non-violence not Relevant?

Over the last few years, the hot topic for news stations has been terrorism, and the responses of various countries towards it. We have been enthralled with dramatic discussions about whether the US will bomb Syria, or whether the UN will authorize military intervention. But, strangely enough, there has been a prominent paucity of information about non-violent counters to the growing Middle-Eastern threat.

Non-violence as an effective deterrent to oppression and violence first gained international renown under the direction of Gandhi. Even now, non-violent organizations within India – like the Shanti Sena – and throughout the world follow the principles he espoused. The efficacy of his methods was proven time, and time again; India’s sovereignty being his crowning achievement. But, his fight was with an empire built upon law and order. The British saw their colonization of India as a ‘civilizing mission’ to bring a ‘backwards’ country into the modern era. Today’s terrorist organizations are built upon a far more radical ideology, and their mission is far less magnanimous than a ‘civilizing mission.’ Despite this, people in the Middle East make an attempt at a peaceful battle against terror. There are some groups – largely comprised of women – which make it their duty to suppress radical thoughts in their communities, undercutting terror groups’ human resources. The resolve of the Syrian people to ignore the battle against al-Qaeda affiliates and the al-Assad regime is also a commendable non-violent effort to undermine terrorist authority. However, the cancerous growth of the ISIS does not lend confidence to these methods.

Even around the globe, non-violent fighting has been successful against fear or hatred generated from discrimination or oppression, not against zealous anger and enmity born of religious indoctrination and severe brainwashing. Gandhi once said that the advances in non-violence would surpass advances in violence; but, the present international situation speaks the opposite. Are the efforts made by war victims at the grassroots level truly meaningful in the fight against terrorism, or has the relevance of Gandhi’s non-violent methods been lost in the face of today’s terrorist organizations?


the American Sniper

There is no comfort like the solitude of one’s home, and one’s mind; and it is due to the abandonment of this very comfort that we owe our respect to soldiers around the world. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a dark and intense romanticism of a soldier’s life, focused on the brutality and violence that war inflicts. Although he pulled out all the stops in depicting tense, fast-paced combat sequences, it is the war soldiers wage within their own minds that takes center-stage in his film.

This movie tells the story of the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper commonly referred to as the most deadly sniper in US history, or as those in service call him, ‘Legend’. From the moment he finds his calling as a warrior and protector, all the way till the end, Chris finds himself fighting one battle after another, and the movie does a good job of portraying not only his struggles, but also their insidious effects on his psyche. Starting from his childhood, Chris develops a mindset that later on matures into a driving goal, bordering on obsession, to protect his people from anyone seeing to do them harm. It is this goal that first pushes him to join the SEALs, and it is this goal that allows him to kill men, women, and even children. The movie, however, takes great pains to emphasize that Chris is not a man without morals, on the contrary, he is portrayed as the quintessential humanitarian, struggling to take the life of each child holding a weapon, having to justify to himself each kill he makes.

Ironically, it is this very goal that torments his life off of the battlefield. This is very convincingly portrayed in his interactions with his family, which he obviously loves, but cannot find himself comfortable with. He had been fighting for such a long time, that he couldn’t find a purpose to satisfy his goal in a regular life. His mental distress was so strong he began to imagine conflicts, so that he could resolve them to appease his psyche’s call for action. It is only later on, when he begins helping other veterans overcome their demons, that he begins to banish his.

Unfortunately, although the movie does a spectacular job displaying the mental anguish soldiers have to overcome both on and off the battlefield, the story it uses to do so is critically flawed. Throughout the movie, the Iraqi war was portrayed as very black and white, with the Americans being the force of good, fighting against the bad terrorists lurking just out of plain sight. The movie seemed to imply that every single Iraqi civilian was actually a terrorist in disguise, looking towards killing as many brave and righteous American soldiers as possible.

Overall, the movie was very gripping and entertaining, it delivered deep insights into the minds and lives of those fighting for our safety and comfort, however, at the end of it all, the experience was soured by the unrealistic portrayal of the realism of war.

who is to Blame?

