Why nonviolence and utopian thinking go hand in hand

Without the clarity that utopian thinking can provide, nonviolence cannot fulfill its higher capacity for societal transformation. 

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Nonviolence and utopian thinking go hand in hand, or so argues Safoora Arbab on this week’s episode of Nonviolence Radio. Utopian thinking is about what is possible, not what is impossible, she posits — and when coupled with nonviolence, we have both a roadmap and a means for achieving a more balanced and inclusive political identity. The goal may be “ever receding” as Gandhi said, and yet, without the clarity that utopian thinking can provide, nonviolence cannot fulfill its higher capacity to engage with long-term systems’ transformation.

Michael Nagler begins the show with his Nonviolence Report for the week.

Stephanie: Good morning you are at 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. We are from the Metta Center for Nonviolence and we promote the practice of nonviolence worldwide.

Michael, you have a wonderful collection of news, nonviolence in the news to share with us this morning on your Nonviolence Report. So, let’s start with that. Give us some hopeful news and some great analysis.

Michael: I’ll try to emphasise some hopeful things happening, Stephanie. Really, I have to say, it’s a very, very intense time for this growing, growing awareness of nonviolent struggle. And it’s happening all over the world. So, let me just mention a few resources whereby we can keep abreast of all these developments.

Training – Nonviolent Cities Project   

There’s a six-week training with something called, “The Nonviolent Cities Project.” It’s going to be on Zoom, of course. And it’s going to be Thursdays from July 8th to August 12th. If you’re out here on the West Coast with us, it’ll be from 1 to 3 PM Pacific Time. And that training will be led by a couple of people who have had a lot of practice. And that is Rivera Sun and Veronica Pelicaric from Pace e Bene, the Franciscan nonviolence outfit.

30 articles on nonviolent protest

And also, one of my former editors, Michael Edwards, he used to work for the Ford Foundation. He’s now a writer and an activist based in Upstate New York. And he’s the editor of a journal called, “Transformation.” You can find his website at – one word – futurepositive.org. And he has now listed 30 articles that have appeared over the years on nonviolent protest. So, that is a very useful resource.

Consciousness affecting consciousness   

Now, at the Gandhi Institution in Mumbai, which you’ll find at mkgandhi.org, there’s a story about a Parsi aristocrat, a woman named Khurshedben Naoroji who went to the North West Frontier, which was already an unusual and dangerous thing for an unaccompanied woman to do. And the biggest problem up there at the time was banditry. You know, the famous dacoits. And so, she went – she was a trained soprano. She went and sang for these bandits and succeeded in winning a lot of them over. That was a remarkable nonviolent event.

And it reminds one of Gandhi’s closest disciples, Vinoba Bhave who one time was approaching an area in Maharashtra called, “The Chambal Valley.” And people approached him and said, “No, no, no. Don’t go in there. It’s infested with dacoits.” He immediately approached their vocabulary and said, “It is not infested. It is inhabited. And these are not dacoits. These are people who have taken to crime, possibly because they needed to.”

And that’s what he did. He didn’t sing. But he went among them and he told them, quite remarkable really, he said, “Come to me. Turn in your weapons. I will have the police arrest you. I will hand you over to the police. But they will promise not to harass your families.” And that was the thing they were mainly worried about. They weren’t, you know, they didn’t like the idea of a jail sentence, but they weren’t totally opposed to paying for their crimes and restoring their lives, but they were terrified that the police might then use the opportunity to harass their families.

So, by telling them that, it’s just incredible. This one grainy old black and white photo of Vinoba sitting, eyes closed, foot of a tree. And these bandits, one after another, coming and dropping on the ground these expensive high-powered rifles and telescopic sights and so forth.

And it also reminds me of another Muslim woman Raihana Tyabji who was converted by Gandhi and did incredible things. Changed her life completely. She had been in purdah, you know, in seclusion. But she came out and became, under Gandhi’s influence and under his protection, a powerful participant in the freedom struggle. And she made a very insightful comment at one point.

She said, in an attempt to explain how people did these things which, you know, for centuries they had avoided doing, she said, “His consciousness grabbed hold of our consciousness and moved it to an incredible place.” I really think that’s a very insightful comment for us to think about. His consciousness grabbed hold of our consciousness and moved it to an incredible place. And of course, that was decades before the discovery of mirror neurons, which are the physical mechanism in our central nervous system, by which this is the process that happens.

