Monday, February 24, 2014

Gandhi "eye for an eye leaves everybody blind"

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind":
Zero evidence that Gandhi said it
Dudley Sharp

The quote has never been sourced to Gandhi.

The quote should be attributed to Graham (below), with a correction against Gandhi's use

Fischer (below) suggested it as a philosophical principle of Gandhi, with zero attribution to Gandhi, which is where, I believe, this error started.

In the movie Gandhi, Briley, a screenwriter, put those words in Gandhi's mouth, for the fictional history.

Gandhi wouldn't have said it, because he wouldn't so pervert Christian text and its meaning. 

With zero evidence provided, Gandhi's family says (2006) that he did use it, confirming their belief that Gandhi misunderstood Christian scripture, something I think, highly, unlikely.

The actual meaning of the biblical text is that sanctions for crimes/sins shall be just and proportional to the wrongful act, as opposed to the wildly disproportionate and harsh sanctions of the past.

It was a call for more merciful and proportional sanctions.

There seems no chance that Gandhi would so misinterpret or pervert Christian scripture. 

It's a unfortunate reflection on Gandhi that many believe that he could make such an error and that, even worse, they do so with no evidence that Gandhi said it and, furthermore, to take it from the rightful author, George Graham, a politician, much more likely to make that error.

This, below, giving a timeline and attribution. from Wikileaks, all of which I have confirmed.


1914: "If…we were to go back to…'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' there would be very few [Honourable] Gentlemen in this House who would not…be blind and toothless." — George Perry Graham, during a debate on capital punishment before the Canadian House of Commons. Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, Third Session-Twelfth Parliament, Vol CXIII, p. 496, February 5, 1914.

1950: "An-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye ... ends in making everybody blind" in The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer (1950), though Fischer did not attribute it to Gandhi and seemed to be giving his own description of Gandhi's philosophy.


Sharp note: I think this is were the error started.

1958: "The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind" in Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King, Jr., 1958.

1982: "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind" in the 1982 film, Gandhi. In a 1993 biographical article about screenwriter John Briley, Jon Krampner wrote, "…Gandhi never said it. Michigan graduate John Briley put those pithy words in his mouth." From "John Briley '51 - Epic Screenwriter", Michigan Today, March 1993, p. 12.


Sharp note: And that is where the error became more well distributed.

2006: There is a quaternary source in Yale Book of Quotations (2006), in which editor Fred R. Shapiro states that the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence stated that Gandhi's family believes it authentic, but did not provide any further reference and provided no year, place or body of work.

2006: Discussed in The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, by Ralph Keyes (2006), 1st ed., p. 74.

2010: Research detailed by Garson O'Toole in "An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind" in Quote Investigator.


The quote has never been sourced to Gandhi.