By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
The Muslim Observerâ€™s Dr. Geoffrey Cook took part in a conference sponsored by the South Asia Studies Association this past weekend. The two day event was titled: â€œSouth Asia and the West: Entwined, Entangled, and Engagedâ€ and took place on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.
Dr, Veena Howard of the University of Oregon was the other presenter. Professor Dean McHenry of the Claremont Graduate school was the moderator.
Both scholars spoke on Indiaâ€™s M K Gandhi, his philosophy and his teachings and influence. Dr. Howard was the first speaker.
Dr. Howardâ€™s specialities are comparative religion and Hindu thought. She is associated with the University of Oregon and Lane Community College in Eugene. She has delivered papers at other symposia including the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the Darma Association of North America.
She began by describing the eclectic sources of the philosophy of M K Gandhi. Yet, the philosophy he espoused and taught was his own. His passive resistance or satyagraha can be easily misunderstood if examined through the filter of Western values. Here it would imply a do nothing approach even in the face of injustice and oppression. Quite the contrary, Gandhi mobilized the masses including groups within India that were normally marginalized. He did this with â€œsoul forceâ€
His call to vows of chastity, simplicity and fearlessness resounded within the religious traditions of his country. They empowered rather than deprived his followers.He believed that Truth was the only perfect description of God.
â€œThe soul is supremeâ€, said Gandhi and compared the soul to a to a superior steel sword. He appealed to the Indian collective and urged the people to pit their strength against evil through inner force.
Dr. Cook told his audience that Gandhi was as concerned with the welfare of Muslims in India as he was with Hindus. He wrote about Palestine from the 1920â€™s through the 1940â€™s. He also favored a caliphate in Turkey.
Gandhiâ€™s opposition was not to Jews living in Palestine. He believed that friendship between Jews and Arab Muslims was possible – indeed the perfect solution -, and history would seem to support it. He opposed the assertion by Zionists of sovereign rights and the imposition of governance by them. His opposition was to Zionism as a political branch of Judaism and supported only by a small percentage of Jews. Making allowances for the time in which he lived, his bias was toward a one state solution (though the term was not in popular use then).
Dr. Cook spoke of his meeting with Dr. Richard Falk, the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur for the (Israeli) Occupied Territories. Dr. Falk was denied entry into Israel despite his standing. He favors a one state solution for the Israeli conflict, a point which Dr. Cook disputes. Dr. Cook suggested to Dr. Falk that he read Gandhiâ€™s central essay
Dr, Cook described M K Gandhi as having a mind that was â€œa curious mixture of the practical and the impracticalâ€. He developed his methodologies on non violence in South Africa. His commitment to truth and to justice would permeate his thoughts and his proposals.
Gandhi sympathized with Jews, but his devotion to truth and justice would not permit him to sanction Zionist entry into Palestine under â€œBritish bayonetsâ€. He regarded Palestine as a British possession in the same way that his own country of India was a British possession.
Dr. Cook spoke of how much different the world might be today had we listened to Gandhi; how much freer from the conflicts that seem to be endless, in South East Asia and in the oPt particularly.
A question and answer session followed the two presentations.