A person, particularly a person in a deeper state of consciousness is able to directly affect the consciousness of onlookers, whether they be opponents or the referenced public, as we call it, that’s looking on.

Protest in Germany

Now I’m going to hop over to an event that has taken place in Germany recently. It’s at the Büchel Air Base. And we have about 20 nuclear bombs there. And NATO wants to upgrade them with brand new nuclear bombs.

So, there’s a long history of Germans resisting the nuclearization of Germany and making it a prime target if World War III, God forbid, were to break out. And I remember a little ditty they used to sing, [German], meaning, “Grandma and grandpa want peace for Europe.”

So, there have been previous civil disobedience there, where people deliberately cut through the perimeter fence. It’s a highly armed fence, surveillance cameras, motion sensors, and a deep concrete foundation.

So, there are those who have cut through the fence – we’ll get back to that in a second. But this time, what they’re planning to do is not go through the fence, but under it, okay? And so, they are converging on the base with shovels that are painted pink. And they will not be digging holes to hide and die in. But their goal will be to reach the runway and prevent the launching of these Tornado fighter-bombers to practice nuclear war games.

So, the point I wanted to make here is it’s a very good maneuver to shift from the symbolic to actual obstruction. You know, as I’ve often pointed out, we tend to rely too much on symbolism in the peace movement. And often, that is a futile thing to do. But they have started with these symbols. You know, the painted pink shovels, but what they’re going to try to do actually is get to the runway and actually obstruct, prevent the launching of Tornado fighter-bombers.

So, this is an example of obstructive action as opposed to constructive action, but very much called for from a nonviolence point-of-view. And here’s a statement by one of the protestors, “We have a vivid picture in front of our eyes, in which each and every one can go as far as their own determination allows. You can join in digging until the police ask you to stop and then hand over your shovel to another person, protestor. Or you can peacefully continue to dig until you’re arrested. You can picnic near the diggers and be a witness.” So, that’s all in the invitation to the event.

And they say, “If you plan to join in for the digging, we ask you to arrive no later than Saturday, July 17th at 4 p.m. so that you can get to know one another, do nonviolence training, make affinity groups, and then do the other preparations.”

So, this action is not isolated. It’s part of an International Week of Action that’s planned for the July 12th to 20th campaign. And there’s a lot of really good elements in this plan which indicates how we have learned a good bit about nonviolence in the last few decades. And their motto is, “Büchel ist überall! atomwaffenfrei.jetzt!”. Which means, “Büchel is everywhere!’ ‘End nuclear weapons now!’” atomwaffenfrei means nuclear free now.

MIT social media study   

Jumping back to the U.S. for a minute, there are three scholars from the MIT University’s media lab. And they’ve done a finding of the impact of social media. Now, this drew my attention right away because I always felt uncomfortable when people said, “Oh, you know, now we have social media. Everything is going to be different. We can plan campaigns, get in touch with one another.” But my feeling was these media hold up a megaphone to anyone, whoever they are, and they can use it for good or bad purposes.

So, it’s a classic example, I think, of practicing focus on the technique and not on the content. So, these three scholars made a number of findings. And the key finding is this – that far-right disinformation, you know, like the stealing of the election and QANON theories and so forth, that bad. That disinformation spreads five times faster on social media than straight-forward news outlets do.

So, here’s a quote from their study, “We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude.” Unquote. Of course, they’re not taking into account that the most powerful factor, really, is what people want to believe. So, sorry, Stephanie, I haven’t given you a whole lot of hopeful stuff yet, but we’re working on it.

Common Wonders 

Our friend Bob Koehler who is one of the first people to style himself a peace journalist has got an interesting article now on his website, which is called – his website is called, “CommonWonders.com/one-authors.” That article is called, “Politically Correct Racism.” I’ll leave you to read the article to see what he means by that.

Beatitudes Center

Meanwhile, there’s another group, another organization who has become quite active. It’s called, “The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus.” I really like that idea very much. I have talked often about a book by Keith Akers called, “The Lost Religion of Jesus,” in which he basically proves to my satisfaction that Jesus was nonviolent and he was starting a nonviolent revolution. So, the center was founded back last year, November 1st, the Feast of All Saints. And their idea is to help teach and promote the nonviolence of Jesus so they can deepen – “We can deepen our gospel of nonviolence,” they say. “Work for an end to racism, poverty, war, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction, and welcome God’s reign of peace and nonviolence here on Earth.”

