I don’t know what the right thing is. But I know that the right thing is not violence

india pakistan peace

Dear All,

A lot of people are very angry. But I hope we will all think very carefully before we call on our leaders for war or any extreme measure.

India is indeed great. And a great nation can endure acts of free speech, including criticisms of the government. We can endure and appropriately handle acts of terrorism without resorting to extreme measures. Remember the film PK. If god indeed exists then he can defend himself – he does not need us to go to war to defend him. In the same way, a great country can stand up to attacks without its citizens calling for extreme measures.

War only looks glamorous and satisfying from a distance. In reality war causes misery, epidemics, mass displacements, economic disruptions and interrupts all the services we take for granted – from law and order to telecommunications and food supply. I sometimes complain about aspects of our government, especially pollution. But I very often feel proud of how far India has come in a few decades despite so many challenges. War will set us back.

If you’re sceptical about pacifism, please read any book on war. I recommend War and Peace, In Dubious Battle and Gone with the Wind. The best war film of all time is Dr Strangleove. Hilarious and terrifying. I can lend you Strangleove or Bondarchuk’s film on War and Peace.

Perhaps it is foolish asking people to read books when we are all angry. But I know one thing. We are all immensely fortunate to be living in a time when our only experience of war, or civil unrest, is vicarious. All I know of these things is through books and films, and my grandma’s stories of partition. We are all fortunate to have no direct experience of mass violence. Please, let us keep it that way.

I know that vengeance is extremely tempting. I have a short temper. It has taken me decades to get a modicum of control over my temper. Violence always feels attractive in the moment, and never feels good afterwards. If we as individuals feel bad about acts committed in anger, imagine how much damage two angry nations can do in the nuclear age. And how much regret there would inevitably be – after a conflict that would solve nothing.

I frankly don’t understand the Kashmir issue. I’ve spent some time over the years trying to understand Kashmir, Gaza, and other hotspots. Both sides have committed atrocities escalated over the decades. This much is clear. Beyond that, I know that I lack the knowledge to express an opinion in so serious and complicated a matter. Issues like Kashmir and GMOs stir up a lot of emotion. But when we express that emotion and call for action without understanding the issues, the pressure we exert as citizens on our elected leaders can have serious repercussions. In a democracy we are all free to speak up. To stage protests, to call for bandhs, to call for retaliation. But we should be very careful what demands we make. Unless we citizens are fully informed on the issues, how can we make appropriate decisions? This is the main reason ancient Athenians detested democracy as we know it. Please, let’s be careful what we ask our government to do.

Terrorism is deeply rooted and is not exclusive to any country. Terror organisations recruit members everywhere, even in Geneva, within a few meters of the UN’s offices. In a globalised world, attacking one country does not root out terrorism. Haven’t recent wars proved that? ISIS continues to exist, if not thrive. War kills some terrorists, galvanises attention, and increases recruitment to terror outfits. As in the fable of the dragon’s teeth – kill one, and a hundred more spring up. Terrorists view themselves as expendable. Do we really want our soldiers to go to war against expendable terrorists? Against organisations who stand for nothing but destruction? Terrorists provoke with violence; others provoke with words. We need to defend ourselves. Yes. But if we retaliate, we give them exactly what they want. Terrorists want us to become fearful, hateful, xenophobic, islamophobic, and regressive. Please, don’t let them win.

With elections coming up, let us call upon our leaders to do the right thing. I don’t know what the right thing is. But I know that the right thing is not violence.

Meanwhile, instead of war, let us enjoy good food/books/ films, conversation, sports/ music/ travel/ weather/ friends.



(Check 01.04)

Post London terror attack.

Best regards.

Amita Basu is a Ph D candidate at the Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad

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