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Remembering the Nonviolent
September 11


PressInfo # 226

 September 10, 2005


Chaiwat Satha-Anand, TFF Associate

Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, Bangkok
Vice-President, Strategic Nonviolene Committee, National Security Council
Member, National Reconciliation Commission


On September 11, 2001, nineteen men turned 4 commercial airplanes with passengers into weapons of terror attacking cities in the US, killing more than 3,000 people. "That crystal blue morning," Craig R. Whitney wrote in the introduction to The 9/11 Investigation (2004), "changed the world, shocking the United States into realizing that it had been drawn into a global war with brutal suddenness."

The US attacked Afghanistan to root out "Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime", and then went into Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, claiming that his regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, among other things. The Taliban were ousted, Saddam Hussein arrested, and no weapon of mass destruction were found in Iraq, yet "the larger war and the terrorist threat to the American homeland continued unabated." In a way, all this is because at the time of the horrible attack, the US was, and presently continues to be, "led by a president persuaded that the US had no choice but to strike at the terrorist evil before it struck again." (Whitney 2004: ix)

There are many ways to remember the deaths of the people killed on that fateful day &endash; 9/11. They could be remembered together with between 3,125 to 3,620 Afghan civilians killed in the first ten months of the war in Afghanistan which began on October 7, 2001. Or they could be remembered with the 2,083 soldiers from different countries, 1,887 of them Americans, who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq war from March 2003 until January 31,2005. And they could also be remembered together with 24,865 civilians who had died since the Iraq war began. Among these, 37% or 9,200 were killed by American soldiers, while 9% or 2,237 were killed by the insurgents, according to the UK-based Iraq Body Count Group. (The Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2005)

The other way to meaningfully remember the fates of those who have fallen victims to violence, civilians and soldiers alike, would be to refuse to be led by the desperate belief that the world had no choice but to sink deeper into the violent inferno in its attempt to put an end to violence.

To honor the memory of those who were killed on 9/11, and because of 9/11, it is important to free the world from a sense of manufactured despair by remembering another 9/11 which took place 99 years ago with an enormously powerful legacy that have changed the world through nonviolence in the direction of furthering freedom.


Nonviolent 9/11

On August 22, 1906, the Transvaal government in South Africa under the British Empire gave notice of a new legislation requiring all Indians, Arabs and Turks to register with the government. Fingerprints and identification marks on the person's body were to be recorded in order to obtain a certificate of registration. Those who failed to register could be fined, sent to prison or deported. Even children had to be brought to the Registrar from their fingerprint impressions. At the time, there were less than 100,000 Indians in South Africa. But in Transvaal, there was an Indian lawyer working with a Muslim company, and his name was Mohandas K. Gandhi.

On September 11, 1906, Gandhi called a mass meeting of some 3,000 Transvaal Indians to find ways to resist the Registration Act. He felt the Act was the embodiment of "hatred of Indians" which if accepted would "spell absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa", and therefore resisting it is a "question of life and death."

Among these 3,000 people attending the meeting was one Sheth haji Habib, an old Muslim resident of South Africa. Deeply moved after listening to Gandhi's speech, Sheth Habib said to the congregation that the Indians had to pass this resolution with God as witness and could never yield a cowardly submission to such a degrading legislation. Gandhi wrote in his Satyagraha in Africa (1928), that " He then went on solemnly to declare in the name of God that he would never submit to that law and advised all present to do likewise." Though Sheth Habib was known to be a man of temper, his action on September 11 was significant because of his decision to act in defiance of an unjust law and willingness to suffer the consequences in a spiritually-endowed fight for justice in the name of God.

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Gandhi was taken aback by the Muslim's suggestion. He wrote, " I did not come to the meeting with a view to getting the resolution passed in that manner, which redounds to the credit of Sheth haji Habib as well as it lays a burden of responsibility upon him. I tender my congratulations to him. I deeply appreciate his suggestion, but if you adopt it you too will share his responsibility.

On that day, September 11, 1906, in South Africa, the Indian nonviolent movement was born. Gandhi later called his Indian movement: "Satyagraha" or " the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence." This movement went on to free 300 million people from the power of the British Empire and gave the twentieth century a most remarkable demonstration of the power of nonviolent struggle.


Remembering the Nonviolent 9/11

But what does it mean 99 years later to "remember September 11, 1906"?

I would say that it means remembering that nonviolent alternative was born in a people's fight against injustice. It means remembering that for Gandhi, it is Truth Force that both binds people together and energize them in their course of struggle against the mighty empire. That is why invoking God as witness in this case reflects the degree to which a person is willing to sacrifice his/her all for "Truth" or God. It also means remembering the Muslim role in fostering such an alternative at the advent of Satyagraha or Gandhi's nonviolence.

Most importantly, perhaps, "remembering September 11, 1906" means that people could choose to reconstitute themselves as members of a community of memory where once ordinary people decided to do something extraordinary by freeing themselves from despair and change their world with nonviolence.


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