Now, this is very much what Gandhi was after to promote what is called in India, “Rama Raja,” the rule of God on Earth. The Beatitudes Center offers online Zoom classes, workshops, conferences, retreats. And they’re going to start in-person conferences soon in this area sometime next year.

This is from a friend, Father John Dear who works with Pace e Bene and of course is a cofounder of the Beatitudes Center.

Strategic vs principled nonviolence

Now here’s something that I think is giving us a lesson in the limitations of what you might call, “Strategic nonviolence,” as opposed to “Principled nonviolence.” The main difference being strategic nonviolence, you may not be using physical overt violence as a tactic. But you are not harboring love in your heart for the opponent.

So, there’s a whole phenomenon now known as doxing, which is basically outing. So, there’s some growing effort by left-wing activists to punish members of far-right groups accusing them of violent behaviour. And this part really makes me squirm – exposing them to their employers, family, and friends. So, it does show the limits of the technique because, for example, they doxed somebody named, “Dawson.” And Dawson is unrepentant for his role in galvanizing a mob to harass people.

So, at best what we have here, now to use nonviolent vocabulary, this is what’s called, “Coercion, not persuasion.” Where if the doxing works, which is already an if, it will stop a person from doing what they were doing – and sometimes that’s what you need to do – but it will not change their mind and heart. Which means the change is going to be temporary and could easily be reversed.

But as I say, sometimes you just need to do this because, you know, protection of human life comes first. So, for example, when Augusto Pinochet was outvoted and sent out of office in Chile, he did not change his mind and heart. He died unrepentant a decade or so later in Spain. But they did stop him from disappearing people and torturing and killing them. So, you know, it had to be done. It’s all a question, as it often is in nonviolence, knowing your timing.


Stephanie: Michael, can I jump in here for a second?

Michael: Of course.

Stephanie: Okay. So, for those who are just tuning in, you’re at Nonviolence Radio. And if you notice something different about the news, it’s that Michael Nagler is reporting on nonviolence in the news or reporting on, you know, what nonviolence could look like if it were done a little bit differently, with some very interesting articles and research that you’ve found so far. So much of this comes across – you know, how are you reporting this? It’s because you go out and you look for it. And also, you’re subscribed to lists that send you this material. So, that news is out there and people can find it. And you’re just, you know, touching the iceberg. This is the tip of the iceberg of nonviolence in the news that’s out there.

Now, as you’re talking about different approaches to nonviolence, where there’s certain limits to techniques such as doxing and there’s certain motivations that are not as pure as other motivations. You know, maybe my motivation could be to stop an injustice, but my sub-motivation is to humiliate the person who’s doing it.

So, these are the kinds of analysis that you’re trying to bring out in that. And just for transparency sake, why don’t you – because it’s been a while since we’ve been live on the air, why don’t you explain a little bit about what you mean by nonviolence and what you’re looking for in these analyses, Michael?

Michael: Not a bad idea, Stephanie. I was just going to roll on with tons and tons of reports. But maybe it’s time to revisit that all-important subject. Yeah. As I’ve just been saying, there are kind of two flavors or grades of nonviolence. And it’s really helpful to know the distinction. You can be nonviolent simply by not responding violently to people who are threatening you. Or institutions that are compromising your rights.

But you can, for example, if you succeed – there’s a very dangerous moment there that Martin Luther King signalized very, very explicitly, that is do not gloat. If you gloat over your triumph, you will only be infuriating your opponent and making him or her or them look for an opportunity to get back.

So, what you really want to do in nonviolence, at least the term that we used to use in principled nonviolence, is where you have the welfare of the opponent in your mind, in your heart. And so, you are stopping them, him, whatever, from abusing you for his own sake as well as for your own. You’re doing what Gandhi called, “Ending this unnatural relationship of domination by one country over another.” And actually, there are economic parameters – psychological parameters are harder to find, of course – which tell you that this was really a benefit to the British empire and stop not being an empire anymore, but you know, just potentially being a partner in the community of nations – was a great benefit for them.

