July 23, 2012
First published by Mobilizing Ideas
The 10-year anniversary for the movement that sprung up against the war in Iraq is on the horizon, and it presents an opportune time to reflect on its progress, and more importantly, the lessons that can be learned from its shortcomings.
While activists were busy organizing in the fall of 2002, the dramatic debut of the movement’s true size and global dimensions took place on February 15, 2003. On that historic date, millions took to the streets around the world in the largest antiwar protest in history. Two days later, Patrick Tyler wrote in The New York Times that there were now perhaps “two superpowers on the planet—the United States, and worldwide public opinion.”
This was no doubt an impressive show of force, but it ultimately did not faze President Bush, who quipped that letting the protests influence his decision to invade Iraq would be like saying “I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.” This brazen retort from the president wasn’t mere posturing. A little more than a month later, bombs started raining down on Baghdad once again.
July 14, 2012
Over the last year and a half, an historic wave of uprisings and revolutions has engulfed much of the world and done more to legitimize the power of nonviolence than anything since the fall of the Soviet Union. Just as Tunisians kicked off this global nonviolent upheaval, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan were putting the finishing touches on their recent book Why Civil Resistance Works, which is a must read for anyone interested in the dynamics behind these movements’ successes and failures.
Rather than relying solely on case studies and anecdotal evidence to make a case for the power and potential of nonviolent action, they systematically cataloged as many violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns since 1900 as they could — compiling a data-set of 323 cases in total — in an attempt to reach a greater understanding of the comparative effectiveness among these different methods of struggle. After painstakingly collecting all of this information and crunching the numbers, they discovered — to even their own surprise — that nonviolent campaigns were nearly twice as effective as armed campaigns over the past century.
Not only are Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings supported by extensive data, which are included in their book and a free online appendix, but the authors provide deeply nuanced analysis of why nonviolent struggle has proven to be so much more effective than violence. I recently caught up with Erica Chenoweth, who is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, to get her thoughts on the nonviolent movements that have exploded since her book was published. In an email interview, she discussed some common mistakes made by activists, the ever-worsening crisis in Syria and tips that the Occupy movement might glean from the findings in her book.
August 4, 2011
“Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today
When the mass nonviolent movements that brought down longtime U.S.-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt this year captured the world’s attention, The Progressive’s managing editor Amitabh Pal joked that it made his new book, “Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today, both “more topical and dated at the same time.”
While many books will no doubt be written about the momentous events that are unfolding in the Middle East, many of them will doubtless leave out the prehistory. By exploring the rich tradition of nonviolent resistance in the Muslim world—from Palestine and Pakistan, to Kosovo and the Maldives—Pal dispels the oft-repeated misconception that what we are witnessing in the Arab Spring is without precedent. He recently spoke with Religion Dispatches about why Islam has been so maligned in the West, what makes the religion compatible with nonviolence, and the important role that women are playing in the ongoing struggles for democracy and social justice in the Middle East.
What first made you want to write a book about nonviolence and Islam—as neither a Muslim yourself nor a scholar of the religion?
I didn’t initially approach the subject as that of Islam but as nonviolence. When the events of September 11 happened and the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, I remembered as a young man hearing about an associate of Gandhi named Ghaffar Khan. So I thought I’d write about him. Through a series of contacts I was able to actually speak to his family in Peshawar, where they control a political party. They are not exactly living up to his ideals—they claim to, but it’s dubious. His grandson was happy to speak with me. I wrote an article about him, and that is how I got interested in Islam and nonviolence.
March 25, 2011
Waging Nonviolence, Common Dreams, The Indypendent
One of the arguments that is being forwarded by proponents of military intervention in Libya is that Qaddafi is literally crazy and therefore cannot be reasoned with or expected to step down without force.
