Thank you for the warm introduction, ambassadors, excellencies and colleagues. I’m particularly grateful to the Government of India for honoring my delegation with the invitation to speak at this important event on the International Day of Nonviolence.
On the International Day of Nonviolence, we are here to pay tribute to an extraordinary man who brought the world an extraordinary idea. Gandhi believed that physical force could be turned aside by moral force—not instantly ended but instantly shamed, instantly surpassed.
Gandhi once summed up his work by saying, simply: “My life is my message.” And so it is and was. Nonviolent resistance was not just his philosophy; it was also, in his hands, a brilliant strategy for the pursuit of social justice. By dedicating his life to the peaceful empowerment of the people of India, to a brand of activism that was as humane as it was brave, he inspired people around the world to hope. He inspired people around the world to strive for peace. And he inspired people around the world to work for fundamental change.
The Mahatma believed that hatred first and foremost injures the hater. And he also knew that hatred and violence were great and terrible forces that shatter, coarsen, and cut short human lives around the globe. Gandhi understood that conflicts were better prevented than endured, that wars were better averted than won, that the most just of causes can be sullied by the death of innocents. Those lessons, I hope, will continue to inform our common efforts here at the United Nations to ensure that the embers of yesterday’s strife do not become the fuel for tomorrow’s blaze.
The Mahatma’s life holds other lessons for the challenges we face today. In the past, many dismissed poverty, hunger, and despair in faraway countries as other people’s problems, preferring to focus on the supposedly “hard” questions of war and power. But in a globalized age, the troubles that ravage faraway states can ultimately menace each of our own. We know today that standing aside while the world’s most vulnerable endure conflict, disease, and injustice is a threat to our common security as well as a breach of our common humanity. It is for these reasons that we work today, together, to reduce poverty, disease, and hunger, to end the preventable deaths of mothers and children, and to build self-sufficiency in agriculture, health, and education. In the 20th century, Gandhi taught that we were all bound together by our shared humanity; in the 21st century, we have learned that our security and well being are inextricably linked to those of people everywhere.
I must also pay particular tribute to the impact of the philosophy of nonviolence on my own country and our history. Fifty years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made an historic visit to India—a visit that, in many ways, strengthened and solidified the civil rights movement here in the United States. Dr. King had long been inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts to bring an end to British rule and discrimination based on caste. Upon his return, Dr. King wrote, “It was wonderful to be in Gandhi’s land.” In February of this year, the State Department sponsored a return visit to mark this important step in Dr. King’s development, sending a delegation back to India that included Martin Luther King III and Congressman John Lewis, the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. Dr. King’s 1959 pilgrimage still stands as a landmark in the civil rights movement of this country—a moment when one great historical movement made its mark on another, a moment when the great tide that had propelled the people of one land toward liberty and dignity gave new force and strength to another powerful current toward freedom far away.
In Dr. King’s autobiography, he writes that “Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.” And light has not been dimmed by time. Gandhi has been a lasting inspiration for millions of Americans—including a young community activist who drew upon his example while fighting to bring voice to the voiceless in one of America’s greatest cities, then sought to bring change on a national scale, and becoming our 44th President of the United States.
Gandhi’s teachings live on in those inspired by his courage, his humor, his nobility, and his humanity. We look to those teachings for wisdom and guidance in times of trial. As Dr. King put it, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” That is true of people, but it is also true of nations. As we mark this day, let us remember that people and nations are more powerful when they stand together than when they let themselves be driven apart.
Thank you very much all.
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