So, one really simple anecdote I like to use to explain the difference is there was a Yemeni protestor, oh, a couple years back who said, “They cannot defeat us because we have left our weapons at home.” So, this is a classic statement of strategic nonviolence. And let me say it again. Let me be very clear. I am not opposed to it.

Strategic nonviolence is any day infinitely better than violence. And if that’s all that you’re ready to do and you have to act because of a crisis, so, that’s what you do. But if he were a PNV man, you know, if he were really principled nonviolence, what he would have said, “They cannot defeat us because we left our hatred at home.” And that’s when you get to this effect that I mentioned before where to quote Raihana Tyabji, “His consciousness grabbed our consciousness and moved it to an incredible place.”

So, strategic nonviolence is the refusal to do harm which could be for only strategic reasons, because you know that trying to do harm was going to make things worse for you. But on a deeper level, it means lack of desire to harm. And that actually is probably the etymological meaning of the word ahimsa – an Indian term for nonviolence. It comes from a root [hin] which means to injure, to slay. And it’s what we linguists – and yes, I am a recovering linguist – used to be called, “A desiderative,” which means it doesn’t indicate the action, harming. But it indicates the intention or the desire to harm.

Stephanie: So, it presupposes that we have something called, “Minds,” and those are important. Because so much of modern life tends to deny the existence of mind, meaning that – yeah, sure, people read or, you know, we put things into the mind, but we don’t have the same kind of discrimination of things that we put into the mind as much as we have about like food, for example. Like health food. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of anger or hatred. So, can you speak to that?

Nonviolent state of being

Michael: I would love to because that is a critical point. If you are not capable, for some reason of violence, the surprising fact is you’re also not capable of nonviolence. At least not in the principled sense. To be nonviolent, which means A: to be in a nonviolent state of mind and B: to plan actions that are nonviolent in character. And to base your whole life on it which is another criterion of principled nonviolence, you have to have been capable of nonviolence. You have to renounce that anger and then that anger transfers over to its positive alternative. That’s the amazing miracle about it.

When you control anger and fear for the right reason, that anger and fear actually just bare energy, and it converts itself to empathy and courage. It’s an incredible thing. So, really nobody is not capable of nonviolence because everybody has a certain quantum of anger and fear in them.

Stephanie: Well, this is a much longer conversation. You have a few minutes left for the news. Would you like to tell us about the 60 Minutes program? Is it in your list of resources?

Michael: It wasn’t, but I’ll be glad to throw it in. Yeah, it’s about a remarkable man named Ben Ferencz. It’s a Hungarian spelling, F-E-R-E-N-C-Z. I was put in touch with him by a friend called Stephen J. And Ben was a Jewish American who fought his way across Europe in all the big battles, landed at Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, etc.

And because he was a lawyer, he was then recruited to present the prosecution case at the Nuremberg Trials. There’s a truly historic role he played. And he was only 27 years old at the time. And in this 60 Minutes program, you can see what a jolly, happy, you know, self-contented senior person he is. He has a really remarkable personality. And he managed to get convictions – which probably wasn’t too difficult for some of the biggest Nazis.

But when he was asked by the reporter how does he feel about that? He said, “I’m still churning.” To this day, the necessity of using violence because of violence that’s been used, bothered him. And so, there you see the seeds of principled nonviolence in this person who had been through so much. So, it’s a remarkable story. Ben Ferencz.

Stephanie: And he also said something interesting about what war does to people. He said that if, you know, what happened to these people, aren’t they monsters? And he said that’s what – these conditions turn people into monsters. Can you speak to that?

Michael: Yeah. In fact, he retorted immediately, “No. They are not monsters. They’re ordinary human beings who were caught up in basically this monstrous civilization.” And I think, again, that is critical because – what shall I say? The primary thing you need to do if you want to be nonviolent in a situation of stress, is to separate the person from the deed. And that’s what leads to restorative justice instead of retributive justice. So, therefore, it means that you never, never rule out the possibility of redemption, of restoring relationships.

So, if you think the person is a criminal, you can’t be nonviolent. You have to say, “This is a person who participated in criminal behaviour.”

Stephanie: That’s a very fine distinction and something left to reflect on. Thank you so much Michael for your Nonviolence Report today.

Utopias, the political imaginary and nonviolence 

So, coming up next on our show, we’ll be speaking with scholar – independent scholar and researcher, Safoora Arbab on nonviolence and utopias and how this connects to a deeper awareness of our need for self-transformation and even the role of feminism in our lives, so do stay tuned.