Who is to be blamed for the devastation in Ukraine? Is it the culmination of long-repressed tension between the pro-Russian and pro-European blocs within the nation? Is it the result of Putin exercising the ideology of Russian Imperialism on the neighbouring sovereign nation? Perhaps it is the result of the European Union and NATO overstepping their boundaries, followed by certain elements in Ukraine calling for Big Brother Russia’s help? Could it be the result of an energy conflict for the natural gas reserves and pathways present in the country? Or maybe, like in any other massive international conflict, is there more than one reason, or entity, at fault?

Since 1991, the US has shown a vested interest in promoting its Western dogma in Ukraine and other post-Soviet nations. It was estimated that by 2013, the US had invested over $5 billion to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves,” – an investment that worried Russia. Parallel to its social engineering campaign, the US has been pushing NATO for over the past two decades to expand into Eastern Europe, an initiative that Russia strongly, and clearly, opposed. Its invasion of Georgia in 2008 was a blatant warning advising NATO to keep away from its borders. To further express his displeasure, Putin delivered a thinly veiled threat to the US president stating that if Ukraine was folded into NATO, it would disappear. However, this did not dissuade the US for long. Within two years of this incident, the European Union had started pushing Ukraine to sign an economic treaty with them.

Viktor Yanukovych was elected as the 4th president of Ukraine on the 25th of February, 2010. Most of his support base comes from the pro-Russian Eastern and South-eastern regions of Ukraine, specifically, the Crimea peninsula. Despite this, one of his directives as president was to sign the proposed treaty with the EU, a directive that was getting closer to being realized as the winter of 2013 drew nearer, a realization that was drawing too close to comfort for Russia.

From the Russian perspective, this treaty was the last straw. For decades, Russia had been watching the US steam roll its agenda into Ukraine, slowly, but surely turning the minds of its people, and pulling it further away from Russia’s purview. If the US managed to convert Ukraine, then Russia’s borders would be wide open to pan-European influence – an eventuality that Russia simply could not allow. So, in the interests of self-preservation, Russia placed Ukraine under economic pressure, until Yanukovych had no choice but to make an about face, reject the EU treaty, and instead accept a Russian counteroffer.

This one action acted as the catalyst for the explosion of tension that had been building between Russia and the Western powers for over decades.

Many of the pro-European parties in Ukraine were outraged at this action, and immediately began protesting, finally culminating in the occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square. During the course of these demonstrations, many clashes were reported between special police forces and the protesters, leading to the deaths of about 100 civilians – it seemed as though Ukraine was on the brink of a civil war between the pro-European faction and the pro-Russian faction.

Western emissaries hurried to Kiev in hopes of solving the crisis before it erupted into a full on conflict. On the 21st of Februaury, 2014, Yanukovych declared that he had come to an agreement with the opposition, and that he would continue as president, but restrict his powers so that if the people demanded, a new president could be elected. Sadly, this arrangement fell through, and by the next day, Yanukovych had resigned and fled to Southern Russia. What remained was a government that was pro-European, and anti-Russian to the core.

The day after Yanukovych fled, a parliament meeting was called in which he was formally impeached, and exiled. Except, according to the then Constitution of Ukraine, this removal lacked the required number of votes. Furthermore, the next day, Yanukovych was formally charged with the ‘mass killing of civilians.’

Strangely enough, the Prime Minister of the new government was the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the same man a leaked telephone recording revealed as Victoria Nuland’s (the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs) first choice.

Realizing that the whole coup d’état had been planned by Washington, Russia silently sent unmarked troops into Ukraine, ostensibly to help maintain peace, but, actually to help annex Crimea from Ukraine, as they revealed after the fact. The legitimization Russia presented for this action was a signed note from Yanukovych seeking Russian aid to help protect the bodies and interests of the citizens of Ukraine. However, it can be argued that Russia’s true motive was keeping the strategic military position of the Crimea peninsula out of NATO’s hands.

What is to be noted is that, at best, both Russia and the US only honored the words of the law, and not the intent behind them. The only logical conclusion is that both these nations had separate agendas that they wished to further, and Ukraine was the most convenient tool available.

