As my family gathered in a posh London hotel to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday on Tuesday, several bombs detonated in Brussels, killing more than 30 people and wounding hundreds. Islamic State (IS) soon claimed responsibility for the attacks.
It took a while for me to absorb the devastating news from Brussels, but when I did, I felt strongly, the need for understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
Revenge and retaliation are not the answer, no matter how angry we are and how wronged we perceive ourselves. Violence begets violence, and only peace will beget peace.
It may sound naïve and idealistic but everything I learned during the decade I studied and taught international peace and conflict studies, informs my conviction that non-violence is the only sustainable route to lasting peace.
A man who embodied the principle of nonviolence was Badshah Khan. Born in 1890 near Peshawar, in what was then the Northwest Frontier Province of India, Badshah Khan, a Pashtun, was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi. He was a devout Muslim, a life-long pacifist and, like Gandhi, committed to non-violent opposition to British rule.
“My religion is truth, love and service to God and humanity. Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. Those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, whose hearts are empty of love, they do not know the meaning of religion.”
Addressing the United Nations in 2013, the then 16-year old Malala Yousafzai, also a Pashtun, credited Badshah Khan – as well as Gandhi and Mother Theresa – with teaching her the philosophy of non-violence.
Honouring the legacy of Badshah Khan, who was not just a peace activist but also a champion of education and women’s rights, she told the BBC in 2013,
“I think that the best way to solve problems and to fight is through dialogue, is through peaceful way, but for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just simple thing: educate the next generation.”
For his unwavering commitment to peace and tolerance, and because of his opposition to the partition of India, Badshah Khan was repeatedly imprisoned by the Pakistani government and died in Peshawar under house arrest in 1988.
Although Badshah Khan isn’t well known in the West, he is renowned amongst his people for his ceaseless commitment to peace in the India/Pakistan/Afghanistan region.
The world needs people like him, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or secular. Nonviolent peace warriors.
Refusing to communicate with terrorists won’t help make the world (or in this case, Europe) a safer place. Neither will blaming Muslims at large for the atrocities carried out by groups such as IS. If anything, this is the time to reach out to ‘the other,’ with compassion, forgiveness and a willingness to listen and learn.