Welcome back everybody to Nonviolence Radio. I’m Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler.

So, we have a guest today who is going to talk to us about an important aspect in nonviolence which is the power of self-transformation. But also, it’s relationship with utopian thinking. And her name is Safoora Arbab. And she’s an independent scholar who holds a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA, in comparative literature. Her dissertation, “The Ecstasy and the Anarchy of Nonviolence: The Khudai Khidmatgar Resistance in the North West Frontier of British India.” And it focuses on the Pashto literature of this popular subaltern resistance movement of the 1930s and ’40s.

She’s published an article comparing the Khudai Khitmatgar movement and Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s utopian vision of a nonviolent community with Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. And that’s in the anthology, “Muslims against the Muslim League. Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan.” And she has translated a selection of poems by the iconic modern Pashtun poet, Ghani Khan, post-modern humanist poet/philosopher.

And she’s also teaching a course this summer with the Metta Center for Nonviolence. And her part in our certificate program is a seven to eight work course entitled, “Nonviolence, Feminism, and (Self) Transformation.” So, welcome Safoora back to Nonviolence Radio.”

Safoora: Thank you. Thank you Stephanie and Michael. Nice to be with you again.

Stephanie: Nice to be with you here. And there’s so much that we can talk about and sort of where to begin. But I’m thinking of, you know, in relationship with Michael’s Nonviolence Report which we just spent half an hour exploring, you know, different analysis of nonviolence in the news. And coming from this place of possibility that Michael is holding of what he knows about the potential of human nature to enact nonviolence. And I think that ties in really well with the concept of utopias that you and I wanted to talk about on the show today.

Because why? Because utopias presuppose an idea of possibility. And like nonviolence, people often critique nonviolence and say, you know, “Perfect nonviolence is impossible.” So, we have to talk about why it’s important to hold a sort of a utopian vision of what is possible, right?

Safoora: Yeah. Exactly. So, I think the idea of utopia, for me, is so appealing because it is this aspiration or an imaginary towards something that one desires and longs for, and knows that it’s possible. But we keep sort of undermining our own ideals, in a sense, by saying, “Oh, that’s not realistic or that’s not possible. That’s just something.” It is an ideal, in other words, right?

So, even in one of the first utopias which was Plato’s “Republic,” Plato has a very strong concept of ideal forms. And in a sense, the world is a reflection of that. And perhaps, the idea that the world cannot be – actually, those ideal forms, perhaps originate with Plato to say that the world is sort of a shadow reflection of that ideal form, and so it can never be that.

But it’s interesting because Gandhi also talks about utopias. And the village, for him, was an utopian ideal of how the future India should look. And he calls it, “The real picture.” He says, “Even though we may not be able to achieve that real picture, it’s always necessary to have that picture of the truth towards which we should aspire.”

And I sort of have the same kind of relationship with the concept of utopia as this wonderful arena of possibility that we shouldn’t just shut down by saying, “Well, it’s not really possible.” Similar to, as you were saying, what nonviolence aspires towards.

Stephanie: You know, there’s a researcher named John Paul Lederach out of the University of Notre Dame, I believe. He’s at the Kroc Institute for Peace. He has a term that he’s coined called, the “moral imagination,” the importance of the moral imagination in doing peace work. Which I think, essentially, ties into what you’re describing as utopian thinking, in a way. And when you bring up Plato’s cave, It really makes me think, you know, where does this idea of – the idea of possibility lives in us. We do have this sort of natural inclination that it’s some sort of natural knowledge of the way that things should be, right?

Safoora: Right. Right. Exactly. We sort of instinctively or intuitively or naturally or – I guess I don’t know actually what to call it – know when things are wrong and we know when things are right. And we know in which direction to take things if things are wrong. But we just sort of negate that possibility by saying, “That’s not realistic.” And so, I’m sort of interrogating that idea of realism.

And I think nonviolence does that. The whole framework of nonviolence is doing that by saying, “Well, why is the world constructed in the way that it is when this alternate possibility exists?” at least in our imagination, right? And instinctively we know that that’s what – those are the kinds of societies we actually crave, but we’re not putting our full effort into this. But rather, into reinforcing what we think is reality.

