Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Simi Mehta - Martin Luther King: Changing The World With Love

Martin Luther King, Jr. needs no introduction. On the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King Day is observed to mark his birthday and to celebrate his legacy, which continues to establish and shape the ideals of an inclusive and tolerant society, not only building bridges between Americans of all races, creeds and colours, but also fostering intercultural and inter-faith understanding among people all over the world. He was deeply committed to the creation of the era in which people from all religious backgrounds would cooperate in the service of humanity.

Deeply influenced by the tenets of active pacifism -- utilised well by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in India's freedom struggle - Dr King gave a clarion call to the people of all walks of life to put an end to racism and concertedly act with a spirit of kindness and to cooperate in the pursuit of justice. Similar to Gandhi's means of non-violent resistance, he became the indispensable leader who inspired millions of people through his disciplined political action. Even amid instances of attacks directed towards him, he had said, "We want to love our enemies, be good to them. This is what we must live by, we must hate with love. We must love our White brothers no matter what they do to us".

By synthesising Gandhi's method of nonviolence and the ethics of love as the supreme unifying principle of human life, Dr King developed a powerful weapon in the African-American struggle for human dignity. In the largest ever political demonstration in the history of the US, in 1963, he avowed his "dream", where the African-Americans would "live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

He was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended around two centuries of slavery, segregation, and legal inequality as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that established the legal equality of African-Americans empowering them to politically assert themselves as full participant in the American democratic system. The Civil Rights Movement was not just about race, it was about the creation of hope for people from diverse backgrounds and countries of the world. 

With the support of over 300,000 Americans, he was successful in persuading the policy-makers to stand in support of the universal principles of equality and justice and interfaith cooperation -- the pillars that epitomise the socio-political fabric of the United States of America. He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964 for his nonviolent resistance to racial injustice, "with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind".

Dr King's commitment to the cooperation between people from all faiths and walks of life changed the attitudes of the American populace and weaved a sense of religious tolerance into the national framework. His message of human solidarity continues to be relevant in the current times where hardliners and fundamentalists are trying to pit one faith against the other. His deep sense of rationality, embedded in spirituality to foster a greater appreciation of every religion, is reflected by his sermon that he offered in a Baptist Church in Montgomery, where he said, "O God, our gracious Heavenly Father, we call you this name. Some call thee Allah, some call you Elohim. Some call you Jehovah, some call you Brahma...", and established the philosophy that the force of love is the supreme unifying principle of life.

The triumph of Martin Luther King, Jr's dream is exhibited in the remarkable progress the African-American community has made, despite continuing challenges. The high school and university graduation rates have increased exponentially since 1966, the rate of poverty been halved and have risen up the ladder to be some of the most famous entrepreneurs, scholars, and literary achievers. 

With President Barack Obama serving his last year of the second term of his presidency, there are currently 43 Black serving Representatives in the House of Representatives and two Senators in the Senate, as well as a hopeful presidential candidate from the Republican Party. These are the instances of the power of American democracy and progress in which Dr King had a great hand. He continues to inspire and empower people around the world to forge ahead, breaking down barriers of inequalities rooted in prejudice, hostilities and fear, in the hope of eventually creating a just and equitable society.


Martin Luther King: "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.  I do not want to give the impression that nonviolence will work miracles overnight. When the underprivileged demand freedom, the privileged first react with bitterness and resistance. Even when the demands are couched in nonviolent terms, the initial response is the same. So the nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality...If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In a day when sputniks dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, nobody can win a war. The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.." Martin Luther Kingfull text hereMy Pilgrimage to Non-violence, September 1958

see also