Monday, May 13, 2013

Gandhi v. Guevara

Here struts Che.

He swaggers with all the physical courage and revolutionary fire a man can muster, suffering from asthma as he tromps through the jungles of Cuba and Bolivia and Congo-Kinshasa. He's a doctor, a fighter, a leader, a writer, a Marxist.

He's an image; he's an icon.

He's a t-shirt.

Che was right about some things. He was right to seek liberation for Latin America from imperialism and colonialism, from U.S. corporate hegemony. Thanks in no small part to his labor and the fervor he inspired, Cuba overthrew the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. But along with Fidel and Raul, Che's solution was the rifle, the bullet, bombs, blades.

Che's answer was violence.

Now here comes Gandhi.

Small and thin. Wearing only a simple white garment of fabric he'd spun himself. Dedicated to ahimsa, noninjury, nonviolence.

Twenty years prior to Guevara's assassination in Bolivia, India won independence from a great imperial power. But India's liberation was won not through arms.

Was Mohandas K. Gandhi, in his refusal to harm others, any less courageous than Che Guevara? One could say he was more courageous in that he had no weapons, no line of self defense beyond the purity of his spirit and the justice of his cause. He risked life and limb. He was imprisoned again and again for his resistance efforts, adding up to about seven years of his life. Indians called him Mahatma, great soul.

If change is what we seek, should we not seek change in imitation of Gandhi, in a way that preserves life rather than ends it? If change can only happen through the spilling of blood, will we want the world that we're left with?