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Desecration of Gandhi Statue in San Francisco

Los Angeles, Feb 23, 2022 Kapoo/Ramesh/ A.Gary Singh

As advocates for peace and social justice committed to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we are appalled to learn about the recent desecration of Mahatma Gandhi's statue in San Francisco, and similar incidents in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Melbourne, Australia and Davis, California. We are deeply saddened by these acts of vandalism and condemn this desecration of the Gandhi statue as an attack on the nonviolence principles Gandhi advocated and represented in his life's work, and we hold dear.

Rev. James Lawson, perhaps the most important nonviolence teacher of the Black Freedom Movement in the United States, studied Gandhian thought in India and applied the principles and methods he learned to the racist social reality in the American South. For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking...”

Dr. King frequently proclaimed his conviction that Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent resistance revealed “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” This potent weapon was used by citizen activists and their allies to end nearly a century of Jim Crow apartheid in the United States.
Cesar Chavez, the iconic leader of the United Farm Workers, regarded Gandhi as a great teacher, for whom he expressed a spiritual and political debt.

Gandhi’s participation in the anti-racist movements in South Africa, and his leading role in the liberation of people of all faiths in India, had a great impact on Nelson Mandela. Reflecting on Gandhi’s life and example, Mandela reflected: “He is the archetypal anti-colonial revolutionary. His strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance inspired anti-colonial and anti-racist movements internationally in our century.”

Gandhi has always been a controversial figure, and he remains so in the 21st century. A flawed human being, a person full of contradictions, Gandhi is beloved by millions, while he is criticized and perhaps despised by many others, for a multitude of reasons. For example, many people have highlighted racist statements Gandhi made when he was a young lawyer in South Africa. Well aware of these racist statements, Mandela argued, “Gandhi must be forgiven those prejudices and judged in the context of the time and circumstances. We are looking here at the young Gandhi, still to become Mahatma, when he was without any human prejudice save that in favor of truth and justice.”
We understand and share these concerns, and we strongly defend the right to express them. But just as strongly we oppose any and all violent acts that perpetuate hatred, animosity and trauma.
The urgent need for nonviolent forms of speech and expression is highlighted by recent political violence that has exploded in the United States, India and throughout the world.
We can never expect violent acts to lead to peaceful solutions. It is only through education, dialogue and understanding that seek reconciliation that we can obtain a peaceful resolution of our differences and create the Beloved Community Dr. King envisioned.
Dr. Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, directs the World House Project at Stanford’s Center for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law.
Jonathan D. Greenberg directs the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.
Sudarshan Kapoor, Ph.D. is a Gandhian Peace activist and an emeritus professor of Social Work Education and Peace Studies at California State University, Fresno.