Far from being utopian, the Gandhian emphasis on an ethical politics based on nonviolence and mutual respect may be the most practical path to achieve democracy in a region exhausted from the seemingly endless repression and bloodshed that has resulted from the belief that violence is the real source of power.
Nearly two years after the emergence of the “Green Movement” protesting election results in Tehran, new nonviolent uprisings against repressive regimes are spreading across the region from Tunisia to Yemen and, most importantly, Egypt. Despite their geographic and cultural diversity, these nonviolent movements across the Muslim world exhibit a remarkable similarity to Gandhi’s strategy for checking power and opposing violence in India decades ago. This raises the hopeful prospect that nonviolent campaigns for democracy might be the essential paradigm of change in the Middle East and Maghreb – areas of the world that have been marked by violence for so long.
Many in the West are familiar with the nonviolent strategies that, helped bring civil rights to the United States as well as democracy to Eastern Europe. But this path has been discounted in the Muslim world where the media has perpetuated stereotypes of Muslims as dangerous and violent fanatics. The present movements certainly challenge that stereotype and may indeed remind the world that many nonviolent Muslim activists and thinkers have played a role in opposing and checking the levels of violence both within their own communities and against others.