The Nonviolence of the Strong: Responding to Scott Morrison

I have been genuinely struggling of late in regards to how to engage with (or respond to) Scott Morrison MP. For those who don’t know, Mr Morrison is the Liberal Party’s Federal Member for Cook, in Sydney’s South, and, with his party being elected to Government in September, is now Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Mr Morrison also claims a strong Christian faith, which he has suggested plays an important role in every aspect of his life (including, obviously, his politics).

The basis of my struggle with Mr Morrison, in a nut shell, is because I think what he has done and continues to do in regards to asylum seeker policy (and public discourse on the matter) is evil (and, yes; I chose those words very carefully, in case you were wondering). It seems to me that he has deliberately been fostering an attitude that seeks to dehumanise those people who come to Australia by boat, and that this has been something of a central focus of his for some time now. I find his politics disgusting and, to be perfectly honest, it sickens me when he then claims a Christian faith.

I feel quite a bit of anger towards Mr Morrison. At some level, I want to make him feel what he makes other people feel (I recognise that I am not a recipient of Mr Morrison’s inhumane policy and rhetoric, though I feel that the humanity of us all is tarnished in the process of dehumanising asylum seekers). I want him to feel just some of the fear and trauma that his rhetoric and his harsh policies inflict on vulnerable people. But most of all, I feel quite a bit of resentment towards his church for staying silent on this issue and, therefore (as far as I am concerned), sharing in his evil works.

It’s at this point in my thinking that I am then gripped by the unmistakable rebuke of the Spirit.

I am still convinced that Mr Morrison’s actions are, in fact, evil. I am still convinced that we—that I—must respond (and this certainly includes his church!). But I am also convinced that the means by which we respond to Mr Morrison must be consistent with the message, for to buy in to the cycle of retribution and ungrace achieves nothing but the perpetuation of hate. As Gandhi noted, this sort of ‘eye for an eye’ mentality leaves the whole world blind.

I have been reading Walter Wink’s excellent short book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, and I’d like to reproduce here a rather lengthy quote which, I think, sums it all up perfectly (and which issues a hell of a challenge!):

Gandhi distinguished between the ‘nonviolence of the weak’, which uses harassment to break the opponent, and the ‘nonviolence of the strong’ (what he called ‘satyagraha’ or ‘truth force’), which seeks the opponent’s good by freeing him or her from oppressive actions.

[Martin Luther] King [Jr] so imbued this understanding of nonviolence into his followers that it became the ethos of the entire civil rights movement. One evening, during the turbulent weeks when Selma, Alabama, was the focal point of civil right struggle, the large crowd of black and white activists standing outside the Ebenezer Baptist Church was electrified by the sudden arrival of a black funeral home operator from Montgomery. He reported that a group of black students demonstrating near the capitol just that afternoon had been surrounded by police on horseback, all escape barred, and cynically commanded to disperse or take the consequences. Then the mounted police waded into the students and beat them at will. Police prevented ambulances from reaching the injured for two hours. Our informant was the driver of one of those ambulances, and he had driven straight to Selma to tell us about it.

The crowd outside the church seethed with rage. Cries went up, “Let’s march!” Behind us, across the street, stood, rank on rank, the Alabama State Troopers and the local police forces of Sheriff Jim Clark. The situation was explosive. A young black minister stepped to the microphone and said, “It’s time we sang a song.” He opened with the line, “Do you love Martin King?” to which those who knew the song responded, “Certainly, Lord!” “Do you love Martin King?” “Certainly, Lord!” “Do you love Martin King?” “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!” Right through the chain of command of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he went, the crowd each time echoing, warming to the song, “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!” Without warning he sang out, “Do you love Jim Clark?”—the sheriff?! “Cer … certainly, Lord” came the stunned, halting reply. “Do you love Jim Clark?” “Certainly, Lord”—it was stronger this time. “Do you love Jim Clark?” Now the point had sunk in, as surely as Amos’ in chapters 1 and 2: “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!”

Rev. James Bevel then took the mic. We are not just fighting for our rights, he said, but for the good of the whole society. “It’s not enough to defeat Jim Clark—do you hear me Jim?—we want you converted. We cannot win by hating our oppressors. We have to love them into changing.”

Wink continues, a little further on:

King enabled his followers to see the white racist also as a victim of the Principalities and Powers, in this case the whole ethos of the Southern Way of Life. Southern racists also needed to be changed. This provided a space and grace for transformation. While much more remains to be done in [the United States of] America than any of us like to think, change has occurred, datable to events like these, when the tide of racial fury was channeled by the willingness of a few people to absorb its impact in their own bodies and to allow it to spread no farther.