Self-preservation is quite clearly the driving force behind Russia’s decisions, but, what is the US’s? What drove Washington to engineer a coup d’état in Ukraine?

A number of possible motives have been proposed. The first being that the US was after Ukraine’s natural gas. The appointment of Hunter Biden, US vice president Joe Biden’s son, to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private gas firm lends credence to this theory. Another possible motive is the possible insecurity the US felt about Russia’s proposed experimentation with China to replace the Dollar, an experimentation that would cripple the US economy. Bringing Russia to its geopolitical knees would be a sure fire way of avoiding this outcome. One more motive behind the US coup could be the US neoconservatism agenda against Russia. After the Putin-Obama alliance which avoided bombing Syria and bankrupting Iran, the noncons definitely had a bone to pick with Russia. The US’s continued aggression towards Moscow would also be explained by this motive.

Although the US agenda in this conflict is murky, the sentiments of the Ukrainian people are not. At the moment, the whole nation is polarized between Russian ideologies, and Western European ideologies. Within a span of nine months, the Ukrainian people had experienced over 2,200 deaths, a number that was quickly on the rise. To these people, this conflict is a bitter struggle to express their desires, and to live the lives that they envision for themselves. They know that it is bloodshed started by an age old rivalry. They know that if the EU hadn’t made advances on their country, the massacre could have been prevented. To them, this is the struggle of their lifetime, and the struggle that will define the lifetimes of their children.

These people know that their country is just another casualty of the age-old US – USSR geopolitical game, but they are powerless to do anything. Anything but play along. The match has been struck, the spark has been fed, and now all that remains is to wait for the fire to die down.


As of late, the terrorism in the Middle East has been growing to larger and larger peaks. It has broken the shackles of geographic boundaries and has managed to touch the entire globe. The number of people that leave their homes to sign up for the terrorist cause is staggering – over 15,000 people joined up from 80 countries throughout the world in the four short months after ISIS began to mobilize in the June of last year. This number begs the question: what is capable of driving thousands of people, some of whom lead comfortable lives, to drop everything, travel across the world, undergo rigorous combat training, and throw their lives away in a bloody martyrdom?

Many studies have been conducted to better understand this international radicalization process – specifically on the types of people which are most receptive to it. However, the results of these studies end up creating more questions than they answer. Unsurprisingly, certain of the sects of Muslims which feel marginalized or segregated from the rest of society are prone to turn to terrorism. Peculiarly, it has also been observed that most European insurgents are well-off, sociable representatives of the middle class – some of them having only recently converted to Islam. These two groups demonstrate a stark contrast in the kinds of people who give up their lives for terrorism, and it is only logical to assume that there is a similar contrast in their respective reasons for doing so.

Many Muslim communities in the Western World are isolated from the remainder of the society that they belong to. Although this isolation is many times self-imposed, the sentiments of oppression and marginalization that it creates are just as powerful as they would be if it were not. This is not to say that all such communities are spawning grounds for terrorists – only the most extremist of them are. For the disgruntled members of these communities, the life of a terrorist represents the perfect way to strike back at who they see as their Western oppressors. To them, inspiring fear through acts of brutality is the most effective method to draw attention to their cause.

The reasons respectable, middle class people end up joining terrorist organizations are much more difficult to pin down. Much of what is understood at the moment about their motives is still conjecture. The most popular theory is that perhaps they are running away from some aspect of their lives that they cannot bear to face; such as financial or social problems. Or maybe they have some criminal record that they wish to expiate, and they believe the terrorist cause is their vehicle to do so. In some instances, adolescents join up merely because they are at the junction in their lives when living in a camp and shooting guns seems appealing. If these kinds of people suddenly hear about what ‘Islam’ has to offer, then, obviously, they will jump at the chance to convert and realize their own aspirations.

In recent years, the number of people in the Western nations approaching Muslim religious leaders to ask for conversion has significantly increased. What is more telling, however, is the number of people who disappear after being taught what Islam is, and represents, by these authorities. There are people out there, living in our societies, slowly but surely spreading the propaganda that terrorist organizations adhere to.

