...there have been eloquent voices that have defended violence in service of justice. In her Reflections on Violence, the philosopher Hannah Arendt writes: “…Under certain circumstances violence, which is to act without argument or speech and without reckoning with consequences, is the only possibility of setting the scales of justice right again… In this sense, rage and the violence that sometimes, not always, goes with it, belong to the ‘natural’ emotions, and to cure man of them would mean nothing less than to dehumanise or emasculate him.”
The problem with this position is that such ‘hot’ violence inevitably turns into a ‘cold’ carnage characterised by planning and calculation. Moreover, violence that begins with a clear purpose acquires a life of its own, fulfilling obscure wishes more than its consciously stated goals. It begins to exercise a dangerous fascination, a “terrible beauty”, from which, also, we cannot avert their eyes. We get a glimpse of this fascination in many kinds of collective violence, especially of the revolutionary kind. This violence has been described by Franz Fanon, in his The Wretched of the Earth, as one that “binds men together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in a great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards”. He might well have been speaking of the orgasm of violence.
No, what we need is a blanket rejection of violence no matter what the cause. Justice is extremely important, but we need to teach our children that the value of compassion is above that of justice. When Gandhiji, in contrast to revolutionaries of the left and right, insisted on the priority of means over ends, he was intuitively aware of the malignant violence inherent in the other position.
What can we do? In the short term, there is no alternative to a firm resolve of the state that violence, no matter what the stated cause, will not be permitted. We know, for instance, that in ethnic/communal riots there is a window of about 24 hours in which the tension between the opposing groups is very high, but violent acts have not yet taken place. Firm police action in this crucial time period can prevent the outbreak of violence which will otherwise spiral out of control.
How to isolate responsible police officers from political interference within this 24-hour period (switching off all mobile contact?) is an issue needing urgent attention....