In an article for Tikkun, entitled “Libya: Acid Test for Nonviolence?,” Metta Center for Nonviolence president Michael Nagler, who I deeply respect and have personally learned a great deal from, makes an argument for war along these lines:
We in the nonviolence field will recognize this as a “madman with a sword” analogy. Gandhi said flatly that if a madman is raging through a village with a sword (read: assault rifle — or Glock Automatic) he who “dispatches the lunatic” will have done the community (and even the poor lunatic) a favor. Here are Gandhi’s exact words, from The Hindu, 1926:
Taking life may be a duty…. Suppose a man runs amok and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.
March 17, 2011
Waging Nonviolence, Sojourners
After a month of largely peaceful pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, the situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse this week. On Monday, 2,000 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region entered Bahrain at the request of King Hamad al-Khalifa. The king then announced a three-month state of emergency and yesterday his security forces moved on Pearl Roundabout, where the protesters have been encamped since the movement began on February 14. At least 6 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. The violent crackdown has continued today, with the arrest of six leading opposition figures.
The pro-democracy movement in Bahrain faces challenges that those in Egypt and Tunisia did not. The Sunni-controlled Bahraini government systematically discriminates against Shiites, who make up more than 70 percent of the country’s population. And as last week’s very insightful episode of Al Jazeera’s People & Power (above) explains, virtually no Shiites are not allowed in the police or army, and the “king brings Sunni immigrants from abroad to police the streets, giving them citizenship and housing.”
This makes dividing the loyalty of the security apparatus – which is often a key to the success of any nonviolent movement – in Bahrain far more difficult than it was in Egypt. While they are all Muslim, because of the sectarian split, Bahrainis will have a harder time appealing to the army and police on religious grounds.
In a strange way, the debate over whether the American left should support the Green Movement in Iran resembles the arguments that took place in progressive circles before the 2008 presidential elections in the United States, and that reemerged in the recent midterm elections. Those in the Obama camp either believed him to be their savior, taking his every word as gospel, or, if they had a more sober political outlook, simply resorted to some version of the tired “lesser of two evils” argument. If elected, this crowd contended, Obama would at least be more open to the progressive perspective than McCain, which was reason enough to vote for him. It was argued that the threat posed by a Republican victory was so great that the various factions on the Left needed to put aside their differences until after Obama was elected. At that point, he would reveal his true progressive self, and if that did not happen, at least there would be a more reasonable partner to negotiate with in the White House, who could be pressured to move to the Left. Meanwhile, anyone who decided to critique Obama from the Left by saying that his proposed policies—which left much to be desired, to put it mildly—should have had a greater bearing on one’s behavior in the voting booth than his elocution, were seen by Obama’s supporters as traitors or idealists totally out of touch with political reality.
In the end, many on the Left begrudgingly cast their ballots for Obama even though he consistently moved to the right during the campaign—backing the massive, hugely unpopular bailout of Wall Street, withdrawing his support for a single-payer universal health care system, and calling for a larger military, with more troops in Afghanistan and more Predator drone attacks in Pakistan. The results of this compromise are now evident. Since Obama was elected he has, not surprisingly, continued down the treacherous path he campaigned on and the sense of hope and change that was ever-present during his ascent is now difficult to find. Indeed, as seen during the midterm elections last month, most leftists fell into a pattern of recrimination and resignation similar to the lead-up to the presidential election, only this time a widespread melancholy had replaced the euphoric hope of 2008.
October 29, 2010
Waging Nonviolence, Sojourners, The Indypendent
While I regularly watch The Daily Show and think its political satire is second to none, the Rally to Restore Sanity that will be held on the Mall in Washington D.C. tomorrow is problematic on many levels. Of all the critiques I’ve seen, Daniel Denvir over at Alternet best captured my sentiments:
When he announced the rally, Jon Stewart made a concerted effort to appear politically unaligned, screening clips that imply an equivalence between the wacky right and the wacky left. As Jon Stewart has it, the problem is “loud folks” and a tone of political debate that has become untempered: too many crazies yelling and screaming, comparing people they don’t like to Hitler.
