empire could be replaced by some kind of pan-Asian community, perhaps. It’s floating out there. At the same time, some of the Indian intellectuals who then go, “Well, maybe Gandhi. Maybe Marxism. Maybe something else.” Again, they’re toying with this. And the reason these people are toying with these ideas and we have these futures that never happened, is that you could see in 1913, not just, empire is a bad thing, but you could see, yeah, we could actually get to the end of it. It’s possible. We don’t know what comes next, and we don’t know how we’re going to get there. But we do know that the things that we’re doing are going in a certain direction towards the end of this empire.

So, I find that quite hopeful because sitting here now, we’re in a heat wave here in the Pyrenees. It’s very, very difficult. The village here will not have water tomorrow. It’s really quite intense. And then talking with climate justice activists, particularly, the scale of despair, it’s totally understandable. It’s totally rational.

So, there’s something really quite liberating about stepping slightly back from that and going, “Some of the time, it may be okay not to have an exact plan. Either a vision of what the future world we want will be, or of the exact steps that will get it there.” And then even, you know, as in Asia, to find out that there wasn’t one path out of empire. There were lots of different ones. And some of them, in retrospect, we might think that was a better way out. Others, we might think that was not a great way out. But actually, there were lots of different routes out of empire.

So, there’s something quite liberating, I think, for us in that – in that sense. Yeah, actually, the things that these quite strange remarkable, a bit disreputable, people did in their own time, they actually had an effect, even if they couldn’t foresee the details of how that was going to happen.

Stephanie: That was Laurence Cox, talking to us at Nonviolence Radio about the forgotten Irish monk, Dhammaloka and his resistance to British Empire and why it matters today.

So, you’ve been here at Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to our guests, Tim Pluta, Adrienne Kinne, to Nonviolence International. Shout out to Veterans for Peace, Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, and Bryan Farrell, and of course to Laurence Cox as well for joining us today on the show. Michael Nagler, great Nonviolence Report. And to all of you, until the next time, please take care of one another and our beautiful planet.

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