By Bhikhu Parekh
• If he were alive today, how might Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest apostle of non-violence, challenge Osama Bin Laden’s worldview? Bhikhu Parekh is Vice-President of The Gandhi Foundation, a professor of political philosophy, a Labour peer, and the author of three books on Gandhi. This article first appeared in Prospect magazine in April 2004.
Like millions around the world, I found the atrocities of 9/11 abhorrent and utterly condemn such acts of terror. Despite the war against terror, we continue to see more horrors such as that in Madrid. What drives the bombers? How do they live with their deeds? Is there no alternative to the cycle of violence?
No one is better qualified to advise on this than Mahatma Gandhi, the great apostle of non-violence. My imaginary exchange between him and Bin Laden tries to do two things: to comprehend at least part of the twisted worldview that inspires Bin Laden, for we cannot defeat it without understanding it; and second, to explore a neglected alternative.
My Bin Laden is an intellectual construct, a metaphor, referring not so much to the real man as to a more generic pro-terror radical Islamist.
Dear Mahatma Gandhi
2nd October 2003
Ever since my followers attacked the American embassy in Kenya, the USS Cole in Yemen, and later the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, they and I have been declared enemies of the civilised world who can be hunted, tortured and killed like wild animals. I was not surprised by the American reaction, but I was dismayed by the hostile reactions of some of my fellow Muslims.
I owe it to them to explain why we did what we did, why we remain unmoved by the calumnies heaped upon us and why we might do it again. Since every political act is unintelligible outside its historical context, I must begin with some history….
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1st November 2003
Listening to you, my brother Osama, I was strongly reminded of my dialogue with my terrorist countrymen, which began in London in 1909 and continued almost until my death. As in their case, so in yours, I find your reasoning perverse and your glorification of violence utterly abhorrent.
Whether you realise it or not, you think and talk like an imperialist. You present a sanitised picture of Islamic history.
All conquests and empires involve bloodshed, oppression and injustice, and yours was no different. Muslim rulers in India destroyed Hindu temples, looted Hindu property and converted vast masses by a combination of inducement and force. They also destroyed traditional African cultures and social structures and sought to obliterate memories of their pre-Islamic past. And although they treated Christians and Jews better, they never granted them equal citizenship.
Since all this occurred a long time ago, there is no point in lamenting it and apportioning blame, but we do have a duty to acknowledge the full truth of the past and resolve never to repeat it.
You do not do this, and are even determined to revive Muslim rule in the countries you mention. You attack European imperialism because it ended yours, and you attack Americans because they are preventing you from reviving it.
An imperialist yourself, you have no moral right to attack the imperialist designs of others…