But, although these reasons offer a somewhat satisfactory explanation for why terrorists choose to be terrorists, they do not explain how terrorists – rational human beings no different from us – can possibly justify the barbarous murders of innocents to themselves.

These men and women have interpreted the teachings of the Quran and applied them to the present world in a certain way – a way that allows them to accept and even relish in the loss of innocent life. According to their interpretation, any government that chooses to oppose them, and take military action against them, can only do so with the support of its people. In this way, every citizen of the nation becomes responsible for the inevitable loss of terrorist life that occurs during combat. Moreover, although terrorists accept that women and children not directly involved in the fighting are innocent, since they sleep and eat in the same countries that house the armies killing terrorists, their deaths too are sanctioned by God. Furthermore, an interpretation of a specific line in the Quran leads one to believe that even Islamic people living in Western nations are not truly Islamic, by virtue of the fact that they accept Christian or Jewish leaders. Through this tangled web of spurious logic, terrorists have managed to rationalize the killing of anybody who so much as is present in a nation warring against them.

These men and women put their religion on a pedestal, and allay any guilt they feel for their actions by telling themselves that they are merely the instruments of God’s design. To these men and women, even logic as absurd as this is acceptable, because what they are looking for is not a reason to kill, but an excuse to kill. The more logical the terrorists’ minds are, the deeper they must immerse themselves in their excuse, to escape the self-recrimination. This excuse is repeated so many times in the minds of terrorists that eventually, they begin to truly believe it; and the product of this mental conditioning are the religious zealots we see now terrorizing the world.

Light on the Path of Nonviolence

-Michael N. Nagler  (Metta Center for Nonviolence)

We seem to be living in a world going in two directions at once, toward increasing violence, for one example in the Middle East, and away from violence toward nonviolence, which is undergoing remarkable growth.  The first of these developments we are all too aware of; the second, the one we most need, is known only to a very small number.  The worldview of most people is such that even if they witness a nonviolent event of some kind they cannot rightly understand what they are experiencing. Their culture does not give them a framework to understand or appreciate nonviolence.  The fact is that and more than half the people of the world have in fact witnessed, or participated in, a nonviolent movement of some kind in their country in the decades since Gandhi and King, yet policymakers and the general public still act as though military force were the only response to a large-scale threat.

The fact that it is largely the youth culture in which these movements have arisen is another reason they remain little understood and accounted for, as youth have less access, by and large, to the mainstream media.  But the main reason they remain in the shadows is that they cannot be readily understood in the prevailing worldview. Let me, therefore, speak to these new developments in the field of nonviolence, for if they remain in the shadows there will be little hope that today’s youth will inherit a liveable world.  As I see it, at least five things are happening that need to be brought to light, appreciated, and further developed.


  1. New Institutions.  Along with more formal institutions such as the International Criminal Court and legal protocols like the “Right to Protect” (R2P), civil-society organizations like Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) have come onto the world stage to reduce and forestall conflict by creative, nonviolent means.  These groups send trained field workers into areas of conflict, often where even the UN deems the situation too dangerous.  Over the last twenty or so years they have protected many threatened individuals and dampened many a conflict, recently, for example, in Mindañao. They also represent an important shift in the logic of organizations itself from a top-down, hierarchical model of the typical for-profit corporation to more organic and democratic forms.


  1. The peace movement has had to “reinvent the wheel” every time something provokes it into action.  Today, taking advantage of the increases in global communication and travel, activists have been more concerned to share “best practices” with those who find themselves in similar situations.  Student leaders from the successful overthrow of President Milośevič in Serbia, for example, were on hand at Tahrir Square.  They created The Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) to carry on this vital work.