But yelling is not just a matter of loud noise expelled through the human throat. It matters what’s being yelled. When it comes to the Republican Party — and Democratic fellow travelers — they are shouting in favor of corporate exploitation and war.
The Tea Party far right leans on made-up things, also known as lies — “ground zero” Mosque, illegal immigrants purposely causing highway accidents, death panels killing grandma — to win political power. The left has a different problem. We could have used a little more hysteria in recent years, as Wall Street robbed Main Street and the most powerful military on earth invaded multiple countries. Instead, a real anti-war movement never materialized to challenge one of this nation’s most violent presidencies. The people “who have shit to do” that you cited as your fan base, Jon Stewart, should have been out in the streets protesting and putting our 1960s radical parents to shame. But we’ve got “shit to do.” On the Internet, I suppose.
Rather than writing off Code Pink as crazies, which is unfair, Stewart would have been much more constructive if he had acknowledged that they are right to be upset with the ongoing wars that have cost so many lives, but challenged their tactics.
A conversation with Srdja Popovic
by Eric Stoner and Bryan Farrell
October 5, 2010
Waging Nonviolence, Truthout, Yes! Magazine, The Indypendent
Ten years ago, on October 5, 2000, hundreds of thousands of Serbian protesters descended on the streets of Belgrade and pushed past the indifferent security forces to seize control of the Parliament building, effectively ending the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosovic. It was the final act of a two-year nonviolent struggle led by the youth movement known as Otpor, or “Resistance,” whose iconic clenched-fist led the way toward free elections and newfound democracy.
One of the leaders of this movement was 27-year-old Srdja Popovic, who after Milosevic’s overthrow was elected to the Serbian Parliament. In 2004, Popovic left politics to found the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade, an organization that has trained activists in dozens of countries around the world – from those involved in the successful pro-democracy movements in Ukraine and the Maldives to the ongoing struggles in Burma and Iran.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Popovic and ask him about the role that humor played in the struggle against Milosevic, how they were able to win over his feared security forces and the ways in which Otpor lives on today.
June 5, 2010
CelebityDialogue: Which news publications do you write for?
Eric: I’ve written for The Guardian, Mother Jones, The Nation, Huffington Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among others.
CelebityDialogue: What is your beat?
Eric: I don’t have one beat in any traditional sense. My interests are quite varied. I generally critique US foreign policy, our outrageous military budget, the privatization of war, including the use of mercenaries, and the growing use of robotics, both on the ground and in the air, in modern warfare. I also regularly write about nonviolent movements around the world for Waging Nonviolence, a blog that I helped start last year.
CelebityDialogue: What would you say to the critics who may view your writing as mostly anti-government?
Eric: I would say that would be an inaccurate way of characterizing my work. I’m not against all government. I’m against government that is destructive, dysfunctional and unresponsive to the will of the people, and that’s unfortunately where we’re at in the United States. On issue after issue the policies of the US government are in direct opposition to the demands of social and economic justice. To take just one example, we spend upwards of a trillion dollars every year on the Pentagon and war while tens of millions of Americans live in poverty and have no access to health care. That is immoral and unacceptable.
March 31, 2010 issue
The Indypendent, Truthout, ZNet
In 1996, only two years after Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, acclaimed filmmaker Connie Field began working on an epic seven-part documentary series about the global campaign to end the racist apartheid regime that plagued the country for more than four decades.
Have You Heard From Johannesburg chronicles three generations of that struggle — from the early freedom fighters and African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver Tambo to the international campaign to boycott corporations operating in South Africa and impose economic sanctions on the regime — through some 135 interviews spanning 12 countries, encounters with former apartheid officials and profiteering corporate executives, and archival footage from around the world.
After attending a recent screening at the Ford Foundation of one part of the eight-and-a-half-hour series, The Indypendent’s Eric Stoner spoke with Field about whether nonviolent action played the decisive role in bringing down the apartheid regime, why economic justice has eluded post-apartheid South Africa, and what activists today can learn from the anti-apartheid movement.