As nonviolent protest rolls across the Middle East—now in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran—we see governments convulsing and fighting back, violently, but in a way that shows their ultimate lack of power. Today’s New York Time’s reports on how the quiet American intellectual, Gene Sharp, took Gandhi’s ideas and compiled them into a primer on nonviolent protest. One lesson he takes is that nonviolence is a good pragmatic tactic. “If you fight with violence,” Sharp told the NYT, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.” Alas, even with nonviolent protest, there are still many brave and dead heroes these past few weeks, 365 in Egypt alone. Still, nonviolence is probably the most effective method for it hits autocrats where they are most vulnerable, unveiling their complete and utter lack of popular support and legitimacy and ultimately deposing them.
A couple of years ago I met with some of the staff of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which has its roots in Gene Sharp’s work. The work they are doing is great and important, but I wonder: What happens after the revolution? If nonviolent protesters remain in the posture of beseechers rather than as actors, they will remain supplicants, begging whoever steps into power for higher wages, more freedom, and a better life.
Autocratic regimes treat “their people” as subjects not citizens. Over generations, it’s easy to take that lesson to heart, to become a supplicant rather than one who with others creates a new world. Subjects may rise up nonviolently, but sustainable change won’t happen until subjects turn themselves into citizens.
Tomdispatch reports that since 2001 the US has bombed at least four wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tom Engelhardt’s piece starts with a snapshot of the Jenna Bush’s daugter’s wedding then cuts to this:
That was early May of this year. Less than two months later, halfway across the world, another tribal affair was underway. The age of the bride involved is unknown to us, as is her name. No reporters were clamoring to get to her section of the mountainous backcountry of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know almost nothing about her circumstances, except that she was on her way to a nearby village, evidently early in the morning, among a party 70-90 strong, mostly women, “escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates.”
It was then that the American plane (or planes) arrived, ensuring that she would never say her vows. “They stopped in a narrow location for rest,” said one witness about her house party, according to the BBC. “The plane came and bombed the area.” The district governor, Haji Amishah Gul, told the British Times, “So far there are 27 people, including women and children, who have been buried. Another 10 have been wounded. The attack happened at 6.30AM. Just two of the dead are men, the rest are women and children. The bride is among the dead.”
Just another chapter of the terror wrought by our so-called war on terror.
Enough is enough. We are so over Bush. I hear his voice on the radio, his speech on this fifth anniversary of our war in Iraq, saying he doesn’t regret it even though 70% of the American people do. Enough.
This is an all-too-familiar sensation. Most of my teenage and adult life I have had enough—of Nixon, later Reagan, then Bush, even Clinton, and then another Bush. Enough.
I hope this is the end of an era, a bad one, a long one, of politicians who ought to apologize for taking benefits away from poor people, destoying the lives of innocent people, tarnishing America’s name in the world. I’m not naive about the chance that corporate America will relinquish its stranglehold on American democracy, but it would be nice to have some resistance.