Sunday, March 20, 2011

198 Methods on Non Violent Action

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

A week is a long time under the eyes of the global media. Events in Japan managed to stay on screens and front pages for just about that long, until last night when 'Allied forces' started missile attacks on Libya. The hunt for drama and stories is a hunger that must be constantly fed, thus all eyes moved on. Explosions carry far more drama than firehoses (the main story coming out of Fukushima Daiichi).

While there are many arguments given in favour of outside military intervention in Libya's internal conflict, some even hard to refute, a stepping up of aggression inevitably leads to more trouble down the line, more deaths, and easy propaganda coups for those such actions are directed against (in this case Gaddafi).

Should there not be a long and drawn out conflict, in Britain Cameron may well come out of this with his own 'Falklands moment' - a comparable incident that turned around Thatcher's unpopularity and laid the groundwork for a decade of Thatcherism - making it harder to turn back the tide of cuts and changes in this country. This may be of little importance to the Libyan people opposed to Gaddafi, but could be but one consequential turning point in Britain felt for many years to come.

Peaceful objection to militarism of any sort is harder to justify in the face of the slaughter of innocents, but I think that as more and more countries slide into bombing campaigns, it's worth taking a moment to pause and consider other methods of non violent action. Maybe none of the actions that are described in the content of this post would make a jot of difference to what Gaddafi seems to be doing, but they certainly had some effect in Egypt and Tunisia this year.

Dr. Gene Sharp created a list of 198 methods of non violent direct action that can be used to express opposition to an individual, government or other system. These include protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and intervention. This list was supposedly influential (and translated into Arabic) in what happened in Tahrir Square just last month, as it was in the revolutionary changes that swept Eastern Europe in the late 80's/early 90's.

They are published in English here in the document below, or are available as direct downloads here (same document as embed) and here (1 page, full colour). If any readers have pdfs of version translated into other languages, they are welcome to link to them in the comments below and I'll try to update the post with more versions. For more on the Albert Einstein Institution, an organisation that studies nonviolent action around the world and is part-run by Sharp, click here.

198 Methods of Non Violent Action

Photo credits: Atomic Headlines by London Permaculture (issued under CC-BY- NC-SA licence), LIBYA/ by B.R.Q. Network (issued under CC-BY licence)


Anonymous said...

Dom, thanks for your intelligent assessment of the situation. I assume I'm not the only person to be torn by this issue, but your thoughtful post has encouraged me to think more deeply.

Globalism said...

Anon, that's very kind of you to say. You're right to point out that it is an issue over which many people will be torn. I don't think that there are any easy answers, but in the rush to violent change, it's always worth pausing to consider the nonviolent alternatives.

No easy answers though - who knows how this one is going to play out?

Anonymous said...


It’s hard to disagree with the great Gandhi; indeed, when I was a student, I remember arguing for pacifism in a political theory class. I was against the second Gulf War, and was deeply troubled by the first Gulf War and the Afghan War, so I’m still far from being a hawk, but I think there is an argument in favour of armed intervention to protect civilians.

Of course non violent protest is glorious. When it is successful, as it has been recently in Tunisia and Egypt and was in Eastern Europe, it is truly inspirational. But non violent protest cannot prevail against a regime determined to crush it by force, if that regime’s armed forces follow orders. Compare Tiananmen Sq. to Tahrir Sq. Communism fell in Europe because the Gorbachev wasn’t prepared to use force to maintain power, and without the threat of armed support from the Soviet Union, the armed forces in its satellite countries knew the game was up and refused to carry out orders, such as Honecker’s, to fire on protesters. The name “Arab Spring” makes me think of what happened to the “Prague Spring”. Armed intervention should, of course be an absolute last resort, and I agree, one must consider every peaceful alternative first, but surely there are occasions when it is the lesser of two evils. Is moral to allow a dictator to massacre his own people when they campaign for freedom?

Those are just some general thoughts Dom. As to the specifics of the Libya situation, I’m unsure. I would say, however, that this is highly unlikely to be Cameron’s Falkland’s moment. While comparisons with Suez are inexact - Britain and France are not faced with the opposition of the US this time – I think there’s a real risk that Cameron will find himself mired in a protracted, expensive stalemate, and that Libya is more likely join Iraq and Suez on the list of post war foreign policy disasters. Obama senses the danger, and is trying to distance himself, and I guess Russia and China abstained rather than vetoed resolution 1973 because they felt the West had nothing to gain from intervening.

Thanks again for your thought provoking post

Globalism said...

Many thanks for your thoughtful and considered response. While part of the reason I write this blog is as a personal form of expression, I also hope that what I write will encourage conversations to develop. This doesn't happen anywhere near as much as I'd like it to (partly because I don't interact enough on other people's sites either yet), so I'm always happy when a post of mine triggers something off somewhere else.

This Libya situation is, in many ways, a tough one to argue against. The West has been quick to respond by its usual standards, perhaps desperate to finally make up for not having intervened in Rwanda (the gold standard of 'we should have done something'). I would certainly agree with your comment that there are arguments in favour of armed intervention to protect civilians, but these arguments are nevertheless fraught with challenges.

If Libya, then why not Burma, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan or Bahrain even? What huge double standards allow a state to sell another heavy weaponry and then attack them when the customer actually uses their purchased goods? Is a third Western 'intervention' in a Muslim country in less than a decade wise?

You question whether it is moral to allow a dictator to massacre his own people when they campaign for freedom. This, I believe, is the crux of the quandry. However, we often find that such dictators (Gaddafi being a case in point) came to power in the first place as a response to either the vacuums left behind during decolonisation or to overthrow the coloniser themselves. Such interventions only serve to reinforce the impression of the West being unable to kick the habit of colonisation, particularly when there are resources at stake that they still rely on.

Cameron, having read the Blair book of 'How to be a PM', is desperate to get his hands bloody to mark up his 'global statesman' credentials. Consummate performer he may be, but his only job before politics was in PR - he ought to be able to sell an idea and look like he means it. Sarkozy has an eye on his re-election, where he is at risk of coming third behind the National Front. Obama, who has been spending much of his presidency trying to extricate his country from the two wars he inherited from his predecessor, was caught out by the Europeans rushing to war ahead of the Americans for once, and didn't want to be seen to be left behind. He's also clearly very eager to keep out of this one as much as he can.

In Western discourse, the situation in Libya has all the hallmarks of a civil war, with talk of 'rebels' and 'pro-Gadaffi forces', etc. This means that 'we' have chosen sides in someone else's civil war. I think we all know how things played out when the West armed the mujahadeen in their fight against the Soviets in '79-'89. Understandably, many of those Libyans standing firm against Gadaffi have been delighted at having their job made easier by superior air power on their side. How happy will they be if 'friendly fire' takes out some of their own, or if things do end up leading to 'outside boots on the ground'?

Yes, yes, yes, I totally understand the case for intervention. I think however that the dangers are likely to outweigh the benefits overall. Then again, I am not a Libyan nor resident of Tripoli. This may well invalidate any of my opinions on the matter.