So, my question which sort of intrigues me is how do you shift what is real? Which is a social construct, essentially, but not sort of a naturally given thing, right? That the way we’ve created our society is a social construct. It’s not naturally or organically given. Even though people who want to sustain it want to frame it that way, that the human being is naturally violent so we need social and political systems to contain violence through other violent means.

But what if there’s another possibility? And I think we all know it exists. And at the core of that is the idea that the human is not naturally violent. And if we can just shift towards that, what other alternate possibilities are available to us if we just accept the fact? And it is a fact, right? There’s so much research now on this idea that the human is not naturally violent. What alternate possibilities or alternate forms of community can be created with an acceptance of that idea?

And I think utopia speaks to that. Even the original Utopia of Thomas More is speaking to that. Although, it’s unclear whether More was the name – the title, “Utopia,” whether that was – whether it referred to “no + place’  which is from the Greek ‘ou + topos” . Or it was referring to the Greek eutopos. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it properly. But the eutopos, is E-U-topos, which means the best place.

So, utopia can essentially be – the idea of utopia is both is it no place, not possible? Or is it the best of places towards which we can see how alternate forms of community can be organized.

Michael: Safoora, you preempted what I was going to say about [u] and [eu]. But I also wanted to mention that this false belief that we cannot evolve anymore is rooted in materialism. That we think that since our bodies are okay. You know, we don’t have to evolve eyes in the back of our head or anything – that evolution is over. And, you know, that’s the dreadful mistake there, to think that human beings cannot aspire in nonphysical ways to higher and higher things.

Safoora: Yes. That’s a very good point, Michael. I actually didn’t think of it that way, but I think it does come from – it does reflect, in fact, that we are, along with the conception that a human is naturally violent, is the idea that the human cannot change because he is a materially-given object. And so, the dimensions of spirit and intellect and reason and some other sort of – the human being is a conduit. Maybe between the divine and the material. All of those kinds of alternate cosmologies that I’m calling in that course are the alternate cosmologies in which the human is conceived differently are sort of removed from this very modern conception of the human.

And it is a modernist conception of the human. Even though we think it’s a universal conception, I think it is – one of the modern conceptions is that it’s become so dominant. And it’s articulated through all these different media that has become so loud, that we think it’s the only conception of the human when there are these alternate possibilities that already exist in Indigenous, sort of, views; in silenced, marginalized kinds of views that this dominant framework makes invisible.

And I think that it’s good to explore these alternate possibilities and how we can actually create networks of utopian thinking, in a sense, of alternate thinking with not only things from our past – imaginary from the past. But also then the future oriented thinking which utopia signifies. It’s essentially a futurist kind of thinking. Even though it’s thinking through and as a critique of the present systems in which we live.

Stephanie: Safoora, I’m thinking about, you know, this whole movement of, you know iPhones and kind of the “me” – the selfie culture, you know.

Safoora: Right.

Stephanie: And I’m sort of drawing on a pun about utopia, of like, you know, “U,” utopia is about – again, they can be about these kind of individual visions of what is good for me.

Safoora: Right, right.

Stephanie: And as we’re approaching the July 4th holiday in the U.S. here, you know, this is a day of independence and people are telling alternate stories about this day of being a day of interdependence. And I know that your research also bridges into, you know, the alternate stories that feminism brings to the table in these futures. And so, can you speak to interdependence and utopian thinking?

Safoora: Right. Yeah, that’s sort of – yeah. I get very excited about that topic.

Stephanie: Me too.

Safoora: And that’s what the course is trying to do, is to shift into the alternate ways of thinking through the lens of feminism because I think feminism – and of course, there’s many variations of feminism so I can’t just speak about feminism as the homogenous kind of given. But nevertheless, the feminist lens – because it’s speaking truth to power, in a sense, does then emphasize the importance of interconnection between groups of marginalized peoples in order to bring out the voices of the marginalized, including of course, women and other gender categories that have been shunned or invisible or just denied and so on.

Like nonviolence – and I’m pointing to the intersections between feminism and nonviolence. Like nonviolence, it also is positing alternate possibilities if we use an intersectional lens or an intersectional way of organizing communities. And intersectionality has become this very dominant – I shouldn’t say dominant. That’s not the correct term. But the framework that feminism uses in the present wave of feminism, which is the fourth wave of feminism.