  1. New Science.  What is now called “classical science,” the materialist paradigm of life as a random, deterministic, and essentially meaningless, is an integral part of the world of violence and destruction from which we are trying to emerge.  In the last thirty or so years an undeniable paradigm shift has happened across all scientific disciplines which should have profound and helpful alternative impacts on the search for a nonviolent future.  If Gandhi were still in the body he would be making superb use of the “new science.”  It’s findings resoundingly support the Vedantic tradition he inherited, so that now whether we look at the outside or the inside worlds (through science or spiritual discovery) we see that nonviolence is not only possible but the fulfilment of our destiny.


  1. New Actors.  Gandhi began his work in S. Africa among relatively enfranchised, “free” Indians, and   critical boost to his Satyagraha campaign happened when two new groups were drawn in: laborers and women. Similarly today, two traditionally marginalized groups are increasingly empowered, organized, and engaged.  Women are probably the most important, but also indigenous people have found ways to mount successful nonviolent resistance to corporate attacks on their lifestyles. At least one regular organization, Via Campesina, has helped them gain visibility (and effectiveness) without sacrificing their traditional lifestyle.  The courageous women and men of Koodankulam, whom I visited last October, are a splendid example.


  1. Peace Science.  Along with the great shift in “hard” sciences, scholarly research has begun to acknowledge nonviolence as a field, or at least a phenomenon.  There is now an extremely influential study, Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan (2012 ) showing that “transitions to democracy” that are free from violence are twice as effective as violent ones, in one third the time, and such transitions lead to greater democracy even when they fail than violent attempts that “succeed.”


It is critical for youth and for all of us today not to be demoralized by the increases in violence but to learn about and take part in these great developments.


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When most people envision a UN meeting, they see sharply dressed men and women dictating the course of the world. They see cunning orators backed by powerful nations controlling vast armies and deciding the fate of entire countries. They see suits fighting with vibrant eloquence, each desperately trying to make his or her stand, to have his or her say. But, nobody sees the men and women deliberating on how to protect the environment. Nobody sees the philanthropy planning the eradication of poverty. Nobody imagines the altruists devising the banishment of society’s most serious grievances.

The ECOSOC is commonly overlooked because it deals with long-lasting issues, and most of its resolutions do not generate swift corrections. However, of all the principal organs of the UN, ECOSOC is the one with the greatest chance of impacting the general populace. Whereas the Security Council and the General Assembly deal with issues at the global level, ECOSOC deliberates on issues that affect mankind at the individual level. ECOSOC, being a smaller subsidiary of the larger U.N.O, holds one supreme attribute, the attribute of specification. It is a specific committee for economic and social agendas, making it easier to understand the technicalities of its jurisdiction, and thus, is most capable in addressing the grass-root level issues and can most easily resolve all the passively sitting issues. The Millennium Development Goals are a great example of this. Each goal is geared towards mending a specific issue of society; from poverty to gender equality, from disease to child mortality, all the most pressing defects of society are addressed by these goals. ECOSOC has pursued, and will continue to pursue, these goals relentlessly since their declaration by the UN. This is not to say that the General Assembly, or the Security Council do not concern themselves with social, economic, or environmental issues – they do. But, after one of these two has passed a resolution regarding such matters, it is ECOSOC that follows up on the resolution, reviews its effectiveness, and proposes further adjustment, if any, at regular intervals.

Furthermore, of all the UN organs, it is ECOSOC which is the most farsighted in its discussions and resolutions – with environmental protection, and sustainable development as essential criteria for any decision made, it cannot afford not to be. Since the General Assembly and the Security Council focus on relatively immediate issues and threats, it is up to ECOSOC to develop plans for the more protracted risks to society.

Today’s world is beleaguered by a myriad of problems. Some of them are far away, in places we only ever see on maps. Others are closer to us, waving at us as we walk through our lives. The UN was founded to help us with those problems that we can’t deal with on our own, or those problems that require a coordinated effort to abolish. Each organ of the UN was appointed a specific task, a specific set of problems to defeat, so that we could lead enjoyable lives. More specifically, if we say the task appointed to the General Assembly and the Security Council is to ensure the existence of a world to live in, then the task appointed to ECOSOC is to ensure a society for us to live in. It is only if both these duties are carried out, that humankind can continue.

IIT Guwahati Model United Nations Conference