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When I first became faced with the preposition: “Is violence ever
justified?” it instinctively gave me the impression as if someone
had asked me, “Is the birth of a baby possible without the mother
suffering labour pains.” But in the present case, let us not take
anything for granted and look into the matter leaving all
possibilities open. Nature is too elusive for our puny minds to
jump to any conclusions.

Apparently it seems that seldom a big change or Revolution

has ever taken place without first some kind of force or violence
preceding it. Not only that, the violence is often accompanied
with large-scale murders and bloodshed.

Change or flux, they say, is the rule of life, and whenever change
becomes due either due to the rottenness of the existing order,
or when the existing order has failed to respond to the aspirations
of the people then necessity to change the existing order starts
brewing in the public minds. It gradually gathers momentum
until the opposition grows stronger after initially meeting strong
resistance from the state. Often a tug of war follows between the
state and the opposition for months and years until the opposing
forces succeed in throwing away the yoke of the existing order.

Over the course of civilization, there have been several incidents

which have forever altered human history where ordinary people
came together to bring down oppressive regimes. This is the
normal complexion of revolutions everywhere, and is true about
all the great revolutions. The American Revolution was against
the British colonialism; the French Revolution replaced a corrupt
monarchy by putting a democratic order; with the Chinese
Revolution, People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong brought
an end to the decades old internal turmoil; the Iranian Revolution 1
overthrew the US-backed Pahlavi dynasty and replaced it with an
Islamic state led by Ayatollah Khomeini which in turn inspired
many other similar movements including the anti-apartheid
movement in South Africa; and Revolutions of 1848 in Europe
involved several countries causing an end of the feudal system
and installing democracy in their place etc.

One way to look at all of this violence is to blame human nature.

People are naturally violent, and it is the bare truth and that’s
why we live in such a violent world.
Violence is always a means to some end, not an end unto itself. To
really explain the violent nature of the world, we must understand
the conditions that produce violence, and the ends toward which
much of the violence in the world is consciously organized.

Nearly always it is the state which is responsible for creating

conditions conducive to violence which has an invincible physical
force in the form of army, Police and other para-military forces
to suppress or crush violence or opposition to its policies. And
invariably wise governments which detect the real cause of the
trouble try to appease the opposition by changing its policies or
by making concessions in their favour. In case it sees that the
demands of the opposition are flimsy and hold no ground or that
that the opposition is not strong enough to muster enough public
support to prove a real threat, it successfully curbs it through its
sheer physical force.

But there have been occasions in history when movements for

change have approached the strategy and tactics of nonviolence.
Beside many such small nonviolent movements, there are two
glaring examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr
who successfully employed nonviolent means to attain their social
and political ends. Of the two, Martin Luther King had fought for
the Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation and
discrimination in America during the 1950s and 1960s and was
fairly successful in his mission till he was shot dead in the prime
of his life. Mr. Gandhi also met the same fate in his old age. But
initially Gandhi supported armed struggle against the British army,
then again called for suppression by force of the Kashmiri’s fight
of self determination. It was only later in life that he resorted to
Ahimsa, a movement for nonviolent civil disobedience when he
found no other way of fighting a constitutional battle against the
Gandhi unfortunately became a target of criticism for the efficacy
of his movement both by his contemporaries and later by other
thinkers. It was not primarily Gandhi’s movement which ultimately
compelled the British to leave India, but it was due to the
geo-political realities emerging after WW2 that forced the British
to leave India. Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize winning author,
has accused Mahatma Gandhi for basing his doctrine of
nonviolence on the acceptance of a most brutal social hierarchy
ever known, the caste system. He is castigated for racial
discrimination even by B.R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian
The world has reached a stage when the small violators are only
highlighted while the violators who perpetrate violence on a grand
scale remain hidden. Martin Luther King Jr. described the U.S.
government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world
today.” He was talking about war in Vietnam where American
military forces killed over 3 million Vietnamese people.

Forty years later, tragically, the statement is still true. The U.S.
war on Iraq in 2002 caused over 1 million more deathsin Iraq
than the casualties of the preceding decade. All this was done by
the American leaders for the specific purpose of controlling the
largest supply of oil in the world.

What of the violence that is not organized by the state? What

about domestic abuse? What about armed robbery? Surely the
state is not to blame for those?