And it comes from critical race theory, the term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. And she points to the fact that not only is violence intersectional, so especially against marginalized groups such as Black women where you can’t separate race from gender. But she enlarges that whole concept that intersection of violences can occur on many levels, systematic and structural violences.

So, the person can be oppressed because of their race or their caste or religion or nationality or sexual orientation. So, there’s all of these multiple levels of violences. But because we are – human beings are composed – this intersects in our identities also. We are composed of many layers. I am a woman. I am, you know, I am a scholar, I’m a mother.

So, I can’t just give myself a singular identity. My identity is also interconnected, not just with my own context, my own history, but my geographical and temporal context, right? So, the fact that I exist in – I’m living right now in America at this present time, has a bearing upon all of these multiple aspects of my identity.

So, this lens is especially crucial. It’s not just a theoretical lens because it’s also how we can conceive of resistance. The resistance itself also has then these intersectional layers. So, we can’t just resist one aspect of violence or violent systems – so structures. But we have to operate on these multiple levels in order for it to be effective.

So, imaginary is extremely – an extremely crucial component of how resistance operates. And this is especially through my research. I was illuminated by my research of the Khudai Khitmatgar movement that occurred in the North West Frontier that you pointed out earlier. And their resistance happened on multiple levels. Especially through literary or sort of the alternate thinking framework, alternate to the colonial dominant knowledge systems.

And education and poetry and drama. Those are the crucial aspects of, and went hand-in-hand with the physical resistance. So, strikes and boycotts and, you know, all of the Gandhian – with the congress, civil disobedience – went hand-in-hand with how they were trying to shift their own society. So, that’s how nonviolence was embodied by so many people in the province so quickly.

And so, all these interrelationships of both violence and resistance to it through nonviolent means have to be addressed, I think, in order for a real change, for our utopian vision, or at least for having – going in the direction of our utopian vision, even if they cannot be fully realized.

Stephanie: You know, there’s these caves in India called Ajanta Caves which were – over hundreds of years, monks would come in these Buddhist caves and chip away and create these incredible temples in the rock. The monks essentially believed that they were going to come back in the next life and keep working on these caves. And so, they had to have that image of that finished product in mind even though they know in their own lifetime they’re not going to see the end either.

Safoora: Right, right.

Stephanie: And so, it’s not just in, you know, resistance movements. I mean it’s in everything that we do, and especially in the creation of art. And so, I also hear that you’re tying nonviolence back into almost an artistic pursuit.

Safoora: Yeah. I think also this is a platonic kind of – we’re back to Plato where he separates the aesthetic from the political, especially poetry from politics. And I think that does sort of a disservice. Again, you know, we do need all these aspects of being human in order to address alternate possibilities. And so, I don’t think that art should be separated from the political or from the resistance. I think it informs it and enriches it greatly. I think we should just – I think we should accept all aspects of human-beingness in our doing this, so not to separate the two and not to separate theory from practice. And not to separate, you know, all these binaries, including, you know, the binary of practice which happens a lot in nonviolent communities. Of, “Well, here is the practical way to do it. And let’s not go into the theoretical aspect of it. You know, we need to do something about what’s going on and not try to understand it.”

And I think having this broader framework of understanding true spiritual and theoretical and all of these nontangible ways makes our resistance that much more informed. Like you were saying about the Ajanta Caves, the artist, they have this greater vision and then they could carve out this beautiful artwork or statues. And they’re, of course, not just artwork,it’s a temple also. So, it has this greater significance for human beings.

And so, to keep that in mind, I think that would make creating these alternate possibilities so much more viable.

Stephanie: Safoora Arbab, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. And I hope that people can find your course at the Metta Center’s website, MettaCenter.org, this is for our certificate program. Safoora will be teaching a section for seven to eight weeks on Alternate Cosmologies: Feminism, Nonviolence and (Self) Transformation. Thank you so much again for joining us today, Safoora.

Safoora: Thank you, Stephanie and Michael. It’s really nice to talk to you.

Stephanie: So, you’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank Matt Watrous for all of his hard work on the show, which he will transcribe and put up at Waging Nonviolence after the show. Thanks to Bryan at Waging Nonviolence. Thanks to you, all of our listeners, all the friends and volunteers at the Metta Center. Until the next time, please take care of one another.

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