+Jean-Marie Muller (1939-2021)+

Photo by Rose Marie Berger, Rome, April 2016

Jean-Marie Muller died on December 18, 2021 in Orléans, France. A Christian writer, activist, and philosopher, Muller dedicated his life to promoting nonviolence and making it a method of resistance.

I met Jean-Marie in Rome in 2016 at the landmark gathering on Catholic nonviolence, hosted by the Vatican and Pax Christi International. While I wasn’t familiar with many of his philosophical texts (and he wrote almost exclusively in French), I was familiar with his brave actions as a conscientious objector.

In 1967, while serving as a reserve officer in the French military he turned in his military papers, refused compulsory military service, and applied for conscientious objector status. The French Ministry of Defense declined his request and the case went to trial. Until 1963, France was the only western democracy that did not have legal arrangements for conscientious objectors. The only alternative to military service was five years in prison. (see “Conscientious Objection in France, Britain, and the United States” by Edward R. Cain in Comparative Politics, Jan. 1970.)

During the contentious public debates–heavily influenced by the French colonial adventures in Algeria and Southeast Asia–philosopher Albert Camus pleaded, “Do not leave the CO with the only alternatives of exile or prison.” In 1969, Muller’s case went to trial and gained publicity when the Catholic Bishop of Orlean, Guy-Marie Riobé testified on Muller’s behalf recommending nonviolence as a legitimate defense for Catholics. Riobe said: “One of the central affirmations of Christian hope is that violence is not inevitable, and that, in consequence, history can become nonviolent.” (That same year, Riobé joined with Archbishop Hélder Câmara in public protest against the French weapons sales to Brazil.) Muller was given a three-month suspended prison sentence.

Jean-Marie Muller eventually left teaching to follow in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In 1973, he took part in a ‘Peace Battalion’, a sea journey to protest against the French nuclear tests in the Pacific, with general Jacques de Bollardière, the priest Jean Toulat, and the ecologist Brice Lalonde. In 1974, together with de Bollardière and other friends, he was the driving force behind the creation of the Mouvement pour une Alternative Non-Violente. In 1984, he became a founding member of the French Research Institute on Nonviolent Conflict Resolution (IRNC).

According to a remembrance in Peace News (Feb-March 2022), “For Jean-Marie Muller, nonviolence was not one moral principle among others, one possible political course amongst many. Nonviolence was, quite literally, what gave meaning to life. In his own words: ‘If violence is destiny, then our life is deprived of all meaning, and our history is absurd. Violence is the negation of the transcendence which gives meaning to our shared human adventure.'” Jean-Marie Muller–presente![]

Learn more about Jean-Marie Muller: Jean-Marie Muller, l’ami de la non-violence (in French) + Jean-Marie Muller: Writer and thinker on nonviolence who influenced Solidarity

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