I find these words incredibly challenging, but it doesn’t stop there. Quoting Narayan Desai, Wink affirms that

Nonviolence presupposes a level of humanness—however low it may be, in every human being.

I cannot fight against Scott Morrison’s dehumanisation of asylum seekers by dehumanising Scott Morrison. To do so is to fail from the outset. Instead, my concern for those who Mr Morrison is dehumanising needs to be coupled with a genuine desire to see Mr Morrison transformed by grace in the process.

It might help to conclude with one last quote from Walter Wink:

In the final analysis, then, love of enemies is trusting God for the miracle of divine forgiveness. If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing…oppressors through the prism of the reign of God—not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God.

May it be so.

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Published by

Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

8 thoughts on “The Nonviolence of the Strong: Responding to Scott Morrison”

  1. Readers might be interested in the “Two Hands of Nonviolence” metaphor, which many of us have found helpful in understanding how active nonviolence is a process that holds these two realities – of non-cooperation with violence but open to the humanity of the violator – in tension.

  2. Hey thanks for this. I needed to “hear” it, having also forgotten/chosen to leave behind my non violence stance when it comes to our current government. I’ve reblogged on rahsblahs.wordpress.com

  3. Josh, I think what you are saying here is problematic.

    To start with, why are you centering a concern with Morrison on this? Sure we could talk about how his subjectivity is formed by the same system of racism that allows him to harm and kill asylum seekers, but to imply through these quotes that he is somehow a ‘victim’ is really wrong. I’m sure arguments could be made that he suffers at some spiritual level for being racist, but I think any attempt to do this that does not emphasise the violent asymmetry between Morrison’s experience and those in detention is itself a form of violence.

    Morrison, and all politicians before and after him, are unequivocally not a ‘victims’ of equivalence to asylum seekers. As safe, comfortable citizens, it is not for us to determine that the needs of politicians are the standard by which resistance to detention is held. That standard, and the manner in which it is set, belongs to the detainees. Morrison has plenty of resources available to him to solve his issues (including a church). People in detention do not have this. They are the ones who deserve our attention.

    In this regard a recent letter from Manus Island stated: “we honourably require you to force the government so that they move us to a safe place.”

    Secondly I think you are participating in the whitewashing of the civil rights movement. It is simply not true that King set the ethos for the entire movement. The movement was diverse, and included people like Malcolm X who advocated self-defense, including the use of violence where appropriate. King’s work was set in the context of and often in contrast to Malcolm X’s advocacy of militant action. They were both part of the civil rights movement.

    There are class factors to these different approaches, with X coming from a poorer, less privileged background to King, and having spent time in prison. X had a lived sense for what was at stake for people who were considered less ‘respectable’ by white society than King. To not acknowledge these dynamics plays into the divisions of respectability politics and whitewashes the meaning of violence for people who experience it far more severely than those who might advocate non-violence from a more comfortable position. It is also significant that X was Muslim, so to exclude him from an account of the civil rights movement is potentially tantamount to Islamophobia.

    This point has consequences in the case of asylum seekers. Before the attacks in which Reza Berati was murdered detention guards confiscated weapons that detainees had stockpiled in order to defend themselves. They stockpiled weapons because they were terrified of a threat that proved shockingly real. The danger of dishonest accounts of non-violence is that it leaves people who choose to defend themselves open to criticism and rejection by people who choose to see the use of a handheld weapon as more violent than the use of an entire detention system.

    This is not an argument in favor of citizens being violent but to again stress that if we are not the people with most at stake in resistance to systemic racism we do not get to set the standard of that resistence. What is missing in the nonviolence of the weak/strong equation is that the violence of the ‘weak’ provides no justification for the relatively ‘strong’ (those not in detention) to withdraw their support. Those with the privilege to choose nonviolence are in no position to expect victims of extreme violence to be piously butchered.

    I don’t say this in order to advocate for violence on the part of citizens. But if we are talking about love for people who do things we find confronting I think this should be centred on those who resist a violence stronger than we have any sense for, regardless of whether or not they fit with a whitewashed image of people like King and Ghandi. A direct quote from King is relevant to end with here:

    “Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.””

    1. You raise some excellent points! I’ll try to respond to some aspects of your post tonight, but I’m out of town and only have access on my mobile phone at the moment (which is not conducive to typing out thoughtful replies).

      If I can’t get to it tonight, it might be Friday until I’m able to respond more fully. Sorry!

      Thanks so much for the comment. These are really important discussions to have and I’m glad you’ve raised the points!

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