Actually, states have long been endorsers and promoters of

violence against women. Ancient Roman law held women and
children to be a man’s property, holding the power of life and
death over their heads. In the Middle Ages, men were encouraged
to beat their wives to control them.It wasn’t until 1911 that most
U.S. states outlawed wife beating. Thus, the state for several
thousand years, has officially sanctioned, condoned and endorsed
domestic violence.

But can we truly condemn all violence? What about the right of
self-defense? It was the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky who
for the first time raised the question: “Is the violence of the slave
the same as the violence of the slave-master?”:The ruling class
would have us believe that the violence of the state through police,
or the military is “heroic,” but that the violence of the poor or the
oppressed is “terrorism.” Malcolm X( American Muslim minister
and human activist ) eloquently challenged this hypocrisy. “If 3
violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong everywhere in
the world.” In 1917, the workers of Russia would never have
been able to take power if Russian soldiers had not refused their
orders to repress that revolution. The soldiers, in fact, joined the
revolution.Actually, the First World War ended because of the
revolutionary wave that swept Europe–soldiers from all sides who
were sick of war rose up against their real enemies at home.Fifty
years later, the disintegration of the American armed forces
during the Vietnam War also showed the same trend.
Admittedly, in most, circumstances it is evident that violence is
unjust; but, some cases appear more debatable when we deeply
try to analyze the question: can violence ever be justified?

The most plausible justification of violence is when it is

perpetrated in self-defense.An equally violent response may be
justified. It must not exceed that which seems a fair payoff.The
same principle applies in the relationships between States. A State
should not respond more violently than the violence it faces, as has
been done by America whenever it found a pretext to retaliate.

Violence, as an act to causing physical harm to another person

has often been categorized as being an uncivilizedand unjustified
act. But as we progress into the 21st century, the line of when the
use of violence can ever be “right” or justified is getting
increasingly blurred.

However, the use of violence to stop violence is debatable. Some

people feel that such thinking boils down to “an eye for an eye”
mentality, while others see it as a necessary evil. In my opinion,
these situations are morally complex, and can be considered grey
areas, there is no right or wrong where these situations are

Tolstoy thinks that all modern states have been formed under
extreme violence, while according to Noam Chomsy violence is
legitimized by its efficacy at lessening a greater evil.

Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of human existence. Those

who oppose it (pacifists and non-violent protesters) are ridiculed
and belittled, which is their fate. There is only one situation in
which violence is justifiable: when one is defending his or her own
life and when one is sure that in the absence of effective retaliation
he or she would be surely eliminated. Otherwise, intended harm 4
towards others is immoral and inexcusable. Pakistan’ own criminal
law exonerates a person who kills an offender when his own life
is severely endangered.

Bertrand Russell, despite being regarded as a pacifist was not

an innocent sage like Dalai Lama ashe justified:
(1) wars of colonization,
(2) wars of principle,
(3) wars of self-defense, and
(4) wars of prestige.
He had a consequentialist attitude towards war i.e. he regarded
the consequences of one’s conduct as the ultimate basis of any
judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that act. In contrast
with Tolstoy or G. M. Trevelyan, he does not consider actions to
be inherently right or wrong. Pacifism is a commitment to
nonviolence andattempt to cultivate pacific virtues such as
tolerance, patience, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Peace can also result from submission to power; and Rousseau

maligned this sort of peace by calling it the “peace of Ulysses
and his comrades, imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops and
waiting their turn to be devoured”

The idea of justice is at the heart of the just war tradition, which
claims that we are entitled to fight back against injustice. Thus
peace of the Cyclops’ cave is not peace but a state of war.

The utilitarian approach justifies killing in war if it promotes long

term happiness. Some authors like Steven Pinker and Goldstein
suggest that the use of judicious military power during the last
several decades has produced good results. Others believe that
the cost of war are rarely, if ever, worthwhile.It is always an
intriguing question whether a war would produce more harm
than good. Thus pacifists such as Einstein and Russell could
agree that the First World War was wrong, while admitting that
the Second World War could be justified because it defeated
Nazism in Europe. The pacifists on the other hand condemn
large scale slaughter of men, the introduction of nuclear weapons
and the partition of Europe as grave consequences of the WW2.

To sum up, there are not one, but multiple angles to see if
violence in any particular situation is wholly or partly justified
or unjustified.

--- Zafar Aziz Chaudhry is a former member of the Provincial

Civil Service, and an author of 'Moments in Silence'. Published
on June 18, 2019 in Daily Times.