WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG/BLOG Our special blend of insight, analysis, and wit is now available in daily doses. Observer editors, staffers, and bloggers are posting regular reports online about Texas politics, news, and culture. CentralTexas Gardener KLRU-TV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates. KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local listings. klru tv and beyond klru.org appropriately, by attempting to define his terms. He notes that most languages lack a satisfactory vocabulary to discuss nonviolence except as a negation of violence. Though Mohandas Gandhi coined the term satyagrahatruth forceto fill the vacuum, it never caught on. Kurlansky’s book embraces the term nonviolence as a principle of proactive, but nondestructive, intervention rooted in compassion, and distinguishes it from pacifism, which he belittles as wimpish submission. Yet Ammon Hennacy, who went on a hunger strike during his incarceration as a World War I resister and later campaigned against nuclear weapons, the death penalty, and military funding, was, like many others, proud to call himself a pacifist. Kurlansky’s disdain for the word “pacifist” seems to derive merely from its homonymy with passivism. By any name, though, what he is interested in is the vigorous pursuit of peace, as opposed to turning the other cheek, hectoring and converting foes, or convincing them that in harming others we harm ourselves. He does not, however, pursue what exactly he means by peace aside from the absence of war. For those languages in which war determines what we mean by pax, violence is the cultural norm. Neither does Kurlansky attempt to understand, or even bother to mention, shantih, the Sanskrit term popularized by T.S. Eliot as the peace that passeth understanding. In the early chapters, a breezy review of world religions allots a few paragraphs each to the ways in which Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam encourage nonviolence, but also shows how their adherents have invoked sacred authority for carnage. It was a Doctor of the Church, Augustine, who theorized the “just war,” scorned by some pacifists as an oxymoron, and Muslim leaders who reinterpreted jihad from spiritual struggle to holy war. The Emperor Constantine’s exploitation of Christianity for military advantage leads Kurlansky to draw another of his lessons: “Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.” But he is silent about Bahal, an irenic faith uncorrupted by the responsibilities and temptations of statecraft. Nonviolence is most striking when it recounts the largely forgotten history of dissenters from the governing creed of bellicosityincluding men who flocked to monasteries as havens from conscription as Christian soldiers. Kurlansky recounts the grim fate of the 13th-century Cathars, vegetarian Christians who opposed church authority in southern France. He argues that if the Cathars had not finally taken up arms in self-defense, Crusaders might not have exterminated the entire community “The lesson:” Kurlansky says, “is that if the nonviolent side can be led to violence, they have lost the argument and they are destroyed.” He recalls other marginalized, peaceable folk such as the Waldensians, Anabaptists, and Mennonites, and he MAY 16, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
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