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Warriors who play against type

In a time when protest rallies punctuate the news and buses full of antiwar fervor descend on Washington, civil disobedience is again creeping into public discourse.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thoreau tend to top the list of nonviolence advocates.

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But add another name: Abdul Gaffar Khan, a towering Pashtun of the 20th century, who became known as the "frontier Gandhi" for a life spent persuading his warring countrymen on the Afghan-Indian border that swords and guns weren't the only option.

Rudyard Kipling celebrated and romanticized the fierce bravery of the Pashtun warriors. But Badshah Khan or King of Kings, as Abdul Gaffar Khan was known to his followers, proved that this image was more complex than the British colonialists would have liked.

He showed that the warrior ethic could play against type.

Monitor writer Scott Baldauf talks to a longtime member of Khan's group in Pakistan who recalls how their nonviolent behavior nonplussed the British occupiers and ultimately led to their ousting in the 1940s (see story).

As Karl Meyer, coauthor of "Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia," wrote: "This forgotten chapter suggests that Islam is more mutable than either its radical adherents or its Western detractors allow - and that Pathan history offers an extraordinary precedent for peace...."

After spending almost a third of his life in prison, Khan could still say in an 1985 interview, "I am a believer in nonviolence and I say that no peace or tranquility will descend upon the people of the world until nonviolence is practiced, because nonviolence is love and it stirs courage in people."


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